Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Seeking Forgiveness: Considering the Role of Moral Emotions

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Seeking Forgiveness: Considering the Role of Moral Emotions

Article excerpt

Sandage, Worthington, Jr., Hight, and Berry (2000) pointed out that most of the research on forgiveness has focused on the process of granting forgiveness rather than seeking forgiveness. Therefore, in this project, college students were asked to recall a recent event from their past where they harmed someone with whom they had a relationship. They were then asked to rate their feelings following the transgression such that it was possible to determine the extent to which they experienced sorrow or guilt (Narramore, 1984). Participants also indicated how they responded to the situation. In addition, a few weeks later, these same students were invited to respond to a dispositional measure designed to tap their general tendencies toward experiencing sorrow or guilt. One of the particularly interesting findings from this study was that the efforts to measure sorrow seemed to split into two factors. One of these sorrow factors seemed to predict healthy patterns of seeking forgiveness while the other factor did not.

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Most of the theorizing about forgiveness and almost all of the empirical work with forgiveness has focused on the granting of forgiveness rather than the seeking of forgiveness (Sandage, Worthington, Hight, & Berry, 2000; Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002). One empirical exception to this imbalance can be found in the accounts literature in social psychology. The accounts literature typically relies on the narrative method where an individual provides a subjective account of what happened during an event from that person's point of view. Zechmeister and Romero (2002) had participants write two narratives. The instructions for these narratives varied along two factors. One factor involved asking participants to recall a situation where they hurt or angered someone else (offender perspective), or someone else hurt or angered the participant (victim perspective). The second factor involved the extent to which the situation involved forgiveness or not. The resulting narratives were then coded for: severity of the reported offense; moral responsibility; threat to self; time frame and consequences of the event; motives and intentions; emotional and behavioral responses, and empathy for the other person.

Interestingly, from the perspective of the offender, self-forgiveness was not related to reports of receiving forgiveness from the victim. Yet, offenders who forgave themselves were more likely to mention an apology and make amends. The focus of the reported results for the offender clearly emphasized the function of self-forgiveness. These results indicated that the perspective of the offender varied as a function of self-forgiveness. Those offenders who were forgiving of self were more likely to report: (a) The victim overreacted, (b) the victim provoked the offense, (c) the offender had feelings of anger about the offense, and (d) the offender having an improved relationship with the victim. Thus, self-forgiving offenders were those who viewed the victim as sharing blame.

A study by Witvliet, Ludwig, and Bauer (2002) also addressed the issue of offenders seeking forgiveness. Students were asked to think about a past situation where they significantly hurt the feelings of another person. Using a repeated measures design, participants contemplated the following: (a) Recalling the actual transgression, (b) imagining seeking forgiveness from the victim, (c) imagining the victim refusing forgiveness and holding a grudge, (d) imagining the victim forgiving the offender, and (e) imagining the victim and offender reconciling and restoring the relationship. During the imagery sessions, heart rate, skin conductance, and facial muscular data were collected. The facial muscular data involved monitoring furrowing of the brow (corrugator EMG) and smiling activity (zygomatic EMG). Following the imagery sessions, students rated themselves along various emotional dimensions and rated the vividness of their imagery. …

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