Letting it go: Take responsibility, make amends and forgive yourself

May 13, 2014
Credit: Bill Kuffrey/public domain

Forgiving ourselves for hurting another is easier if we first make amends—thus giving our inner selves a "moral OK," according to Baylor University psychology researchers.

The research, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, is significant because previous studies show that the inability to self-forgive can be a factor in depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system, researchers said.

"One of the barriers people face in forgiving themselves appears to be that people feel morally obligated to hang on to those feelings. They feel they deserve to feel bad. Our study found that making amends gives us permission to let go," said researcher Thomas Carpenter, a in psychology in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.

The was based on two studies. In the first, 269 participants recalled diverse "real-world" offenses they had committed, ranging from romantic betrayals to physical injury to gossip to rejection. In the second study, 208 participants were asked about a hypothetical wrong.

In the first study, participants were asked how much they have forgiven themselves for an actual offense; how much they had tried such efforts as apology, asking and restitution; how much they felt the other person had forgiven them; and how much they saw self-forgiveness as morally appropriate.

The more they made amends, the more they felt self-forgiveness was morally permissible. Further, receiving forgiveness appeared to help people feel it was morally all right to let go.

Researchers said one limitation of the first study was that the offenses varied from person to person. So to further test their hypotheses, in Study 2 they used a standardized hypothetical offense—failing to take the blame for the action that caused a friend's firing. This study revealed similar results to the first, although—unlike in Study 1—receiving forgiveness from someone else had little effect on whether one forgave oneself.

The research also showed that the guiltier a person felt and the more serious the wrong, the less he or she was likely to self-forgive. Making amends also appeared to help people self-forgive by reducing those feelings, the researchers found. Also, women were generally less self-forgiving than men. Self-forgiveness may be "morally ambiguous territory," wrote, and "individuals may, at times, believe that they deserve to continue to pay for their wrongs." But by making amends, they may be able to "tip the scales of justice."

Explore further: Actions don't always speak louder than words -- At least, not when it comes to forgiveness

Related Stories

Psychologists probe moral judgments of suicide

January 8, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Suicide is a major public health issue; it takes the lives of more than a million people each year. It is also widely believed to be immoral. Why do people so commonly believe it is wrong for people to ...

Recommended for you

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...

Babies have logical reasoning before age one, study finds

November 18, 2015

Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.