The impact that personality has on the ability to forgive has been a topic of much debate for many years. Many experts believe that certain personality traits can make an individual more susceptible to forgiveness. The purpose of this discussion is to examine whether or not any personality seems to be more forgiving of self and others than other personalities. The investigation will also explore the type of research that has been done and what is currently being studied in this subject area. We will begin our discussion with a brief summary concerning the importance and definition of forgiveness.
Importance of Forgiveness
According to the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Forgiveness plays an important role in ensuring the mental stability of individuals. The journal reports that people that practice forgivenss are able to improve their well being and have more meaningful interpersonal relationships. Much of the scientific literature pertaining to the subject of forgiveness indicates that practicing forgiveness can result in less guilt, anxiety, anger and remorse of fear. (Harrington et al. 2000) Harrington et al. (2000) also reports, that the positive impact of forgiveness can be found amongst large and diverse populations that contain everyone from incest survivors to the families of individuals that have been murdered. (Harrington et al. 2000)
Harrington et al. (2000) also explain the definition of forgiveness asserting that it involves, "two people, one of whom has received a deep and long-lasting injury that is either psychological, emotional, physical, or moral in nature. [Forgiveness is] an inner process by which the person who has been injured releases himself or herself from the anger, resentment, and fear that are felt and does not wish for revenge." (Harrington et al. 2000)
The authors also describe forgiveness as a process that produces results over time. The journal asserts that over a period of time the individual that has been injured experiences less anger and resentment towards the person that caused the injury. (Harrington et al. 2000) An article in the journal, Counseling and Values explains that forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting, denying the injury or condoning the offense. (Chernoff et al. 2001) The idea of whether or not the victim has to feel love towards the perpetrator so that forgiveness can take place is still up for debate. (Harrington et al. 2000)
The journal also explains that there are four models of forgiveness, which include; "(1) models based on psychological theories; (2) process models (the most prevalent) describing psychological tasks involved in the act of forgiving over a period of time; (3) models based on a moral development framework; and (4) typologies of forgiveness." (Harrington et al. 2000)
As you can see forgiveness is a complex and somewhat complicated process. An individual's ability to forgive can be dependent upon a number of factors. For the purposes of this discussion we will concentrate on those factors that are dependent upon personality traits. We will explore the various studies that have been conducted in reference to forgiveness and personality types. In addition we will attempt to explain why these traits predispose people to practice forgiveness.
Forgiveness and Personality (Current Studies) great deal of the research has been conducted related to the correlation between personality traits and forgiveness. According to an article in, Current Directions in Psychological Science, these studies have made both negative and positive correlations between personality types and forgiveness. The article asserts that the personality types that are most susceptible to forgiveness include agreeableness, emotional stability, and religiousness. Wade and Worthington (2003) agree with this assessment and also explain the personality traits that lead to unforgiveness. The article asserts,
Dispositional traits, such as religiosity (McCullough et al., 1998; Worthington, Berry, & Parrott, 2001), trait empathy (Thoresen, Harris, & Luskin, 2000), agreeableness (McCullough & Worthington, 2000), and dispositional forgivingness (Berry & Worthington, 2001; Berry, Worthington, Parrott, O'Connor, & Wade, 2001), were theorized to relate to willingness to forgive transgressions across situations (Worthington & Wade, 1999). Trait anger (Spielberger, Jacobs, Russell, & Crane, 1983), shame-proneness (Tangney, 1995), and attachment style were hypothesized to be related to degrees of unforgiveness and forgiveness of a specific transgression." (Wade and Worthington 2003)
Over the next few paragraphs we will attempt to explain what makes people who are agreeable (empathic), emotionally stable and religious more likely to forgive their transgressors. We will explore the findings of several studies which have explored these topics. Our review will attempt to define and elaborate upon these personality types and their predisposition for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Agreeableness: Empathy and Altruism
Agreeableness (empathy) is one of the most researched areas of personality and the impact that it has on forgiveness. In fact, McCullough (2001) contends that people with agreeable personality traits display such characteristics as altruism, care, generosity and empathy.
These personality traits make it easier for these individuals to forgive those that have caused them injury.
The McCullough (2001) article explains that,
Highly agreeable people tend to thrive in the interpersonal realm and experience less conflict in relationships than less agreeable people do. Trait theorists and researchers have long been aware that agreeable people typically are rated highly on descriptors such as "forgiving" and low on descriptors such as "vengeful."
Research specifically on the disposition to forgive has also confirmed the agreeableness-forgiveness association." (McCullough 2001)
McCullough (2001) also asserts that agreeable people are more likely to be kind to people that have been rude to them. Agreeable personalities also tend to have higher moral standards. (McCullough 2001) Additionally, they also tend to be less exploitive than individuals that are not forgiving. (McCullough 2001)
Researchers have long asserted that the altruism and empathy traits that are displayed by agreeable people play a large role in their ability to forgive. McCullough et al. (1997), further asserts that empathy results in a motivation to care for others. The McCullough et al. (1997) article discusses forgiveness as it pertains to close relationships.
The researchers found that.
In the same way that empathy can facilitate caring for a person in need who was previously unknown to the actor, the emergence of empathy for an offending relationship partner can elicit the offended partner's capacity to care for the needs of the offending partner. In the context of a close relationship that has been damaged by the hurtful actions of one relationship partner, this empathy-elicited caring may be directed at three foci. First, empathy may cause the offended partner to care that the offending partner is experiencing guilt and distress over how his or her actions hurt the offended partner and damaged their relationship (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994). Second, empathy may cause the offended partner to care that the offending partner feels isolated or lonely because of their estranged relationship. Third, and perhaps most directly, empathy for the offending relationship partner may simply lead the offended relationship partner to care for restoring the breached relationship with the offending partner. In other words, empathy may lead to a yearning for restored positive contact with the offender." (McCullough et al. 1997)
These three reactions have the effect of lessening the impact of a harmful action making it less likely that the injured party will seek revenge. It also lessens the possibility that the parties involved will become estranged. (McCullough et al. 1997) If the injured party has an empathetic attitude they are more likely to attempt to reconcile the situation and be more understanding towards the offending partner. (McCullough et al. 1997)
Chernoff et al. 2001 discusses empathy and forgiveness as it relates to guilt prone individuals. The authors suggest,
Guilt-prone individuals...adopt more proactive and constructive strategies for managing anger (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Tangney, 1991, 1995; Tangney et al., 1999). They are more likely to engage in constructive behaviors, such as nonhostile discussion with the target of their anger and in empathic connection (Tangney, 1994). According to Tangney et al. (1999), forgiveness of others is positively correlated with other-oriented empathy and an adaptive guilt-prone style. Individuals more inclined to forgive are less prone to problematic shame reactions and "self-oriented" empathic distress." (Chernoff et al. 2001)
Chernoff et al. (2001) discusses a study in which the participants were 148 graduate students from a large urban college. The participants were given the Enright Forgiveness Inventory which is a 60 item scale that is designed to measure the degree to which a person can forgive an offender. (Chernoff et al. 2001) The participants had to recall an event that hurt them deeply and rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. (Chernoff et al. 2001) The researchers explained that the event had to be at least a 7 on the scale and that 10 represented the most severe hurt. (Chernoff et al. 2001)
The study revealed that, "Individuals who scored high in Empathetic Concern and Perspective Taking also scored high in their ability to forgive. Empathy for the perpetrator was significant in fostering constructive relationship-restoring responses, in contrast to engagement in destructive retaliatory behavior." (Chernoff et al. 2001)