Overcoming Interpersonal Offenses: Is Forgiveness the Only Way to Deal with Unforgiveness? (Research)

Article excerpt

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. …