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The multidimensional nature of the quest construct forgiveness, spiritual perception, & differentiation of self.

The study examined relationships between differentiation of self, sacred loss/desecration, and decisional or emotional forgiveness. A convenience sample (N = 437) completed an on-line survey. After controlling for impact of the event, impression management, hurtfulness, and religiousness, sacred loss/desecration partially predicted forgiveness. Sacred loss significantly predicted one measure of emotional forgiveness, and desecration significantly predicted two measures of decisional forgiveness and one measure of emotional forgiveness. Four differentiation of self scales were examined in separate hierarchical regression analyses as predictors of forgiveness, controlling for impact of the event, impression management, and hurtfulness. Each differentiation of self scale significantly predicted reduction of negative emotion, and two differentiation of self scales significantly reduction of negative emotion, and two differentiation of self scales significantly predicted inhibition of harmful intention. Differentiation of self partially mediated the relationship between sacred loss/desecration and emotional or decisional forgiveness. Implications for clinical practice and future research are considered.

Since the mid-1980s researchers have studied forgiveness scientifically. It has been positively associated with physical (Harris & Thorensen, 2005), emotional (Lawler et al., 2005; Reed & Enright, 2006), and relational well-being (DiBlasio, 2000; Fincham, Beach, & Davila, 2004), and negatively correlated with rumination (McCullough et al., 1998) and neuroticism (McCullough & Hoyt, 2002). As the scientific study of forgiveness approaches its fourth decade, greater attention is now being given to variations in the experience of forgiving. Specifically, delineation between cognitive and affective forgiveness is gaining attention (Worthington et al., 2008). These distinctions are reflected in contrasting conceptualizations of forgiveness. Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) underline the rational and willful choice to forgive an offender that is based upon the "moral principle of beneficence" (p. 29). In contrast, Worthington (2006) views forgiveness as primarily an emotional replacement process wherein positive emotions, such as benevolence, empathy, and love, replace negative emotions, such as bitterness, anger, and hatred.

This cognitive/affective difference is also echoed in approaches to forgiveness therapy. Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) and DiBlasio (2000) emphasize a client's will to forgive as a driving force behind forgiveness therapy. One decides to forgive in spite of the presence of negative emotions such as rage or a desire for revenge (McCullough & Worthington, 1999). Greenberg, Warwar, and Malcolm (2010) and Worthington (2006) highlight the power of emotional processes. Here forgiveness is promoted through emotional regulation that reduces anger, hatred, and revengeful desires and supports the emergence of positive emotions such as humility or empathy (Worthington, 2006).

While forgiveness theorists and therapists privilege cognition or affect, both processes are involved in forgiving, and either process can precede the other in any individual (Holeman, 2004). In this article, we propose that differentiation of self (Bowen, 1978) provides a way to understand the interplay between cognitive and affective forgiveness.

Forgiveness and Differentiation of Self

Differentiation of self is a central principle in Bowen Family Systems Theory (Bowen, 1976, 1978). Differentiation of self operates on intrapersonal and interpersonal levels. Regarding the intrapersonal level, Bowen (1976, 1978) proposed that people had two primary operating systems: the intellectual system and the emotional system. Differentiation of self refers to the ability to distinguish between thinking and feeling and the ability to choose which system directs one's behavior. When one experiences negative emotional intensity, the capacity to distinguish between thinking and feeling diminishes. The result is emotional reactivity where individuals' actions and reactions are driven by emotions instead of by calmer, objective thinking. Researchers have correlated higher levels of differentiation with lower chronic anxiety and less symptomatology (Knauth & Skowron, 2004; Skowron & Friedlander, 1998), lower test anxiety (Peleg-Popko, 2004), and higher social problem-solving capacities (Knuth, Skowron, & Escobar, 2006).

Regarding the interpersonal level, differentiation of self refers to the capacity to experience intimacy and independence in important relationships so that a person can remain emotionally connected to others and maintain a sense of being a distinct self (Bowen, 1976, 1978). Bowen called this the capacity of taking an "I" Position. Higher differentiation contributes to clarity and congruence between behavior and beliefs, and supports the ability to maintain these commitments even when others would demand change. Increased negative emotionality threatens one's capacity to remain a "distinct self" and stay connected. To resolve this threat to self and relationship, fusion or cutoff may result (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Fusion is the abandonment of a distinct self in order to maintain the relation. ship, and cutoff is the abandonment of the relationship to protect an autonomous, distinct self.

Several scholars have proposed a theoretical link between differentiation and forgiveness with higher levels of differentiation associated with greater capacities to forgive (Holeman, 1999, 2004; Schnarch, 1997; Shults & Sandage, 2006). When one chooses to forgive in spite of anger, hatred, or the desire for revenge, one is taking an "I" position based on one's valuing of forgiveness as a way to address interpersonal conflict or betrayal. Forgiveness also challenges tendencies toward negative emotional reactivity especially when fusion takes the form of hostile aggression or enmeshment toward an offender, or when one uses cutoff to avoid one's offender. Empirical evidence that supports this theoretical proposition is beginning to emerge. For example, Sandage and Jankowski (2010) reported that differentiation of self mediated the relationship between dispositional forgiveness and spiritual instability, mental health symptoms, and psychological well-being.

Forgiveness and Spirituality

Given that one may take an "I" position to forgive based on spiritual/religious convictions, the relationship between forgiveness and spirituality is important. McCullough and Worthington (1999) proposed that religious people valued forgiveness and therefore perceived themselves to be forgiving people. Leach and Lark (2004) reported that forgiveness of others was positively correlated with spirituality. Barnes and Brown (2010) found that the degree to which religious people valued forgiveness mediated the relationship between religiosity and predictions of forgiveness, independent of self-perceived past forgiveness tendencies. Lawler-Row (2010) reported that trait and state forgiveness either fully or partially mediated the relationship between measures of religiosity and a variety of health measures in a sample of older adults.

Differentiation of Self and Sacred Loss/Desecration

An emerging body of literature explores theoretical and empirical relationships between differentiation of self and spirituality in general. Drawing on Bowen theory, Shults and Sandage (2006) propose that spiritual maturity can be viewed as "differentiated attachment" (p. 269). This includes an intimate connection with God and the capacity to relate to others without resorting to fusion in the form of power and control or cutoff in the form of excessive anxiety about interpersonal differences. Majerus and Sandage (2010) argued for differentiation of self as a viable way to understand Christian spiritual maturity. Moreover, Jankowski and Vaughn (2009) found a correlation between differentiation of self and spirituality. Rootes, Jankowski, and Sandage (2009) reported that spiritual questing was one avenue that individuals employed in service of differentiation within a triangulated relationship.

When people experience transgressions in areas of life that carry religious or spiritual meaning, they may experience these offenses as sacred losses or desecrations (Pargament, Magyar, Benore, & Mahoney, 2005). When something is perceived to be a sacred loss, individuals experience a benign passing away of something directly connected to God or they encounter the loss of something that had been imbued with spiritual meaning. They describe sacred loss in terms of something missing, disappearing, gone, or absent from their life. In contrast, a desecration is experienced as a willful violation of something directly connected with God, or the purposeful violation of something that they had imbued with spiritual meaning. A person subsequently depicts desecration in terms of something sacred that had been ruined, dishonored, torn out, attacked, or intentionally harmed. Higher perceptions of sacred loss and desecration have been correlated with higher depression levels in a survey of divorced adults (Krumrei, Mahoney, & Pargament, 2009) and associated with greater levels of psychological distress for a sample of young adult children of divorced parents (Warner, Mahoney, & Krumrei, 2009).

Pargament and colleagues (2005) theorized that "people may suffer more severe consequences when sanctified aspects of their lives are lost (i.e., sacred loss) or violated (i.e., desecration), and they may be more likely to lash out against perpetrators of the injury" (p. 60). They surveyed a community sample of 117 adults and reported that sacred loss was predictive of intrusive thoughts and depression while desecration was even more strongly associated with intrusive thoughts and anger. These outcomes could map onto unforgiveness as ruminations and vengefulness (McCullough, Bono, & Root, 2007). Mahoney et al. (2005) speculate that desecrations may be especially difficult to forgive. Davis, Hook, and Worthington (2008) included a measure of desecration as part of a study on relational spirituality and forgiveness, and found that viewing an offense as a desecration was negatively related to forgiveness. However, they did not include a measure of sacred loss as part of their analysis. These research studies indicate that attributions of sacred loss and desecration can pose challenges to forgiveness. Differentiation of self, with its dual emphasis on taking an "I" position and emotional regulation, may provide a way to move beyond the pain of sacred loss and desecration toward forgiveness. No study to date has explored this relationship.

In summary, this study examined the following hypotheses. First, sacred loss and desecration were expected to negatively predict decisional and emotional forgiveness after controlling for impact of the event, impression management, hurtfulness, and religiousness. Control variables were selected based on previous research: (a) transgression severity was negatively related to forgiveness (Schultz, Tallman, & Altmaier, 2010), (b) impression management was positively correlated with forgiveness (DeShea, Tzou, Kang, & Matsuyuki, 2006; Stratton et al., 2008), (c) religiousness was positively correlated with forgiveness (Leach & Lark, 2004). Second, differentiation of self was expected to positively predict decisional and emotional forgiveness after controlling for the impact of the event, impression management, and hurtfulness. Finally, differentiation of self was hypothesized to mediate the relationship between sacred loss/desecration and forgiveness.



Standard invitations to participate in the study, which included the link to the online survey, were emailed to 4,757 undergraduate and graduate students via each institution's information services department. This included 250 graduate students at a Protestant seminary in the West, 1,611 graduate students at a Protestant seminary in the Southeast, and 1,396 undergraduate students at a private Christian college in the Southeast. At these three institutions, the school's information services department sent the email invitation announcement to all students enrolled as graduate or undergraduates, respectively. The fourth institution was a large public university in the Southeast, and a random sample of 1,500 undergraduate students was compiled and contacted through this institution's information services department.

In these email invitations, students were asked to complete an anonymous online survey. Consent on the web survey was given by 616 site visitors (12.9% of invitees), but 145 visitors (23.5%) quit before answering any questions. An examination of the data revealed that 33 of the 471 participants (7%) who began the survey did not answer enough questions for scores to be computed on any scale or they stopped the survey and returned to the website later. One underage participant was dropped, leaving 437 participants in the study, a response rate of 70.9% of those who visited the site and 9.2% of total invitees.

Fifty-eight participants (13.2%) completed the scales but failed to report demographic information on the last page. Those reporting demographic information included 242 females (63.9%) and 137 males (36.1%), whose mean age was 319 years (SD = 13.5). Of these, 713% reported being a full-time student, 25.3% a part-time student, and 3.5% a non-degree seeking student. Race/Ethnicity of the sample was composed of 91.3% White, 3.7% Blended Racial/National Heritage, 3.4% Black/African American, 1.1% Asian, and less than 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native or Hispanic/Latino(a). With regard to current relationship status, 36.4% reported being single/never married, 30.9% married one time, 14.8% in a consistent dating relationship, 10.3% remarried, 4.7% single/divorced, 16% living with a partner, and less than 15% single/widowed or separated from spouse/committed partner. When asked for their highest educational level, 40.2% reported being in or completing their undergraduate freshman year, 31.4% being a Master's degree student, 12.8% having a Master's degree, 5.1% having a Bachelor's degree, 4% being a Ph.D. student/candidate, 2.7% having an Associate's degree, 1.3% having a Ph.D., and 13% being a high school graduate.

Of those in the final sample (N = 437) who responded to questions about their spirituality and religion, 88.1% of participants reported being religious, 8% spiritual, 11% agnostic, 1.1`)/0 atheist, and 19% unsure of their faith. Similarly, the majority of the sample rated themselves as being moderately to very religious. In response to the question, "If religiosity is defined as participating in an organized religion, then to what degree do you consider yourself religious?" and using a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very religious), 82.2% rated themselves with a 4 or 5. When asked about their affiliation to a religious group, 83.9% reported being Protestant; 2.4% Catholic; L1% Native American Religion, Buddhist, or Humanistic; 8% other religious group; and 4.6% not affiliated with any religious group.

Procedures and Measures

Before beginning the online survey, participants were prompted to think of a person who had deeply hurt or offended them and to write a brief description of the hurtful event. Participants then completed the following measures, which were presented in the same order for all, with that person in mind.

Decisional Forgiveness Scale (DES; Worthington et al., 2008). The 8-item DSF measures the degree to which one has decided to forgive someone of a specific offense. Each item used a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) and yielded two scores: Prosocial Intention (Cronbach's alpha = .81) and Inhibition of Harmful Intention (alpha = .64). An example of a Prosocial Intention item is, "If I see him or her, I will act friendly." Inhibition of Harmful Intention items included, "I intend to try to hurt him or her in the same way he or she hurt me" (reverse-scored).

Emotional Forgiveness Scale (EFS; Worthington et al., 2008). The 8-item EFS measures the degree to which one experiences emotional forgiveness of a specific offense. Each item used a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) and encompassed two subscales: Presence of Positive Emotion (alpha = .86) and Reduction of Negative Emotion (alpha = .84). Presence of Positive Emotion items included, "I feel sympathy toward him or her." Reduction of Negative Emotion items included, "I no longer feel upset when I think of him or her."

Sacred Loss and Desecration Scale (SLDS; Pargament et al., 2005). The SLDS is a 23-item scale that measures theistic and nontheistic appraisals of sacred loss and desecration. Theistic sacred loss and desecration are perceptions of loss or violation directly related to God. Nontheistic sacred loss and desecration are perceptions of loss or violation of something indirectly connected with a belief in God, a higher power, or spirituality. The 13-item Sacred Loss scale (alpha = .94) included items such as, "Something symbolic of God left my life" (theistic) and "Something that gave sacred meaning to my life is now missing" (nontheistic). The 10-item Desecration scale (alpha = .93) included items such as, "Something from God was torn out of my life" (theistic) and "Something that was sacred to me was destroyed" (nontheistic). Participants rated the items on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). Some items refer to God, so participants were instructed to answer "not applicable" if they did not believe in God or a Higher Power, and the item did not fit with their understanding of spiritual matters.

Differentiation of Self Inventory-Revised (DSI-R; Skowron & Schmitt, 2003). The DSI-R is a 46-item survey that measures four dimensions of differentiation of self: Emotional Reactivity (ER), "I" Position (IP), Emotional Cutoff (EC), and Fusion with Others (FO). Participants rated items from 1 (not true of me) to 6 (very true of me). The 11-item ER scale (alpha = .88) measures the tendency to respond to external stimuli on the basis of automatic emotional reactions, emotional flooding, or lability (i.e., "People have remarked that I am overly emotional"). The 11-item IP scale (alpha = .81) measures the ability to thoughtfully maintain one's convictions even when pressured to change (i.e., "I tend to remain pretty calm even under stress"). The 13-item EC scale (alpha = .84) measures fear of intimacy or engulfment in relationships, and the strategies used to manage these fears (i.e., "I have difficulty expressing my feelings to people I care for"). The 12-item FO scale (alpha = .82) measures emotional over-involvement with others, heavy reliance on others for decision making, and readily changing one's beliefs to appease others (i.e., "I usually need a lot of encouragement from others when starting a big job or task"). To compute each scale, the appropriate items were reversed scored, responses were summed, and the totals were divided by the number of items in the subscale, resulting in a range of subscale scores of 1 to 6, with higher scores indicating greater differentiation of self.

Hurtfulness of the Event. The hurtfulness of the event was measured using a single item, "Please rate the hurtfulness of the event using the scale below," ranging from 1 (very little hurt) to 5 (large amount of hurt).

Impact of Event Intrusion Subscale. The 7-item Intrusion subscale of Horowitz, Wilner, and Alvarez's (1979) Impact of Event Scale (IES) (alpha = .89) measured the extent to which the hurtful event intruded upon the participants' thoughts. Items included, "I thought about it when I didn't mean to." Items were scored according to the developers' instructions, where 0 = not at all, 1 = rarely, 3 sometimes and 5 = often.

Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding (BIDR; Paulhus, 1984). The full BIDR includes two scales: the Self-Deception Scale, measuring exaggerated, but self-perceived as honest, self-appraisal, and Impression Management (IM), which is conscious alteration of responses to make favorable impressions on others. Because IM has been positively correlated with forgiveness (DeShea, Tzou, Kang, Matsuyuki, 2006; Stratton et al., 2008), only this sub-scale from the BIDR was incorporated as a control variable. A higher score indicates a greater tendency to consciously exaggerate desirable behaviors in order to favorably impress others. The 20-item IM scale (alpha = .82) included items such as, "I have never dropped litter on the street," rated on a scale of 1 (not true of me) to 7 (very true of me).


Participants who provided demographic data were compared with those who skipped the demographic items to determine whether any differences could be detected on the scales. Independent t tests for unequal sample sizes detected no significant differences, all ps > .05; the following analyses included participants who provided demographic data and those who did not. An option of "not applicable" was added to the Sacred Loss and Desecration scales to allow answers for participants who either did not believe in God or did not experience the described loss or desecration. Complete data on both scales was available from 358 participants (82.9%).

Table 1 displays the means and standard deviations of the measures of Sacred Loss/Desecration, forgiveness, and the control variables along with their correlations. To test the hypothesis of whether Sacred Loss/Desecration predicted Decisional and Emotional Forgiveness after controlling for Impact of the Event, Impression Management, hurtfulness, and religiousness, hierarchical linear regression (HLR) analyses were conducted. Step 1 of each HLR analysis included IFS, IM, hurtfulness and religiousness as predictors, with separate analyses predicting forgiveness (DFS: Prosocial Intention, Inhibition of Harmful Intention; EFS: Presence of Positive Emotion, Reduction of Negative Emotion). As noted in our introduction, prior research had shown that IM and religiousness were related to our outcome, and we wanted to control for their impact in addition to the impact of IES and hurtfulness. Step 2 added either the Sacred Loss score or the Desecration score as a predictor, resulting in a total of eight HLR analyses. Sacred Loss significantly added to the prediction of EFS Reduction of Negative Emotion, and Desecration explained a significant proportion of additional variance when added to the models predicting DFS Prosocial Intention, EFS Presence of

Table 1

Bivariate Correlations with Means and Standard Deviations for Forgiveness, SLDS, and Control Variables
Variables                 2       3      4       5       6       7

1. Sacred Loss        .58**    -.04    .02     .00  -.22**   .35**

2. Desecration            -  -.17**    .04  -.15**  -.19**   .29**

3. DFS Prosocial                  -  .29**   .70**   .41**  -.17**

4. DES Inhibition of                     -   .17**   .26**    -.06
Harmful Intention

5 Presence of                                    -   .37**    -.07
Positive Emotion

6. EFS Reduction of                                      -  -.21**
Negative Emotion

7. Impact of Event                                               -

8. Impression

9. Hurtfulness

10. How Religious

Variables                  8       9     10     M    SD

1. Sacred Loss          -13*   .30**   -.10  1.90  0.98

2. Desecration          -.09   .31**   -.03  2.58  1.18

3. DFS Prosocial       .20**  -.13**  .18**  3.63  0.98

4. DES Inhibition of   .27**     .02  .11**  4.48  0.63
Harmful Intention

5 Presence of           .12*   -.11*   .13*  3.45  1.02
Positive Emotion

6. EFS Reduction of    .22**  -.15**  .16**  2.90  0.97
Negative Emotion

7. Impact of Event    -.I6**   .51**   -.10  2.86  1.24

8. Impression              -    -.07  .24**  4.56  0.91

9. Hurtfulness                     -    .00  4.26  0.89

10. How Religious                            4.22   112

Note. Descriptive statistics computed on mean responses from
Likert-type scales. Impression Management used a 1-7 scale;
Impact of Event used a 0-5 scale; all other variables used a 1-5 scale.
Ns ranged from 370 (Impression Management) to 437 (Impact of Event).
*p<.05 **p<.01


Hierarchical Linear Regression Analyses Predicting Forgiveness from Sacred Loss/Desecration
                   DFS-Prosocial Intention Harmful Intention

Predictor                                          [DELTA]R2   [beta]

Step 1
Control variables                                      .73**

Step 2
Sacred Loss                                             .000     .022
Total R2                                               .74**
N 335                                                             335

Step 1
Control variables                                     .079**

Step 2
Desecration                                           .018**  -.144**

Total R2                                              .097**
N 331                                                             331

                   DFS-Inhibition of Positive Emotion

Predictor                                   [DELTA]R2

Step 1
Control variables                              .089**

Step 2
Sacred Loss                                      .002

Total R2                                       .091**
N 335

Step 1
Control variables                              .077**

Step 2
Desecration                                      .002

Total R2                                       .079**
N 331

                   Predicted forgiveness

Predictor                         [beta]

Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
Sacred Loss                         .042

Total R2
N 335                                335

Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
Desecration                         .049

Total R2
N 331                                331

                   EFS-Presence of Negative Emotion

Predictor                                 [DELTA]R2   [beta]

Step 1
Control variables                             .036*

Step 2
Sacred Loss                                    .001     .027

Total R2                                     .036**
N 335                                                    335

Step 1
Control variables                            .034**

Step 2
Desecration                                  .020**  -.151**

Total R2                                     .054**
N 331                                                    331

                   EFS-Reduction in

Predictor                 [DELTA]R2   [beta]

Step 1
Control variables            .084**

Step 2
Sacred Loss                  .022**  -.160**

Total R2                     .106**
N 335

Step 1
Control variables            .079**

Step 2
Desecration                   .018*   -.142*

Total R2                     .083**
N 331

Notes. DFS = Decisional Forgiveness Scale. EFS = Emotional
Forgiveness Scale. Control variables were Impact of the Event,
Impression Management, Hurtfulness, and Religiousness.

**p<.01. *p<.05.

Positive Emotion, and EFS Reduction of Negative Emotion, as shown in Table 2. Both measures were negative predictors of the forgiveness scales, as evidenced by the negative betas.

The second hypothesis stated that differentiation of self (Emotional Reactivity, "1" Position, Emotional Cutoff, Fusion with Others) would serve as a positive predictor of each of the four forgiveness scales, after controlling for Impact of the Event, Impression Management, and hurtfulness. Sixteen HLR analyses were conducted to test this hypothesis. The hypothesis was supported for each DSI-R scale as a predictor of EFS Reduction of Negative Emotion; and for "I" Position and Emotional Cutoff as predictors of DFS Inhibition of Harmful Intention. To conserve space, Table 3 shows only the results for these two forgiveness measures.

The third hypothesis predicted that differentiation of self would mediate the relationship between Sacred Loss/Desecration and Decisional and Emotional Forgiveness. Following Baron and Kenny's (1986) simple mediation model, we used Preacher and Hayes' (2004) bootstrap resampling method to test whether each DSI-R scale accounted for the linear relationship between two separate predictors, Sacred Loss and Desecration, and each of the four forgiveness measures (two scales each for Emotional Forgiveness and Decisional Forgiveness). This bootstrap method produces a confidence interval for the indirect effect; if it contains zero, then the hypothesized mediator did not explain the predictor-outcome relationship. Evidence of complete mediation is said to have been found with the following pattern of results: a significant relationship between the predictor and outcome variables (i.e., total effect); a significant predictor-proposed mediator relationship; a significant proposed mediator-outcome variable relationship, controlling for the predictor; and a non-significant relationship between the predictor and outcome variables when the mediator is included in the model. Partial mediation is said to have occurred when the effect of the predictor on the outcome variable decreases significantly, but the predictor-outcome relationship remains significant in the presence of the mediator.

Results showed that each of the four DSI-R scales partially mediated the relationship between Sacred Loss and EFS Reduction of Negative Emotion. In each case the first three criteria from Baron and Kenny (1986) were met, with a significant reduction in the strength of predictor-outcome relationship in the presence of the mediator, but the relationship remained significant. The regression coefficients indicated that Sacred Loss/Desecration were negatively related to forgiveness and differentiation of self; and the relationships were positive between the DSI-R scales and the forgiveness scales given the presence of Sacred Loss/Desecration as predictors. The 95% confidence intervals from the bootstrap sampling distributions for the indirect effects were: Emotional Reactivity, [-.0336, -.0097]; "I" Position, [.0297, -.0071]; Emotional Cutoff, [-.0346, -.0109]; and Fusion With Others, [-.0216, -.0031]. Additional evidence of partial mediation was found when Desecration predicted EFS Reduction of Negative Emotion; acting as partial mediators were Emotional Reactivity (9S% CI: [-.0249, -.0018]) and Emotional Cutoff (95% CI: [-.0293, -.0068]). Emotional Cutoff also mediated the relation between Desecration and DFS Prosocial Intention (95% CI: [-.0178, -.0013]).


Hierarchical Linear Regression Analyses Predicting Forgiveness from Differentiation of Self
                      DFS-Inhibition of Harmful Intention

Predictor                                       [DELTA]R2

Step 1
Control variables                                  .076**

Step 2
Emotional Reactivity                                 .003

Total R2                                           .079**
N                                                     359

Step 1
Control variables                                  .077**

Step 2
"I" Position                                         013*

Total R2                                           .089**
N                                                     367

Step 1
Control variables                                  .077**

Step 2
Emotional Cutoff                                   .009**

Total R2                                           .086**
N                                                     357

Step 1
Control variables                                  .076**

Step 2
Fusion with Others                                   .003

Total R2                                           .080**

                      Predicted forgiveness

Predictor                            [beta]

Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
Emotional Reactivity                   .062

Total R2

Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
"I" Position                          .121*

Total R2
Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
Emotional Cutoff                      .099*

Total R2

Step 1
Control variables

Step 2
Fusion with Others                     .060

Total R2

                      EFS-Reduction in Negative Emotion

Predictor                                     [DELTA]R2  [beta]

Step 1
Control variables                                .087**

Step 2
Emotional Reactivity                             .040**  .220**

Total R2                                         .127**
N                                                   359

Step 1
Control variables                                .084**

Step 2
"I" Position                                     .031**  .189**

Total R2                                         .125**
N                                                   357

Step 1
Control variables                                .082**

Step 2
Emotional Cutoff                                  .053*     240

Total R2                                         .125**
N                                                   357

Step 1
Control variables                                .084**

Step 2
Fusion with Others                               .017**  .135**

Total R2                                         .101**
N                                                   361

Notes. DFS = Decisional Forgiveness Scale. EFS =Emotional
Forgiveness Scale. Control variables were Impact of the Event,
Impression Management, and Hurtfulness.
**one-tailed p<.01. *one-tailed p<.05.


This study explored the relationship between differentiation of self, sacred loss/desecration, and forgiveness. Our first hypothesis investigated the degree to which sacred loss/desecration predicted decisional and emotional forgiveness, after accounting for impact of the event, impression management, hurtfulness, and religiousness. Hierarchical linear regressions revealed that sacred loss/desecration impacted emotional forgiveness more than decisional forgiveness. With sacred loss, participants struggled to reduce the negative emotions associated with the offense. No significant relationship was found between sacred loss and experience of positive emotions for emotional forgiveness or on either scale for decisional forgiveness. Desecration affected both subscales of emotional forgiveness. Participants not only struggled to reduce negative emotionality, they also found it difficult to experience positive emotions that are associated with forgiveness. Moreover, desecration impacted decisional forgiveness in that participants' ability to reach out to offenders with kind actions or intent was reduced.

These findings support the conclusions of Pargament and associates (2005) who suggest that people suffer emotional pain when sanctified areas of their lives are injured (Krumrei et al., 2009; Warner et al., 2009). The pain that is associated with sacred loss and desecration may magnify injured parties' emotional distress because a spiritual assumption upon which one built one's worldview was shattered, and this spiritual disequilibrium may subsequently challenge a choice to forgive until shattered assumptions are repaired (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). It is as if these spiritual interpretations add "insult to injury" so that wounded individuals find it more challenging to experience the reduction of negative emotions or the enhancement of positive emotions in emotional forgiveness or to demonstrate a decision to forgive by reaching out to the one who wounded them.

Spirituality may thus be a double-edged sword when it comes to forgiveness. Previous studies have established a positive link between religious commitment and forgiveness (Wade, Meyer, Goldman, & Post, 2008). Nevertheless, we concur with Davis et al. (2008) that "there are some aspects of religiosity and spirituality that may make forgiveness difficult" (p. 299), namely sacred loss and desecration. Spirituality's relationship with forgiveness is not straightforward. The spiritual structures that give meaning to one's life and promote forgiveness may in turn be a source of intense emotional pain when those same structures are ruptured by an interpersonal offense. In other words, religious and/or spiritual people can endorse forgiveness theoretically (McCullough & Worthington, 1999), but when they have experienced sacred loss or desecration, they struggle to put their beliefs about forgiveness into action (Tsang, McCullough, & Hoyt, 2005). They now experience cognitive dissonance, which must somehow be resolved.

Our second hypothesis explored the degree to which differentiation of self predicted decisional and emotional forgiveness. The impact of differentiation of self on emotional forgiveness was much stronger than on decisional forgiveness. Regarding emotional forgiveness, all four differentiation of self scales predicted the reduction of negative emotions. Regarding decisional forgiveness, taking "I" positions and managing emotional cutoff predicted the inhibition of harmful intentions. Differentiation of self facilitated forgiveness by increasing one's capacity for emotional self-regulation and by supporting resistance to retaliatory gestures. These findings contribute to emerging research that explores the contribution that differentiation of self makes to forgiveness. Sandage and Jankowski (2010) found that differentiation of self mediated the relationship between dispositional forgiveness and spiritual instability; whereas, Dekel (2010) reported that differentiation of self moderated relationships between emotional and marital distress and forgiveness. Differentiation of self enables injured parties to selfsooth (Wright, 2009) when negative emotions associated with an offense threaten to flood them. By taking "I" positions, injured parties can more readily choose to forgive as they shape the emotional space between themselves and others (Rootes et al., 2010; Sandage & Shults, 2007).

Our third hypothesis, which examined the degree to which differentiation of self mediated the relationship between sacred loss/desecration and forgiveness, was supported mostly by the results involving reduction of negative emotion in emotional forgiveness. Regarding sacred loss as a predictor, all four DSI-R scales provided partial mediation of reduction of negative emotions. Regarding desecration as a predictor, emotional reactivity and emotional cutoff partially mediated reduction of negative emotions. Emotional cutoff also mediated desecration's relation with decisional forgiveness' prosocial intent. Greater sacred loss/desecration was related to lower levels of forgiveness, yet the strength of the relationship was lessened when differentiation of self was included as a mediator; greater differentiation of self corresponded to more forgiveness.

According to Baron and Kenny (1986) "mediators speak to how or why ... effects occur" (p. 1176). Our findings show differentiation to be a path through which sacred loss/desecration influences forgiveness. The negative influences of sacred loss/desecration on forgiveness operates through one's capacity to regulate emotion, take "I" positions, and manage fusion or cutoff. These findings provide empirical support for Bowen's proposition (1976, 1978) that one's level of differentiation mediates the relationship between stress/anxiety and life adaptation, that is, when one experiences sacred loss/desecration, higher levels of differentiation increase one's ability to experience emotional forgiveness, and to a lesser degree, to express decisional forgiveness. The specific pattern of influence on emotional and decisional forgiveness is consistent with previous research (McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003); that is, participants experience a significant decrease in the presence of negative emotions without necessarily experiencing an increase in the presence of positive emotions for emotional forgiveness. They also experience greater inhibition of harmful intent than they do an activation of prosocial intent.

Taken together sacred loss/desecration and differentiation result in a "tug-o-war" phenomenon. Although sacred loss/desecration impedes forgiveness, differentiation of self supports it. Differentiation of self provides a mechanism to move beyond painful attributions of sacred loss/desecration to forgiveness primarily through emotional self-regulation (Wright, 2009) by helping injured parties to experience relief from negative emotions (emotional forgiveness) and to reach out in positive ways to offenders (decisional forgiveness). Given the lightening speed with which neurological processes related to emotion influence conscious thought and intention (Goleman, 2006; Siegel, 1999), increasing one's capacity for emotional self-regulation can facilitate emotional and decisional forgiveness.

These findings provide direction for mental health professionals. Knowledge of clients' beliefs and values can serve as a resource for healing (Duba Onedera, 2008). Many counselors include an assessment of clients' religious and spiritual traditions during the intake process (Cashwell & Young, 2005), and may access a client's religious/spiritual strengths over the course of therapy (Aten & Leach, 2009). These findings suggest that a multifaceted perspective on spirituality may be helpful. When the experience of sacred loss or desecration shatters a client's spiritual worldview, counselors need to address this particular aspect of the offense if a client wants to forgive an offender but is struggling to do so. Mental health professionals may also assess a client's level of differentiation (Bregman & White, 2011). Deficiencies in a client's ability to self-soothe and to stand up for the self may be related to a client's difficulty in forgiving an offender. Counseling goals that target these areas can increase the client's capacity to forgive.

The sample used in this study limit the generalizability of the findings in several ways. Participants came from four institutions, three of which are associated with Judeo-Christianity and persons of color were underrepresented in our sample. The response rate warrants comment. The response rate was low and the attrition once people visited the site does raise questions about generalizability. On the other hand, we had a 9% response rate of total invitees for a study in which (a) contact with potential participants was limited to one electronic invitation to participate, (b) there was no institutional push for participation, (c) there was minimal, if any, personal relationship with the investigators, and (d) there was no incentive for participation beyond altruism. In addition, approximately 5 participants contacted the lead author by email and explained that they had difficulty moving beyond the online consent form and they were unable to access the survey after several attempts to do so. It is possible that such difficulty and its resulting frustration discouraged some individuals from returning to the site, thus contributing to a lower total response rate.

Future research could study how religious and spiritual perceptions of different belief systems relate to one's ability to forgive. In particular, studies could explore differences in forgiving for those who identify as spiritual and religious and for those who identify as spiritual and not religious. Furthermore, the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness and forgiveness deserves exploration. Moreover, given the contrasting impact that spiritual perception and differentiation of self has on forgiveness, researchers could investigate the degree to which differentiation would mediate the relationships between sacred loss/desecration and forgiveness. Finally, it is possible that a meaningful difference exists between individuals who have access to internet services and those who do not (Sue & Ritter, 2007).


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HOLEMAN, VIRGINIA. Address: 204 N. Lexington Ave. Wilmore, KY 40390. Degree: PhD. Title: Professor of Counseling Chair Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care Asbury Theological Seminary. Areas of specialization: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Counselor Education, Integration of Counseling and Theology.

DEAN, JANET. Address: One Macklem Drive Wilmore, Kentucky 40390. Degree: M.Div., PhD. Title: Assistant Professor Dept for Behavioral Sciences Asbury University. Areas of specialization: Clinical Psychology, Sexual Identity Development, Forgiveness.

DUBA, JILL, D. Address: Western Kentucky University 1906 College Heights Blvd #51031, Bowling Green, KY 42101-10311. Degree: Ph.D, LPCC, NCC, RTC. Title: Associate Professor Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program Coordinator Col lege of Education and Behavioral Sciences Department of Counseling and Student Affairs. Areas of Specialization: Marriage and Family, Religion.

DeSHEA, LISE. Address: 1100 N. Stonewall Ave., Room 478 Oklahoma City, OK 73117-1200.Degree: PhD. Title: Senior Research Biostatistician Center for Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice College of Nursing University of Oklahoma. Areas of specialization:Forgiveness measurement; bootstrap procedures.

Virginia T.Holeman

Asbury Theological Seminary

Janet B.Dean

Asbury University

Lise Deshea

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, College of Nursing

Jill D.Duba

Western Kentucky University

Authors wish to thankJenna R. Haynes for her assistance in the preparation of this manuscript and Stephen P. Stratton, Kenneth Pargament, and Everett Worthington, Jr. for their insightful comments. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Virginia T. Holeman at
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Author:Holeman, Virginia T.; Dean, Janet B.; Deshea, Lise; Duba, Jill D.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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