According to researchers at Baylor University, forgiving yourself for hurting someone is easier if you first make amends with that person.
The research, published in “The Journal of Positive Psychology,” was based on data gathered from two different studies. In the first study, 269 participants recalled an offense they had committed in the past, which ranged from romantic betrayals to physical injury.
Those surveyed were asked if they had tried to apologize or offer penance to the offended party, if the other person had forgiven them, if they saw self-forgiveness as morally appropriate and finally if they have forgiven themselves for the offense.
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The results showed that the more they made amends with the offended party, the more they felt self-forgiveness was acceptable. Participants also said that receiving forgiveness from the person they offended helped the process of self-forgiveness.
Thomas Carpenter, a researcher and doctoral student in psychology in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, offered his summary of the findings: “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.”
In study two, 208 people were given the same hypothetical wrong: failing to take the blame for the action that caused a friend’s firing. Although the researchers said the results were similar to study one, in study two, receiving forgiveness from someone else had little effect on whether one forgave oneself.
Self-forgiveness, according to the researchers, seems to be a “morally ambiguous territory” and “individuals may, at times, believe that they deserve to continue to pay for their wrongs.” But making amends appeared to help people self-forgive by alleviating feelings of guilt, the researchers found.
Overall, the research from both studies showed that the guiltier a person felt and the more serious the moral crime committed, the less he or she was likely to self-forgive.