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

Half of people believe fake facts

December 7, 2016

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

Helping children achieve more in school

December 7, 2016

Not all children do well in school, despite being intellectually capable. Whilst parental relationships, motivation and self-concept all have a role to play, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology ...

MRI scans detect 'brain rust' in schizophrenia

December 7, 2016

A damaging chemical imbalance in the brain may contribute to schizophrenia, according to research presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Florida.

Want to give a good gift? Think past the 'big reveal'

December 6, 2016

Gift givers often make critical errors in gift selection during the holiday season, according to a new research article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

0 comments

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.