JSU Student Symposium 2020
When Are People Glad Versus Upset with Themselves for Forgiving?



Faculty Mentor

Heidi Dempsey, Psychology


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Houston Cole Library, 11th Floor | 10:00-10:10 a.m.


McCullough, Pargament, and Thoresen (2000) define forgiveness as, “intraindividual, prosocial change toward a perceive transgressor that is situated within a specific interpersonal context” (p.9). However, few authors have looked at instances where forgiveness backfires and the forgiver end up angry or upset with themselves for forgiving a transgressor (cf. Exline, Ciarocco, & Baumeister, 2001, February). The current study sought to further examine the differences between the types of situations and outcomes that influence someone to be glad for themselves or upset for forgiving the offender. In this study, 508 university student participants wrote a narrative about a time they forgave someone. The narrative prompts used a 2 (major incident; minor incident) x 2 (upset that they forgave the person; glad they forgave the person) between-subjects design. Participants described the situation and how they resolved it. Then they described why they were later upset with themselves or glad that they forgave the person. They indicated the gender of the person, their relationship, the emotions that they felt during and after the incident, and how the relationship developed after the incident. The reasons they gave for forgiving the person were mentioned in the upset condition more than the glad condition. They are listed as followed: adultery or cheating, lying, forgetting something important, mocking or bullying, and being rude or unkind. The following glad conditions were mentioned more often than the upset condition: gossiping or spreading rumors, broke or ruined something, trying to steal away their boyfriend/girlfriend, and dating their ex. When they were asked if they were glad or upset, the glad participants discussed that the relationship was stronger after the event or was too small of a problem to end the relationship. In contradiction, the upset participants mentioned that the incident repeated or the person hasn’t changed, and they shouldn’t have forgiven them so soon. Our discussion will center on whether these results support previous studies about the prosocial nature of forgiveness and how the forgiveness literature should be expanded to examine what happens days, weeks, or months after the forgiveness occurs to see the long-term effects of forgiveness on the self and one’s interpersonal relationships.


student presentations, student papers, forgiveness


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Social Psychology

Presentation Information

Platt, J. and Dempsey, E. (2020, 12 February). When are people glad versus upset with themselves for forgiving? Paper presented at the 2020 JSU Student Symposium, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, AL.

When Are People Glad Versus Upset with Themselves for Forgiving?