Academic journal article Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology

Differences between Self-Forgiveness and Interpersonal Forgiveness in Relation to Mental Health

Academic journal article Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology

Differences between Self-Forgiveness and Interpersonal Forgiveness in Relation to Mental Health

Article excerpt

In the last two decades, the concept of forgiveness has received growing empirical attention from various perspectives of psychology. Forgiveness can be understood as "the framing of a perceived transgression in which one's responses to the transgressor, transgression, and sequelae of the transgression are transformed from negative to neutral or positive" (Thompson, Snyder, Hoffman, Michael, Rasmussen, Billings, Heinze, Neufeld, Shore, Roberts & Roberts, 2005, p. 318). In scientific literature, forgiveness is most often conceptualized as a response to transgression, personality disposition or the quality of social units (McCullough & Witvliet, 2002).

It is necessary to distinguish between state forgiveness and trait forgiveness. While the latter is concerned with specific situations or (groups of) individuals, the former refers to a relatively stable personality trait that is far less dependent on specific situations or individuals. The distinction between the two types is important because it has been indicated that trait forgiveness is connected with mental health and personal well-being while state forgiveness bears no significant connection to either of these (Thompson et al., 2005). The personality trait forgiveness is classified as a morally valued character strength (McCullough, 2000; Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

According to Thompson et al. (2005, p. 318), "the source of a transgression, and therefore the object of forgiveness, may be oneself, another person or persons, or a situation that one views as being beyond anyone's control (e.g., an illness, 'fate', or a natural disaster)." Forgiveness can be viewed as both an inter-and an intrapersonal phenomenon. According to Enright (1996), self-forgiveness consists in the willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one's own acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity, and love toward oneself. Bauer, Duffy, Fountain, Halling, Holzer, Jones, Leifer & Rowe (1992) view self-forgiveness in a more abstract way. To forgive one-self, they claim, means to regard one's transgression from a broad perspective and to take a step towards self-acceptance.

Forgiveness in the Context of Mental Health

A number of studies have confirmed the link between forgiveness and both psychological (depression, anxiety, hostility, anger, various forms of psychopathology) and physiological factors (Webb, Colburn, Heisler, Call & Chickering, 2008; Lawler-Row, Hyatt-Edwards, Wuensch & Karremans, 2011). A study by Toussaint, Williams, Musick & Everson (2001) has proven a negative correlation between both interpersonal forgiveness and self-forgiveness on one hand and psychological distress on the other. The result was valid for all age groups. Positive relationship between forgiveness and general life satisfaction has only been established for interpersonal forgiveness. In their study, Mauger, Perry, Freeman, Grove, McBride & McKinney (1992) found a negative correlation between indicators of psychopathology (in accordance with MMPI) and both interpersonal forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Tangey, Fee & Lee (1999, in Fincham & Kashdan, 2004) established a negative correlation between interpersonal trait-forgiveness and symptoms of depression and hostility. Also, self-forgiveness was found to be negatively correlated with symptoms of depression and positively correlated with overall psychological adjustment. A study by Subkoviak, Enright, Gassin, Freedman, Olson & Sarinopoulos (1995) on adolescents has found a negative correlation between forgiveness and anxiety, while no such link was established between forgiveness and symptoms of depression. According to Mauger et al. (1992, in Thompson et al., 2005), a stronger link exists between the indicators of mental health (including depression, anxiety and anger) and self-forgiveness than between these indicators and interpersonal forgiveness.

Toussaint & Webb (2005) made a summary of both theoretical and empirical studies addressing the links between forgiveness, mental health and well-being. …

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