Date of Conferral
Forgiveness is the act of moving beyond shame, guilt, anger, or blame, and it has been linked to psychological well-being, prosocial behavior, and religion/spirituality (R/S). However, the research on why and how people forgive is inconsistent, as the concepts involved are complex and difficult to define and operationalize. The purpose of this interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was to provide a better understanding of why and how people are cognitively and emotionally able to forgive and the role of R/S in that process. Goal orientation and cognitive restructuring theories were used as frameworks for understanding the forgiveness experience. First-person, semistructured interviews were conducted with 12 persons from 10 different sacred belief systems who had experienced forgiveness of a major transgression. Data were analyzed using the IPA process, and five themes emerged: what is forgiveness?; why forgive?; how to forgive; the relationship between self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others; and developing a forgiveness disposition. All participants described forgiveness as an effortful, transformative process. Their motivation to forgive was based on a learning goal orientation and benefits to personal well-being and relationships. Participants forgave through making supportive R/S and/or social connections, finding the courage to confront transgressions, and resolving issues with compassion and creativity. A model of forgiveness was proposed that researchers can apply to future research efforts, and that mental health providers, clergy, and other helping professionals can use with clients in therapeutic applications of healing from major transgressions.