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Forgiveness aversion: developing a motivational state measure of perceived forgiveness risks

Abstract

Given the demonstrated psychological, physical, and social benefits of forgiveness, it is striking that there are still strong impediments to its attainment. In this paper, we introduce the multi-dimensional construct of forgiveness aversion, an offense-specific motivational state based on perceived forgiveness risks. The construct and our proposed measure (the Forgiveness Aversion Scale) are composed of three related dimensions: unreadiness, self-protection, and face concerns. Unreadiness refers to the ongoing emotional turmoil that keeps victims from sincerely forgiving. Self-protection refers to the concerns about how offenders will interpret forgiveness. Finally, face concerns reflect victims’ concerns for their reputation. Four studies were completed to develop a state measure of forgiveness aversion through correlation, structural equations modeling, longitudinal analysis, and a hypothetical scenario experiment. Results of four studies reveal differential predictors of the three dimensions of forgiveness aversion and demonstrate that our understanding of the forgiveness process and impediments thereto is enhanced by addressing situation-specific impediments to forgiveness.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    There are strengths and weaknesses to providing participants with a wide temporal latitude when identifying a time when forgiveness became an issue for them. If the temporal window of offense selection is narrow, the severity of the offenses selected can be more trivial, given that serious offenses that make forgiveness an issue are relatively uncommon for most participants. However, by allowing for a wider interval of time, people are in different places along the forgiveness process when they answer the first survey, which is a methodological weakness (McCullough et al. 2003).

  2. 2.

    For the longitudinal models, five covariance structures were tested: simple random effects (RE), unstructured (UN), compound symmetry (CS), auto-regressive homogenous variance (AR1), and auto-regressive heterogenous variance (ARH1). In the models below, using AIC, BIC, and -2LL criterion, the ARH1 model worked best for models of rumination and forgiveness aversion, whereas the AR1 model worked best for the remaining tests. Therefore, these covariance models were adopted before conducting inferential tests on the longitudinal data.

  3. 3.

    The exact wording that we used for the hypothetical scenarios will be provided by the first author upon request.

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Correspondence to Ian Williamson.

Appendix: Forgiveness Aversion Scale

Appendix: Forgiveness Aversion Scale

Self-protection

  1. 1.

    I am confident that the offender won’t continue to hurt me in the future if I forgive®.

  2. 2.

    I am worried the offender may think that forgiveness gives him/her permission to do it again.

  3. 3.

    I am confident that the offender will not take advantage of me if I forgive®.

Unreadiness

  1. 4.

    I am having a lot of trouble forgiving because I still feel angry and bitter.

  2. 5.

    I am ready to forgive because I no longer ruminate about what happened®.

  3. 6.

    I am not ready to forgive because I still feel anxious, tense, and upset around my offender.

Face concerns

  1. 7.

    By forgiving, I may appear weak in front of the offender and others.

  2. 8.

    I would not be embarrassed by the possibility of letting the offender off the hook too easily®.

  3. 9.

    My offender humiliated me, and to show mercy and forgiveness is to be too soft on him/her.

Note: ® indicates items that were reverse coded.

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Williamson, I., Gonzales, M.H., Fernandez, S. et al. Forgiveness aversion: developing a motivational state measure of perceived forgiveness risks. Motiv Emot 38, 378–400 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-013-9382-1

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Keywords

  • Forgiveness
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Apology
  • Rumination