Academic journal article Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences

An Alternative Model of Self-Forgiveness

Academic journal article Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences

An Alternative Model of Self-Forgiveness

Article excerpt

Throughout life, people inevitably transgress by offending others, themselves, or a religious/spiritual figure by failing to uphold others', personal, or spiritual standards. When transgressors have empathy for their victims, take responsibility, and their transgressions are sufficiently severe, they often experience remorse as guilt and self-condemnation through shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). In other words, guilt and shame are painful intropunitive feelings focused on behaviors or characterological flaws, respectively (Fisher & Exline, 2006; Lewis, 1971; Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Although transgressors can experience guilt and shame simultaneously, it is important to distinguish the behavioral nature of guilt from the characterological focus of shame. Whereas shame-free guilt is associated with interpersonal and intrapsychic reparative actions, guilt-free shame is related to social withdrawal and avoidance motivation (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Living through these feelings often diminishes transgressors' self-worth and self-respect (Dillon, 2001). In order to resolve negative self-evaluations, shame-free guilty transgressors may become concerned with self-forgiveness. Guilt-free shameful persons, however, may avoid self-forgiveness altogether unless they are able to reframe their offenses from character flaws into behavioral terms (Hall & Fincham, 2008; Tangney & Dearing, 2002).

To accomplish self-forgiveness, transgressors often apologize to and seek expressions of forgiveness from their victims. Hall and Fincham (2005) suggested that transgressors' various levels of attributions (e.g., internal vs. external cause), transgression severity, empathy, guilt, shame, conciliatory behaviors (e.g., apologies), and perceived interpersonal forgiveness all play roles in the process of self-forgiveness. In a follow up study, however, Hall and Fincham (2008) found only severity of transgressions, guilt, conciliatory behaviors, and perceived forgiveness related to self-forgiveness above and beyond the variance accounted for by the passage of time. Further, attributions, empathy, and shame were unrelated to self-forgiveness when they accounted for time. The results of Hall and Fincham (2008) suggest (1) taking responsibility is a mere precondition to self-forgiveness, (2) empathy plays an insignificant role in self-forgiveness, and (3) shameful individuals may not accomplish self-forgiveness. In the current study, we compared models derived from Hall and Fincham's 2005 and 2008 models (Figures 1 & 2) against our a priori alterative mediation model (Figure 3) to investigate self-forgiveness following interpersonal offenses.

Self-Forgiveness Path Models

We present an overview of Hall and Fincham's (2005) proposed antecedents of self-forgiveness followed by descriptions of models (Figures 1 & 2) derived from Hall and Fincham (2005/2008) and our a priori alternative mediation model (Figure 3).


Various attributions about transgressions, or the extent to which transgressors assume blame, may impact transgressors' guilty and shameful feelings. External, unstable, global, uncontrollable, and prideful attributions are likely to superficially increase self-forgiveness because they minimize taking responsibility for offenses (Fisher & Exline, 2006; Hall & Fincham, 2005; Tangney, Boone, & Dearing, 2005), thereby decreasing levels of guilt and shame. For instance, self-forgiveness was negatively correlated with guilt and shame, but positively correlated with narcissism and victim blaming (Strelan, 2007; Zechmeister & Romero, 2002). These attributions are likely to be indicative of pseudo-self-forgiveness (Enright, 1996; Hall & Fincham, 2005). In other words, transgressors may quickly "forgive" themselves by essentially ignoring their culpabilities.

For example, someone may believe, "I forgive myself for hitting him. He deserved it anyway. …

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