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The Science and Practice of Forgiveness: Nathaniel Wade, PhD, on PYP 449

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Nathaniel Wade was studying forgiveness as a grad student at Virginia Commonwealth University when, at the age of 26, he discovered his wife was having an affair from a folded note in the laundry basket.

All of a sudden, the topic no longer seemed theoretical. It was now deeply personal, deeply painful, and deeply present during pretty much every waking moment.

And it leant urgency and passion to Wade's inquiries, and perhaps has turned him into the wise and compassionate person he is today.

Wade is a professor in psychology at Iowa State University. He studies the psychology of forgiveness from a clinical as well as spiritual perspective.

I first discovered Wade's work in an essay in one of my favorite online journals, Aeon magazine. The title was tantalizing: “Forgive and Be Free.” Wade suggested that forgiving another person isn't strictly (or even mostly) for their benefit, but rather for the benefit of the forgiver.

That's all well and good, but for me, forgiveness still had the feel of letting someone off the hook. It's as if by forgiving, I was saying, “Well, I guess it wasn't that bad.”

And maybe I could say that, since honestly the harms that have been inflicted on me in my life have been pretty mild.

But when I think about those abused as children, or assaulted as adults, or falsely accused of crimes, or imprisoned – forgiveness seems like an unreasonably high price to pay for the alleged freedom promised by the article.

But here's what got me hooked, and eager to have a conversation with Wade: the first step of his process involves acknowledging the harm done. Citing a study on forgiveness therapy for survivors of childhood incest, Wade wrote: “For true forgiveness to occur in this context, they argued, the women needed to first acknowledge that a true hurt had been done to them as children.”

And bingo, the penny dropped.

What I had thought of as forgiveness was actually closer to “forgetness,” a minimization of harm. But that whitewashing of the past was the opposite of forgiveness, since it wasn't addressing what actually happened. As Wade said during our conversation, I can forgive only when I admit that what they did was wrong.

In our conversation, we talked about the research as well as the theory and philosophy of forgiveness. We spoke of Wade's own research, the work of others, and directions for future enquiry. (I made some suggestions, which Wade was extremely generous and complimentary about, but he might just be a really nice guy!)

We explored the barriers to forgiveness, whether some people have a predisposition to forgive, and what effective forgiveness therapy interventions look like. We also chatted about self-forgiveness, which is a huge barrier to the changes that many of my coaching clients desire to make.


“Forgive and be Free,” by Nathaniel Wade – in Aeon Magazine

Nathaniel Wade's professional site

“The Psychology of Forgiveness and Unforgiveness and Implications for Clinical Practice,” by Everett L Worthington, Jr, and Nathaniel G Wade

The “Big Five” Personality Traits

Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

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You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂

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It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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