Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Apologies: The Art of Saying "I Am Sorry"

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Apologies: The Art of Saying "I Am Sorry"

Article excerpt

An important topic of inquiry in the area of forgiveness is the act of forgiveness-seeking or apology making. This paper combines insights drawn from change theory, practical theology, clinical experience and research on forgiveness-seeking to propose a grounded theory model of forgiveness-seeking. It is proposed that this model of forgiveness-seeking is sufficiently detailed to reflect the complexities encountered by therapists while retaining a simplicity that makes it readily adaptable to clinical practice.

An important topic of inquiry in the field of forgiveness studies is the act of forgivenessseeking (Bassett, Bassett, Lloyd & Johnson, 2006; Bassett et al., 2008; Exline, Root, Ya da valli, Fisher & Martin, 2011; Sandage, Worthington, Hight & Berry, 2000; Toussaint & Williams, 2008; Webster & Beech, 2000; Witvliet, Ludwig & Bauer, 2002). The research on forgiveness-seeking both expands our understanding of the process of forgiveness and adds to our understanding of the work of confession, a topic that is of interest to therapists. This paper seeks to bridge the research on forgiveness-seeking with clinical practice to propose a model to guide therapeutic work with individuals seeking forgiveness. By employing the lenses of forgiveness-seeking, change theory, practical theology and clinical experience working with perpetrators of family violence and other trust violations this paper explores the complex relationship between the emotional, cognitive and decisional processes related to making an apology.

Change Theory

Theories of change tend to highlight the process of change (Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross, 1992), factors that contribute to change (e.g., Bandura, 1977; Bandura, Adams & Beyer, 1977), and orders or types of change (e.g., Ecker & Hulley, 1996; Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974). Prochaska proposed a five-stage process: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance as a paradigm for understanding change (Prochaska et al., 1992). In this process, the individual's awareness of and commitment to change proceeds from not seeing the need for change to perceiving the potential advantages of change to developing a plan for and enacting change to maintaining and building on the changes that have been made (Prochaska et al., 1992). Bandura identified two variables that factor into a person's beliefs about change: "efficacy expectancy" and "outcome expectancy." Outcome expectancy is defined in terms of the counselee's belief that a specific behavior or intervention will result in a positive outcome (Bandura, 1977; Bandura et al., 1977) while efficacy expectation refers to a person's confidence that he or she is able to do what is required to achieve the desired outcome (Bandura, 1977; Bandura et al., 1977).

Further reflection on the phenomenon of change reveals that not all change is of the same type or magnitude: i.e., first-, second-, third-, and fourth-order change (Buker, 2003; Ecker & Hulley, 1996; Watzlawick et al., 1974). While first-order change does not require anything more than a change in outward behavior, second-order change results in an epistemological shift as a person questions the assumptions that inform his or her actions (Bateson, 1971; Watzlawick et al., 1974). Thus, a man who is verbally and/or physically abusive would see that this behavior results in people fearing him and stands in the way of him experiencing respect. Third-order change involves a shift in focus such that the "self" is no longer the central organizing principle governing a person's choices and behaviors with the result that a person chooses to act in ways that acknowledges and is inclusive of others (Buker, 2003; Ecker & Hulley, 1996). In the case of the person who engages in abusive behavior, the move towards third-order change is marked by a decision to act respectfully towards another because it is good for the other person, even in the absence of reciprocity. …

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