Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Is It Really More Blessed to Give Than to Receive? A Consideration of Forgiveness and Perceived Health

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Is It Really More Blessed to Give Than to Receive? A Consideration of Forgiveness and Perceived Health

Article excerpt

There are several aspects to forgiveness. To this point, few studies have simultaneously considered the impact of all these different aspects, and none have considered the impact of all these aspects of forgiveness upon perceived physical health. Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 93, self-reported tendencies toward various types of dispositional forgiveness, well-being, and empathy. These individuals reported they were most inclined to seek forgiveness from others and feel forgiven by God. They were least inclined to self-forgive. A second study was conducted as a conceptual replication of the first study. Across both studies results suggested that the way granting forgiveness was operationalized mattered and that self-forgiveness was the most significant contributor to perceived physical health.


"If you are suffering from a bad man's injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men. "

--Augustine (quotation from Zuck, 1997, p. 155)

If granting forgiveness is the gift that can keep a good man from turning bad, then generally forgiveness must be a good thing. And, good things often tend to have good effects. With human beings, good effects typically translate into well-being. One form of well-being is health. Thus, there has been growing scientific and therapeutic interest in the possible connections between forgiveness and well-being, or more specifically, health.

However, there are several aspects to forgiveness. For example, forgiveness can be seen as involving two sides of an equation. Seeking forgiveness is one side of that equation (Sandage, Worthington, Hight, & Berry, 2000). That side of the equation can involve seeking forgiveness or simply apologizing (Exline, Deshea, & Holeman, 2007), and seeking forgiveness or apologizing can be aimed at the person harmed and/ or at God (Sandage et al., 2000). The granting side of the forgiveness equation can involve emotional or decisional forgiveness (Worthington & Scherer, 2004). Such forgiveness can be granted to self (Fisher Sc Exline, 2006; Tangney, Boone, Sc Dearing, 2005), the transgressor (Sandage et al., 2000), or even a situation that was beyond anyone's control (Yamhure Thompson et al., 2005). Self-forgiveness can assume the forms of self-forgiving, condoning, and self-punishing (Fisher & Exline, 2006). Finally, forgiveness can be granted by people or by God (Toussaint & Williams, 2008).

There is value in studying these different aspects of forgiveness in isolation. But, there is also value in studying these different aspects of forgiveness simultaneously. First, the simultaneous strategy more closely mimics real life. Second, the simultaneous study of these different aspects of forgiveness allows us to consider the relative impact of these aspects of forgiveness. Some of the work done by Witvliet and her colleagues (Witvliet, Hinman, Exline, & Brandt, 2011; Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002) is a good example of this simultaneous strategy. But to our knowledge, no one has simultaneously considered the multiple aspects of dispositional forgiveness in the context of self-reported health and well-being. This project represented an effort to fill that void.

One aspect of forgiveness involves a victim granting forgiveness to an offender. Within a therapeutic context, granting forgiveness has often been promoted as a means of self-enhancement. "Letting go" of offenses has been argued to lead to a reduction in rumination, negatively valenced emotions (e.g., anger, fear, and bitterness), and stress-related physical symptoms (e.g., McCullough & Worthington, 1995). A number of studies have confirmed the connection between granting forgiveness and psychological health (Berry, Worthington, O'Connor, Parrott, & Wade, 2005; Friedberg, Suchday, & Srinivas, 2009; Lawler et al., 2005; Lawler-Row & Piferi, 2006; Messay, Dixon, & Rye, 2012). In fact, Messay et al. …

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