Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Narrative Exploration of Motivation to Forgive and the Related Correlate of Religious Commitment

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Narrative Exploration of Motivation to Forgive and the Related Correlate of Religious Commitment

Article excerpt

This study examined both motivations to forgive and religious commitment related to those motivations. Ninety-seven participants took part in this web-based survey combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Two independent raters coded participants' narratives regarding motivations to forgive resulting in an acceptable level of agreement for six motivation categories, namely: religious reasons, relational reasons, desire for well-being, feelings of sorrow for or understanding with the offender, perceived the offense was unintentional, and self-blame. It was discovered that those endorsing the motivation theme category of "religious reasons" were significantly higher in levels of religious commitment than individuals endorsing motivations of "relational reasons" and "desire for well-being". Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

The question of why people do not forgive has been studied with such factors as revenge, anger, and maintaining a victim status emerging as possible explanations (McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001; Mullett, Houdbine, Laumonier, & Giard, 1998). The present study examined the motivation theme categories behind why people do forgive and the role of religious commitment in this process.

Konstam, Marx, Schurer, Harrington, Lombardo, and Deveney (2000) noted that the topic of forgiveness is an important clinical issue that frequently arises in therapy. These authors surveyed 381 counselors about forgiveness in their practice, and 88% responded that forgiveness was a commonly mentioned topic in psychotherapy. Although forgiveness is an important therapeutic topic, little is known regarding the underlying motivation to forgive. Individual motivations likely vary, and this could be an important factor in propensity to forgive.

Gallup and Jones (1989) surveyed the general public and found that 84% of people in the United States expressed a belief in a heavenly father, a personal God of sorts that can be accessed through prayer. Spilka and Mcintosh (1997) further investigated the general population's belief in a God and found that 95% of people in the United States endorsed such a belief. Research has shown that atheists respond differently to questions about forgiveness than do those who identify themselves as Christians (Ripley, Worthington, Berry, Wade, Gramling, & Nicholson, 2003). As such, studying motivations underlying forgiveness and the role that religious commitment plays in the forgiveness process will provide new information on why people forgive. This information could help to illuminate possible therapeutic interventions involving forgiveness.

Forgiveness has been defined in many ways by a variety of researchers (McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003). For the purposes of this study, the definition from McCullough, Worthington, and Rachal (1997) was used. McCullough et al. (1997) posited that forgiveness involves three different motivational changes: (a) one's motivation to retaliate against the offender decreases, (b) one's motivation to uphold separation from the offender decreases, and (c) one's motivation for conciliation and positive thinking about the offender increases, even though the offender has caused pain. As such, there is an emphasis on conceptualizing forgiveness as a motivation to heal damaged relationships. However, individuals likely have different reasons or motivations for why they desire such relational healing. The present study was designed to ascertain these individual motivations to forgive.

The definition of motivation that was used in the present study was informed by Baumeister and Leary (1995), who posited that people are generally motivated to be in relationship to one another, originating from a human need for interpersonal connectedness. When people do not forgive they are likely to feel psychological tension resulting from a violation of this motivation for connectedness in three areas: (a) violating the intent to continue in a relationship, (b) violating the desire to maintain a long-term relationship, and (c) violating the need for psychological attachment (Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002; Karremans, Van Lange, Ouwerkerk, & Kluwer, 2003). …

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