Loren Toussaint discusses the psychology of forgiveness at Porter-Starke Service’s Living Health, Balance & Hope Symposium

Loren Toussaint discusses the psychology of forgiveness at Porter-Starke Service’s Living Health, Balance & Hope Symposium

On the crisp morning of May 30, Porter-Starke Services hosted its annual Living Health, Balance & Hope Symposium in the Harre Union Ballrooms at Valparaiso University. Porter-Starke Services is a Northwest Indiana-based not-for-profit community health organization. This year's symposium installment was entitled 'Practicing Forgiveness: A Meaningful Approach to Healthy Living.'

Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024

Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024 55 Photos
Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024Porter-Starke Services Annual Symposium 2024

Dr. Loren Toussaint, professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, shared his findings on the psychology behind forgiveness. The audience included clinicians, Porter-Starke Services board members, donors, and clergy members. Attendees were served breakfast, which featured bacon, eggs, blueberry bread, coffee, and juice. Sandy Carlson, vice president of clinical services at Porter-Starke Services, considers the symposium to be an important community event.

“Our symposium is an opportunity for experts to educate community members on topics related to mental health and well-being that they might not hear about otherwise,” Carlson said. “I believe that it's important for people to keep learning about the various strategies we can use to enhance our own well-being and that of the people who we work with. I hope that today’s event will help the attendees discover new ways to integrate the practice of forgiveness into their personal lives and into their clinical practice as well.” 

In his presentation, Toussaint stressed that, in order to define what forgiveness is, one must establish what it is not. He used the term “unforgiveness” to describe the opposite of forgiveness and proceeded to explain to his audience the meaning of this word.

“Unforgiveness is a lot like hatred,” Toussaint said. “It’s a bundle of negative emotions and negative motivations. One might think: ‘I don't believe it is wrong of me to hate someone who has done something harmful to me.’ That is the mindset of unforgiveness. This term can describe the feelings that we have toward people who have hurt us and even the feelings we have toward ourselves when we hurt others. unforgiveness is a combination of various negative emotional states that wreak havoc with our personal well being.”

Toussaint has identified three steps of forgiveness. Firstly, the individual must clearly define what forgiveness means. Secondly, they must determine what the benefits of forgiveness will be in this particular situation. Toussaint regards the final step, empathizing with the other individual, as the most important of all.

“I’ve come to believe that empathizing with your offender is the absolute fulcrum point for forgiveness,” Toussaint said. “If you can't see the perspective of the person that hurt you, it's very unlikely that you're going to progress any further in the forgiveness process. Acknowledging your own wrongdoing in the situation or approaching forgiveness with a sense of humility is crucially important. Remember that you don't have to forgive, but neither does anyone else. Forgiveness is about altruism and doing something for the good of other people. Wouldn't we rather forgive others and, in so doing, exchange the positive aspects of life instead of the negative ones with one another?”

After completing his keynote address, Toussaint went on to host three breakout sessions that permitted attendees to learn more about particular aspects of the psychology of forgiveness. These sessions were entitled “Forgiving Others: Clinical Applications,” “Self-Forgiveness: Clinical Applications,” and “Forgiveness and Flourishing.” 

To learn more information about Porter-Starke Services, please visit porterstarke.org.