What are the Steps Involved in Self-Forgiveness?




Rourke, Jessica

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Most forgiveness research focuses on the person harmed by a transgression and the benefits of granting forgiveness to the wrongdoer. This dissertation sought to contribute knowledge to the emerging field of forgiveness of the self. The aims of this study were to ascertain whether laypersons define self-forgiveness in the same manner as researchers and to explore the validity of a process-model of self-forgiveness. Of interest was also whether individuals in different stages of self-forgiveness differ in their beliefs and whether laypersons have the same understanding of self-forgiveness and the steps involved as the counsellors from whom they may seek guidance. Study 1 explored these questions in a sample of 121 undergraduate students, Study 2 in a sample of 189 members of the broader community, and Study 3 in a sample of 80 counsellors and psychologists. Participants provided a definition of self-forgiveness and put the hypothesized steps of self-forgiveness into a temporal order. Although there were differences in perspectives, participants tended to agree with researchers that self-forgiveness is letting go of negative thoughts and emotions, and adopting positive thoughts and emotions toward the self. However, participants went beyond this, stating that self-forgiveness is in large part learning to accept the self, moving on from the past, and growing from the experience. The majority of participants agreed that the steps proposed in the model are comprehensive of the self-forgiveness process. In each study, participants also agreed with the proposed ordering of approximately half of the units. However, students, community members, and counsellors had significantly different beliefs about the ordering each of the units. In addition, the ordering of the units often depended on the participant’s stage in the process of self-forgiveness (e.g., have never felt the need to forgive myself, would like to forgive myself but have not begun, am in the process of forgiving myself, have fully forgiven myself). The results of this study have practical applications for future self-forgiveness researchers, laypersons searching for information about how to begin forgiving oneself, and counsellors who encounter clients struggling with guilt, shame, and self-blame.



self-forgiveness, forgiveness