Many problems in living, both clinically severe and normal ones, have their roots in or are exacerbated by interpersonal offenses. Psychoeducational interventions have been successful in helping people overcome interpersonal transgressions (e.g., Ferch, 1998). Although typically implemented in group formats (e.g., Hebl & Enright, 1993; Luskin & Thoresen, 1998; McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997; Rye & Pargament, 2002; see Worthington, Sandage, & Berry, 2000, for a review), psychoeducational interventions to promote forgiveness have been effective for an array of problems and in a variety of situations. For example, psychoeducational interventions have promoted forgiveness with adolescents who have felt deprived of their parents' love (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardis, 1995), men who were upset by their partners' choice to have an abortion (Coyle & Enright, 1997), partners wishing to enrich their marriage (Ripley & Worthington, in press), and older women struggling to overcome hurts in their life (Hebl & Enright, 1993). Psychoeducational interventions have also been useful in promoting forgiveness in groups of adults who report a diversity of offenses (McCullough et al., 1997; Rye & Pargament, 2002; Worthington, Kurusu, et al., 2000).
Although there is an increasing amount of literature on psychoeducational interventions to promote forgiveness, little is known about the characteristics of individuals who volunteer for psychoeducational interventions. It is not known, for example, how disturbed they are by the transgression; whether they hold little or much unforgiveness toward the offender; and whether they have tried previously to forgive, and, if so, whether they have been successful and to what degree.
Several variables are hypothesized to predict the degree of unforgiveness or forgiveness that an individual will experience in response to a hurt or offense. In a model of the processes of unforgiveness and forgiveness, Worthington and Wade (1999) identified several potential predictors and reviewed literature that supported their inclusion in the model. Dispositional traits, such as religiosity (McCullough et al., 1998; Worthington, Berry, & Parrott, 2001), trait empathy (Thoresen, Harris, & Luskin, 2000), agreeableness (McCullough & Worthington, 2000), and dispositional forgivingness (Berry &Worthington, 2001; Berry, Worthington, Parrott, O'Connor, & Wade, 2001), were theorized to relate to willingness to forgive transgressions across situations (Worthington & Wade, 1999). Trait anger (Spielberger, Jacobs, Russell, & Crane, 1983), shame-proneness (Tangney, 1995), and attachment style were hypothesized to be related to degrees of unforgiveness and forgiveness of a specific transgression (for a review of literature and discussion of the model, see Worthington & Wade, 1999).
Contextual or situational aspects of an offense or hurt were also considered influential in the process of unforgiveness and forgiveness. Worthington and Wade (1999) identified the quality of the relationship before the offense, the severity of the offense, whether the offense had occurred in the past, and the victim's idiosyncratic reaction to being hurt as predictors. For example, an offense that was more severe was hypothesized to produce more feelings of unforgiveness, which would be more difficult to forgive, than was a relatively minor offense (Baumeister, Exline, & Sommer, 1998; Exline & Baumeister, 2000).
Two other factors that might influence the process of unforgiveness and forgiveness are the offender's reaction after the offense (Baumeister et al., 1998; Worthington & Wade, 1999) and the amount of empathy that the victim feels for the offender (McCullough et al., 1998; McCullough et al., 1997). The offender's behaviors after the offense has occurred are potentially important predictors of how a victim will react. If offenders react with regret and remorse about their behaviors, it is hypothesized that victims will be more forgiving than if the offenders do not express regret and remorse. For example, when offenders are perceived as offering sincere and contrite apologies, victims are more willing to forgive them and to view them more favorably than when the apologies are perceived to be insincere and not contrite (Darby & Schlenker, 1982; McCullough et al., 1998; Ohbuchi, Kameda, & Agarie, 1989).
Apologies and other behaviors that communicate the offender's remorse over the situation are hypothesized to create an emotionally dissonant event in the victim (Worthington & Wade, 1999); that is, an offender's conciliatory and remorseful actions stimulate an emotion in the victim (e.g., sympathy, compassion, support, love) that is dissonant with the emotions that are associated with unforgiveness (e.g., bitterness, hatred). Furthermore, these positive emotions can lead to empathy for the offender, causing the victim to identify positively with the offender and possibly to understand the situations or experiences that led to the hurt or offense. Empathy is a crucial predictor of the degree of unforgiveness and forgiveness that a victim will have for an offender (Freedman, 2000; Malcolm & Greenberg, 2000; McCullough et al., 1997). Both applied research and basic research support the link between empathy and forgiveness. For example, interventions that have been successful in promoting victims' empathy for offenders have successfully helped these victims to forgive (McCullough & Worthington, 1995; McCullough et al., 1997). Likewise, with volunteers for research but who are not scheduled for participation in intervention research, empathy has been correlated with less unforgiveness (McCullough et al., 1998; McCullough et al., 1997).
From a counselor's perspective, a crucial question has not been addressed: What variables predict naturally occurring unforgiveness and forgiveness in individuals who are seeking psychoeducational interventions to help them forgive? Understanding what factors predict motivations of revenge and avoidance (i.e., unforgiveness) and feelings of forgiveness in individuals volunteering for a psychoeducational intervention can aid in the organization and implementation of these interventions.
Furthermore, most research has not distinguished between forgiveness and reduced unforgiveness. Instead, in much of the existing research, investigators have inferred the success of interventions to promote forgiveness by measuring residual unforgiveness (measured by the motivation to seek revenge against and to avoid an offender; McCullough et al., 1998; McCullough et al., 1997). In one study that was a notable exception, the researchers measured both feelings of residual unforgiveness and self-rated forgiveness for an offense and examined predictors of each (McCullough et al., 1998). McCullough et al. (1998) found some differences in the patterns of the predictors; however, implications were not explored. Instead, the measurements were explained as providing different perspectives on the same phenomenon.
However, recent theoretical work has suggested an important conceptual difference between granting forgiveness and merely reducing unforgiveness (Worthington, 2000, 2001; Worthington & Wade, 1999). Worthington and Wade defined unforgiveness as the delayed emotions of resentment, hostility, hatred, bitterness, anger, and fear (in some combination) that arise after ruminating about a transgression. The negative aspects of these emotions often stimulate attempts to reduce unforgiveness. People may use many methods to reduce their unforgiveness (see Worthington, 2001). A few examples include obtaining successful revenge, denying the hurt, cognitive reframing that excuses or justifies the offender's actions, accepting the transgression, seeing legal justice done, receiving fair restitution, or forgiving (Worthington, 2000, 2001). Because unforgiveness can be decreased in numerous ways, unforgiveness can be reduced without forgiveness occurring. (An obvious illustration is that unforgiveness can be reduced by successful revenge, whereas, clearly, no forgiveness is experienced.) Even though unforgiveness and forgiveness are often intimately connected, they are theorized to contain distinct aspects and, therefore, they are not simply polar opposites. Forgiveness necessarily entails reduced unforgiveness, but reduced unforgiveness does not imply forgiveness. In light of this distinction, one would expect that the degree of current unforgiveness and the degree of current forgiveness would be differentially predicted by the variables in question.
We seek to address two sets of interrelated hypotheses. The first set involves the experiences of people who are having trouble forgiving an interpersonal offense. The second set addresses the conceptual differences between unforgiveness and forgiveness.
Set 1: Dealing With a Difficult Offense
Predictors of unforgiveness. We hypothesized that, because participants self-selected the offenses that they had had a difficult time forgiving, religious commitment and trait forgivingness, which describes …