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Three ways to forgive: A numerically aided phenomenological study


Correspondence should be addressed to Michael J. A. Wohl, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, B550 Loeb Building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 5B6 (e-mail:


The topic of forgiveness has received increased attention in the psychological literature; however, definitional and operational clarity remains a stumbling block. We propose that the study of first-person experiential accounts can enrich ongoing definitional and psychometric efforts. We systematically examined such accounts of forgiveness, identifying recurrent themes and then clustering these accounts according to similarities in theme profiles. People reported forgiveness through interpersonal confrontation with their transgressor (Cluster I), intra-personal evaluation of human fallibility and moral commitments (Cluster II), and attempts to resume a positive relationship without presuming that the transgression could be ignored or forgotten (Cluster III). The findings of the present research help to integrate recent studies of forgiveness, and the implications of a tripartite model of forgiveness are considered.