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Summary of Important Points from the Self-Forgiveness

Journal Article


Dr. Brian Campbell





Self-Forgiveness: The Stepchild of Forgiveness Research


Although research on interpersonal forgiveness is burgeoning, there is little conceptual or empirical scholarship on self-forgiveness.  To stimulant research on this topic, a conceptual analysis of self-forgiveness is offered in which self-forgiveness is defined and distinguished from interpersonal forgiveness and pseudo-self-forgiveness.  The conditions under which self-forgiveness is appropriate also identified.  A theoretical model describing the processes involved in self-forgiveness following the perpetration of an interpersonal transgression is outlined and the proposed emotional, self-cognitive, and offense-related determinants of self-forgiveness are described.  The limitations of the model and its implications for future research are explored.




Conceptual analysis:


·         Self-forgiveness is defined and distinguished from interpersonal forgiveness and pseudo self-forgiveness.

·         Conditions under which self-forgiveness is appropriate are identified.

·         Theoretical model is given describing the processes involved in self-forgiveness (after someone has perpetrated a transgression).

·         The emotional, social-cognitive, and offense-related determinants of self-forgiveness are described.


Limitations of the model and its implications for future research are explored.


·         Recent surge on research regarding interpersonal forgiveness.

·         Intrapersonal [self-forgiveness] has received remarkably little attention.


Various definitions of self-forgiveness are explored.


·         Self-forgiveness: a willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity, and love towards oneself.  [Enright, 1996, p. 115]


Shared features of self-forgiveness and interpersonal forgiveness:


·         Both unfold over time

·         Both require objective wrong which the offender is not entitled to forgiveness but is granted forgiveness nonetheless.

·         Both forms of forgiveness do not condone the behavior.

·         Both require a conscious effort that does not occur unintentionally.


Distinctions between interpersonal and intrapersonal forgiveness:


·         Although interpersonal forgiveness is unconditional, self-forgiveness need not be.

·         One may set up a condition such that self is only forgiven if he or she continues to meet these conditions.

·         Self-forgiveness often entails a resolution to change and to behave differently in the future.

·         Interpersonal forgiveness does not imply reconciliation with the offender, whereas reconciliation with the self is necessary in self-forgiveness.

·         Choosing not to forgive self can often have more severe consequences than those associated with a lack of interpersonal forgiveness.

·         It is impossible to escape the situation by avoiding the transgressor as one might do in the case of interpersonal transgressions.


To date, no one has studied the consequences of self-unforgiveness and interpersonal-unforgiveness.


How are the two processes related?  Is one a necessary precondition for the other?


·         It has been suggested self-forgiveness facilitates interpersonal forgiveness by allowing one to identify with one’s offender.

·         It is been argued that interpersonal forgiveness is more authentic and meaningful when it follows self-forgiveness.

·         There is no empirical evidence regarding the relationship between self-forgiveness and interpersonal forgiveness and there is limited evidence on the association between the two constructs would suggest they are unrelated or weekly related.


Self-forgiveness involves forgiving oneself for injury to another person or to oneself.


·         Self-forgiveness can apply to situations in which the only victim of one’s behavior is the self.


True self-forgiveness versus pseudo self-forgiveness:


·         Pseudo self-forgiveness occurs when an offender fails to acknowledge wrongdoing and accept responsibility.  In such a situation, one may indicate that one has forgiven oneself when, in fact, one does not believe one did anything wrong.

·         Guilt and regret must be fully experienced before one can move toward self-forgiveness.

·         Attempts to forgive oneself, without cognitively and emotionally processing the transgression and its consequences, are likely to lead to denial, suppression, or pseudo self-forgiveness.

·         True self-forgiveness is a long and arduous process that requires much self-examination and may be very uncomfortable.

·         Pseudo self-forgiveness can be achieved by self-deception and/or rationalization.


Is self-forgiveness always appropriate?


·         Self-forgiveness is only appropriate if a wrongdoing actually occurred.


Is self-forgiveness appropriate if an individual has committed a heinous offense, such as rape or murder?


·         Self-forgiveness may be viewed as a sign of disrespect toward the victim. Therefore, it may only be effective or appropriate after the offender is granted forgiveness by the victim.


Emotional determinants of self-forgiveness:


·         Guilt

·         Shame: associated with focus on self.



Social-cognitive determinants of self-forgiveness:




Offense-related determinants of self-forgiveness:


·         Conciliatory behavior.  The extent to which an offender apologizes and seeks forgiveness for a transgression is positively associated with the victim’s level of intrapersonal forgiveness.

·         Perceived forgiveness from victim or a higher power.

·         Severity of the offense


Limitations of the model:


·         Model doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive model of self-forgiveness.