For centuries, practitioners have linked violent trauma with psychological and physiological dysfunction. A common sequela of a traumatic experience is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes reexperiencing the traumatic event, avoiding traumatic reminders, and chronic hyperarousal (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). There is now considerable support for the usefulness of interventions curtailing the acute and long-term effects of PTSD. Recovery from violent trauma and reducing PTSD symptoms are thought to be enhanced by the survivor’s ability to accept that the world can be unsafe and to acquire a less na’ve view about justice and safety (Drescher & Foy, 1995). This ability to overcome tragedy is thought to characterize resilience (Richardson, 2002) and has been shown to be related to better physical and mental health, and lower trauma-related distress in PTSD patients (Connor, Davidson, & Lee, 2003). In addition to prolonged exposure therapy (e.g., Foa et al., 1999), cognitive-behavioral treatments designed to help traumatized individuals understand and manage the anxiety and vigilance associated with trauma-related stimuli have proven to be the most effective (Resnick, Kilpatrick, Dansky, Saunders, & Best, 1993). However, the extent to which these therapies involve intensive focus on overcoming negative feelings specifically associated with the transgressor (or perpetrator) of a trauma is not well understood. How do maintaining stagnating resentment, harboring hatred, retaining anger, plotting revenge, avoiding contact, and harboring general ill-will toward an offender affect the recovery process? Would interventions designed to target ill-will toward a perpetrator be more effective than therapies focusing solely on the generalized anxiety or vigilant reactions to the trauma? The application of forgiveness to the aid and treatment of trauma victims has been generally overlooked in empirical study. This chapter provides some guidelines for the study and treatment of transgressor-specific violent traumas and the use of forgiveness-based intervention; how forgiving a perpetrator might differ from other types of forgiving; the extent to which forgiving a perpetrator is a multifaceted and dynamic process; and the potential costs and benefits of forgiving a perpetrator of violent trauma.
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