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Self-forgiveness: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly



Traditionally, self-forgiveness has been framed as a process that helps facilitate psychological as well as physiological well-being following wrongdoing. In the present paper, we outline the limits and boundaries of this presupposition. Specifically, we outline contexts in which self-forgiveness might yield negative consequence that include, among other things, a continuation of the wrongful behavior. First, we provide evidence that self-forgiveness for ongoing, wrongful behavior (e.g., smoking) alleviates negative feelings associated with acknowledged wrongs committed by the self, which does little to motivate behavioral change. We then discuss the complication that is pseudo-self-forgiveness – a situation in which people shift some responsible away from the self for wrongs committed by the self. This outward shift in responsibility lets the self “off the hook”, which increases the likelihood that the wrongful behavior will continue. Drawing on these discussions, a path model for behavioral change that places self-forgiveness at its core is offered. Although we present some pessimism regarding the outcome of the self-forgiveness process, this paper points to situations and attributions that maximize its positive effects.