Researchers have said that forgiving ourselves for hurting another is easier if we first make amends.
Thomas Carpenter, a doctoral student in psychology in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, said 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.
The research article was based on two studies. In the first, 269 participants recalled diverse "real-world" offenses they had committed, ranging from romantic betrayals to physical injury to gossip to rejection. In the second study, 208 participants were asked about a hypothetical wrong.
In the first study, participants were asked how much they have forgiven themselves for an actual offense; how much they had tried such efforts as apology, asking forgiveness and restitution; how much they felt the other person had forgiven them; and how much they saw self-forgiveness as morally appropriate.
The more they made amends, the more they felt self-forgiveness was morally permissible. Further, receiving forgiveness appeared to help people feel it was morally all right to let go.
Researchers said one limitation of the first study was that the offenses varied from person to person. So to further test their hypotheses, in Study 2 they used a standardized hypothetical offense - failing to take the blame for the action that caused a friend's firing. This study revealed similar results to the first, although - unlike in Study 1 - receiving forgiveness from someone else had little effect on whether one forgave oneself.
The research has been published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.