Tagged: “forgiveness”

The Dark Side of Saying that Self-Forgiveness Has a Dark Side

A recent study by Peetz, Davydenko, and Wohl (2021) concludes that there is a “dark side” to self-forgiveness.  They, in fact, use this term three different times in the journal article.  The point of this blog is to challenge their view and to show that the statement is an over-reaction to their data.

Here is what they did in the study: They asked people who were entering a grocery store to fill out a self-forgiveness scale specifically regarding over-spending in the past and a scale that assesses beliefs about whether people can change their abilities or not.  For the latter variable, the researchers were interested, for example, in whether participants believed they could or could not change their spending habits if they overspent.

Can you forgive yourself for overspending then change your habits, or do you live on what the authors of a recent study called the “dark side” of self-forgiveness?

Those who believe that people, including themselves, can change unwanted habits are called incrementalists.  This issue of incrementalism is important in this research because the authors were hypothesizing that if people think that they cannot change their behavior of over-spending (they are not incrementalists), then they likely will be more cautious in how they spend relative to the incrementalists who might take the cavalier attitude that “I can always change bad behavior.”

So, the expectation in the research was this: Those who over-spent in the past and who now have forgiven themselves, and who think they can change, will have problematic spending on this new shopping venture.  This is what the authors called—three times—the “dark side” of self-forgiveness.

So, then, what did they find?  In Study 1, with over 100 participants, the statistical results were not significant.  The findings approached significance in that those who forgave themselves and who are incrementalists (believing that they can change and so over-spending should not be that big of a deal) tended to spend more, but again it was not statistically significant.

In Study 2, they did a larger study with over 200 participants and found the exact same thing.  There was no statistical significance for self-forgivers, who are incrementalists, to over-spend.

Upon their third try, they looked at spending relative to what was the pre-determined budget prior to shopping.  Here they did find that those who self-forgave for over-spending in the past and who were incrementalists (thinking they could change and so the over-spending probably is not a big deal) did spend more than those who kept themselves in check because they were not incrementalists (in other words, they did not trust themselves to change spending habits as much as people with the incremental beliefs that they could change).

Yet, here is the bottom-line critique of this work: The authors never assessed: 1) whether or not the participants who spent more than they had planned had way-overdone the spending; 2) whether or not the spending was harmful to their budget or to the family’s budget; and 3) whether or not any true economic injustice was done by the purchase.

Statistical failures on two out of three attempts didn’t sway the authors from proclaiming success.

The average reported total amount spent by participants in Study 2 was $74.06.  For the majority of people, this hardly would destroy the family finances.  In other words, was this kind of spending harmful?  Self-forgiveness takes place in the context of harm, of unjust treatment, often toward others, and is seen by the self-forgiver as unjust.  Was this kind of spending in this study unjust?  The authors did not ask the participants if they thought this was the case.

So, in the final analysis, we see that in one of three statistical tries, participants, who formerly have self-forgiven for over-spending and who think they can change their behavior, spend perhaps a little more than those who think they cannot change.  How big is this difference and how serious is it for the family?  Given the statistical failure in two out of three tries and given the small sum spent on the average ($74.06), it seems to me that calling this a “dark side” of self-forgiveness is not warranted, at least for now.  Do you see how there is a “dark side” to exaggerating conclusions about the dark side of forgiveness?

Robert

Peetz, J., Davydenko, M., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2021). The cost of self-forgiveness: Incremental theorists 
spend more money after forgiving the self for past overspending. Personality and Individual Differences, 179, 110902.
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Finding Hope in the Midst of Trauma

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Dr. Suzanne Freedman, Educational Psychology Professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and is reposted with the permission of both the author and of Darlene J. Harris, creator of the website “And He Restoreth My Soul Project” where the blog originally appeared on May 1, 2022.

I automatically connect hope to my work on the topic of interpersonal forgiveness as an approach to healing from a deep, personal and unfair hurt. In this blog post, I will discuss why I believe choosing to forgive can offer individuals who have experienced the trauma of child abuse or sexual assault hope of healing and the power to move beyond their abuse.

“Forgiveness offers a way to heal, and have hope for the future, while acknowledging what happened was wrong, unfair, and extremely hurtful,” according to Dr. Suzanne Freedman, shown here during a research project with 5th grade students.

It is normal and natural to feel angry, and hopeless as a result of childhood or sexual assault trauma and one has a right to these feelings for experiencing something no individual should have to go through. If one believes that healing is impossible and/or there is nothing that can change their current attitude, feelings, and thoughts toward their abuser, it is likely they will feel despair and quite hopeless. Forgiveness offers an option for healing that allows one to hope and have faith in a better future, while also acknowledging that the abuse they experienced was unfair, deeply hurtful and unacceptable.


“I am often asked ‘Why forgive?’ and my response is always the same, ‘What’s the alternative?’
Although forgiveness cannot undo the injury or damage caused by the injury, it allows us to move forward in our lives without the negative effects of all-consuming anger, hatred, and resentment.
It offers a way to heal and have hope for the future.”

Dr. Suzanne Freedman


Hope is believing that things will get better even if they don’t feel that way now. Hope is making the decision to forgive and committing to the process, even if one does not feel the forgiveness in their heart yet. Knowing that one is strong enough to move forward in their own healing, at their own pace increases feelings of hope for the future and leads to greater emotional and physical well-being.

Hope isn’t just nice to have, at times it is essential for survival in unbearable situations. Without hope, the will to live can diminish. One may stop caring about themselves and others, and their beliefs toward achieving a good life decrease. Hope, although scary, is directly related to a person’s belief that they can cope and move beyond the abuse or trauma they have endured.

Read the rest of Dr. Freedman’s full blog at “Finding Hope in the Midst of Trauma.”


Dr. Suzanne Freedman is a Professor in the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Her dissertation on forgiveness with incest survivors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. She will be a speaker at the July 19-20, 2022, International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness in Madison, WI.

Darlene J. Harris is a sought-after speaker, author of And He Restoreth My Soul (an anthology and resource guide on sexual violence), and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation because by the age of 18 she had been raped twice. “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did,” is the mantra that drives her. Read her true-life story in her own words.

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Checking in Again on Your Unfolding Love Story

For over 10 years on this site, we have posted a reflection in which we encourage readers to grow in love as their legacy of the present year. We have said this across the years:

“Give love away as your legacy of 2022.

How can you start? I recommend starting by looking backward at one incident of 2021. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague. Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for who you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?”

It is now about four months later. Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because we have only about eight months left to 2022. Have you engaged in about a third of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?

If you have not yet deliberately left love (or enough love) in the world this year, there is time. . . . . and the clock is ticking.

Robert

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What is your very best reason for telling the world that forgiveness is good?

As your question implies, you are aware that there is more than one reason why forgiveness is good.  To meet your challenge, I would say that the major reason why forgiveness is good is because it is linked to love, particularly what we call service love or agape love.  When you forgive you are exercising this kind of love toward someone who has not been loving to you as seen in the person’s unjust actions.  Thus, forgiveness is good because it meets injustice with the heroic virtue of love.  I call it heroic because it is so difficult to offer agape love in the face of others’ injustice.

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Because forgiveness is so important, do you think it is obligatory that those, who learn to forgive and develop an enthusiasm for it, should now teach others about forgiveness?

Because forgiveness is a choice, I do not think that we should put pressure on those who forgive to now go and become teachers of others. I do think that it is reasonable to let those who forgive know that helping others to now forgive is good, if this resonates with the person. In my own experience, I see people, who develop a pattern of being persistent forgivers, often do have an internal self-chosen obligation to teach and help others.

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