Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Developing the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) as a Measure of Self-Forgiveness Related to Failing and Succeeding Behaviors

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Developing the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) as a Measure of Self-Forgiveness Related to Failing and Succeeding Behaviors

Article excerpt

Self-forgiveness has been a somewhat neglected topic in psychological research, although much has been written about forgiveness per se. A search conducted in October 2013, using the database PsycInfo, identified 2,794 papers when "forgiveness" was entered as the search term versus only 141 papers when "self-forgiveness" was entered. Much of the research on forgiveness in general has tended to focus on the victim and his or her reaction to a specific event or relationship (e.g., murder, abuse, betrayal, etc.) in terms of forgiving the perceived transgressor.

In contrast, studies on self-forgiveness tend to focus on the extent to which one is willing and able to forgive or excuse some wrong-doing committed by the individual him- or herself. According to Thompson et al. (2005), self-forgiveness entails a refraining--a new understanding of oneself and of the offense committed that helps restore a positive self-image without condoning or excusing the offense. In short, self-forgiveness is the psychological process whereby an offender acknowledges wrongdoing following a transgression he or she committed, and without condoning or excusing it, overcomes negative sentiment toward the self and is reconciled to the self.

An interesting distinction has been drawn between self-forgiveness and self-excusing. For example, Fisher and Exline (2006) argued that when measures do not consider acceptance of responsibility as a prerequisite, self-forgiveness may be considered as closer to self-excusing than to what theorists would call genuine self-forgiveness. It has further been argued that distinguishing between self-forgiveness and self-excusing may help to explain the contradictory findings related to the apparent benefits of forgiving. On the one hand, self-forgiveness has been found to be positively related to antisocial qualities (Tangney et al. 2005) and to the tendency to be more blaming toward the victim (Strelan 2007; Zechmeister and Romero 2002). On the other hand, self-forgiveness also has been associated with positive outcomes. For example, Mauger et al. (1992) and Maltby et al. (2001) reported that self-forgiveness is related to mental health, in the sense that people who forgive themselves are less depressed, introverted, anxious, and distrusted, and Hodgson and Wertheim (2007) showed that self-forgiveness is related to both mental flexibility and emotional stability and self-compassion (Neff and Pommier 2013). Perhaps the abovementioned sets of findings reflect pseudo and true forgiveness, respectively, with the former characterized by excusing one's wrongdoing and the latter by accepting and (genuinely) forgiving it. On balance, perhaps both positive and negative outcomes may be associated with genuine self-forgiveness, dependent on as yet unidentified moderating variables. Addressing this possibility, however, will require further research that would take us outside the remit of the current study.

Irrespective of the source of the contradictory findings, due to the definitions in the area of self-forgiveness, there is a need to consider carefully the instruments that are used to measure self-forgiveness behaviors. Much of the research in this area has relied upon the use of self-report scales, which ask participants to indicate, for instance, their agreement or disagreement with statements pertaining to self-forgiveness. For example, the State of Self-Forgiveness Scales (SSFS; Wohl et al. 2008) include items that ask participants to respond to statements such as, "As I consider what I did that was wrong, I feel compassionate toward myself," with responses being made on a 4-point scale: 1=not at all, 2=a little, 3=mostly, and 4= completely.

In utilizing self-report measures in the study of self-forgiveness, it is possible that some of the weaknesses inherent in such measures may impact upon specific findings. In general, it has long been acknowledged that self-report instruments may fail to capture response biases that participants find too difficult or impossible to acknowledge or articulate (Wilson and Dunn 2004). …

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