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The transgressor's response to denied forgiveness.

The study of forgiveness has flourished in recent years, but little is known about how transgressors respond when their request for forgiveness is denied. Two studies examined how transgressors react to a denied request for forgiveness in romantic relationships. Across both studies, when participants were denied forgiveness or delayed in receiving a forgiving response, they exhibited differences in the degree to which they held unforgiving motivations (e.g., anger and avoidance) and experienced positive emotions (e.g., empathy). The observed effects remained even after controlling for relationship commitment in Study 2. These results expand our knowledge of forgiveness processes by describing in more detail the internal experience and motivations of the transgressor toward the victim when forgiveness is denied, which has implications for relational repair (e.g., transgressor's motivations toward reengaging and repairing the relationship) after an offense has occurred in romantic relationships.

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The scientific study of forgiveness has flourished in the past 20 years (for reviews, see Fehr, Gelfand, & Nag, 2010; Worthington, 2005). Most of this research has focused on the perspective of the victim of an offense (e.g., factors that promote granting forgiveness, benefits of forgiveness). Little attention has been given to the perspective of the transgressor. Thus, little is known about the experience of the transgressor after committing an offense.

One reason for this disparity is that forgiveness is most often conceptualized as an intrapersonal phenomenon (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000), suggesting that a proper understanding of forgiveness necessitates the focus on the individual doing the forgiving. Along these lines, forgiveness researchers have developed and tested models that describe the process for how a victim might move toward forgiveness. For example, McCullough and colleagues developed a model that placed empathy for the offender as an important predictor of forgiveness (McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997). Building on this model, Worthington and colleagues developed an intervention to promote forgiveness that involved (a) recalling the hurt in a more neutral manner, (b) experiencing empathy for the offender, (c) giving an altruistic gift of forgiveness, (d) committing to forgiveness, and (e) holding onto forgiveness (Harper et al., 2014; Lin et al., 2014; Worthington et al., 2000).

Although most models that aim to promote forgiveness have been focused on the individual doing the forgiving, researchers recognize that forgiveness usually occurs within the context of ongoing interpersonal relationships (McCullough et al., 1998). In this context, the transgressor and victim play an important role in the promotion of forgiveness within the victim as well as in the potential reconciliation between the victim and the offender. Both processes, forgiveness and potential reconciliation, will be dependent on each individual's emotional reactions, patterns of cognition, behavioral responses, and personal dispositions (Rusbult, Hannon, Stocker, & Finkel, 2005). Initial evidence suggests that the interpersonal process between the victim and transgressor affects resolution after betrayals (Hannon, Rusbult, Finkel, & Kamashiro, 2010). Thus, especially within ongoing relationships, a victim-centered approach only yields a partial picture of forgiveness processes and the larger interpersonal dynamic of relational repair. The aim of the present research is to expand our knowledge of the transgressor's experience and response when his or her request for forgiveness is denied by a romantic partner in an effort to understand how this might impact further conciliatory efforts to repair the relationship after an offense has taken place.

Seeking Forgiveness

In Scripture, Christ encourages us to both seek forgiveness when we have wronged someone (Matt. 5:23-24) and offer forgiveness when someone has wronged us, even multiple times (Matt. 17:21-22). Forgiveness is a central practice of the Christian faith and vital to our relationship with others as well as our relationship to God. In fact, Jesus went so far as to say that forgiveness of sins by God was contingent upon our ability to forgive others (Matt. 6:15-15). Seeking forgiveness and being able to forgive others are the two sides of the forgiveness coin, which are both necessary for restoring broken relationships where an offense has occurred.

As such, it is important to understand what facilitates and hinders the process of forgiveness and relational repair from the perspective of both the victim and transgressor. However, relative to the victim's perspective, little research has focused on the transgressor's experience during the aftermath of an offense (see Fehr et al., 2010; Waldron & Kelly, 2007; Zechmeister & Romero, 2002). Several studies have examined predictors of whether the transgressor will seek forgiveness from a victim (Bassett, Bassett, Lloyd, & Johnson, 2006; Bassett et al., 2008; Chiaramello, Munoz Sastre, & Mullet, 2008; Reik, 2010; Sandage, Worthington, Hight, & Berry, 2000). Only a few studies have examined how participants respond when they imagine or recall a request for forgiveness being granted or denied.

In one study by Meek, Albright, and McMinn (1995), participants imagined receiving a forgiving or unforgiving response after apologizing to their boss for lying about a work absence. Participants who imagined a forgiving response reported more positive feelings about confessing their actions than did those who imagined being denied forgiveness. In another study by Witvliet, Ludwig, and Bauer (2002), participants imagined an actual offense that they committed against someone and then imagined that the victim either forgave or refused to forgive them. Results showed that participants experienced more positive emotion, greater perceived control, and less negative emotion when they imagined receiving forgiveness than when they imagined not receiving forgiveness. Lastly, across three studies in Wallace, Exline, and Baumeister (2008), transgressors were less likely to repeat an offense after receiving forgiveness than after being denied forgiveness. These studies are the first to examine transgressors' emotions when forgiveness is denied; however, little is known about how they may respond toward a romantic partner when their request for forgiveness is denied in the context of an ongoing relationship.

A second limitation of the previous studies is that they have generally dichotomized the victim's response into forgiving or unforgiving. If a transgressor apologizes and requests forgiveness, it may be unlikely that victims will immediately communicate forgiveness. While the offender probably thought about apologizing for some period, the processes around apologizing and requesting forgiveness are complex (Fehr & Gelfand, 2010) and hold ample opportunities to backfire. Thus, although the transgressor is usually ready for an immediate response to the costly request for forgiveness, the victim is hearing the apology, the request for forgiveness, and the surrounding contextual aspects for the first time. It may be reasonable for victims to postpone responding until they have had sufficient time to consider the transgressor's request and their response options. Such delayed or nuanced responses have not been investigated.

These nuances regarding the victim's response to a transgressor's request for forgiveness may be especially important to study in ongoing romantic relationships. For example, a denial of forgiveness in an ongoing romantic relationship could reflect withdrawal, resentment, or hostility, but it could also reflect a difference in timing between partners' readiness to forgive and to begin relationship repair efforts. Victims could not yet be ready to forgive at the moment, even if they are willing to forgive or work toward forgiveness at a later point.

Based on theorizing of stress-and-coping theory (Worthington, 2006), we anticipated four potential immediate responses to a request for forgiveness. First, the victim could grant complete forgiveness immediately. Second, the victim could refuse to forgive, which would likely be perceived as the most severe rejection. Third, the victim could postpone forgiveness and leave the decision uncertain, saying, "Maybe, but I'm not ready to forgive yet." Finally, based on Exline, Worthington, Hill, and McCullough's (2003) distinction between decisional and emotional forgiveness, the victim could express decisional forgiveness (i.e., a decision to modify one's behavior toward the transgressor) and note their hope of gradually moving toward complete emotional forgiveness (i.e., replacing negative emotions with positive, other-oriented emotions toward to transgressor).

Denied Forgiveness as a New Relational Transgression

It is possible that a denied request for forgiveness may be viewed as an offense in itself on the part of the penitent transgressor. According to studies examining hurt feelings and negative emotions, when individuals perceive they have received rejection or relational devaluation, they tend to respond negatively and even with aggression at times (Buckley, Winkel, & Leary, 2004; Leary, Twenge, & Quinlivan, 2006). Negative responses to perceived rejection are particularly likely within the context of romantic relationships, in which rejection or devaluation is especially hurtful (Leary, Springer, Negel, Ansell, & Evans, 1998). Thus, when a transgressor (a) has wronged a partner and likely feels guilt and shame (Tangney, Stuewig, & Mashek, 2007), then (b) apologizes and asks for forgiveness (which are costly attempts to restore a sense of justice; Exline et al., 2003), and then (c) is rebuffed or put off by the victim, the transgressor may feel rejected and hurt.

The transgressor might continue trying to reconcile, or the transgressor may react negatively. For example, the transgressor may express anger, retaliate, or seek psychological distance (Rusbult et al., 2005). Past research has shown that transgressors have a tendency to minimize or overlook the damage caused by their offense (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotman, 1990). Sometimes they may even usurp the victim role, feeling offended at the victim's 'overreaction' (Baumeister et al., 1990; Zechmeister & Romero, 2002). We posit that a rejected request for forgiveness may be perceived by the transgressor as a new offense or transgression committed by the original victim. If transgressors believe that they have switched roles with the victim when forgiveness is denied, the transgressor may become hurt, angry, and defensive rather than being empathie and understanding of the victim's response. In an ongoing relationship, such as marriage, this could potentially lead to a damaging spiral of negative interactions that further damage the relationship rather than promote reconciliation.

Overview of the Present Studies

The purpose of the present studies was to examine how individuals may respond negatively, perhaps even taking offense and developing unforgiveness, when their requests for forgiveness are denied by their romantic partners. Our main hypothesis was that a request for forgiveness that is not immediately granted would result in unfavorable, rather than pro-relational, responses on the part of the transgressor. We conducted two studies to test our hypothesis. In Study 1, we tested for differences between the transgressor's reactions to one of four responses to a request for forgiveness condition: (1) no forgiveness (Denied); (2) maybe, but not yet (Delayed); (3) a grant of decisional, but not emotional, forgiveness (Decisional); and (4) complete forgiveness (Decisive). In Study 2, we sought to replicate these findings in a relationship context and rule out an alternative explanation.

Study 1

Study 1 aimed to test for differences between transgressor responses within the four victim responses to requested forgiveness. We hypothesized that when transgressors received a denied or delayed response, they would have higher negative reactions (i.e., state anger, avoidance motivations, revenge motivations) and lower positive reactions (i.e., benevolence motivations, empathy) toward the victim than when receiving decisional or decisive forgiveness.

Method

Participants

Participants were 181 undergraduate students (113 females) at a large Mid-Atlantic urban university. Ages ranged from 18-31 (M = 18.9; SD = 1.68). The sample was ethnically diverse (40.5% White/Caucasian, 29.4% Black/African American, 7.3% Asian/Asian American, 7.2% Latino/Latina, 1.2% Arabic, and 14.4% Other or did not report).

Measures

Batson's Empathy Adjectives (BEA; Batson, O'Quin, Fultz, Vanderplas, & Isen, 1983). The BEA has eight affect adjectives (e.g., sympathetic, compassionate). Participants reported the degree to which they felt each emotion toward the original victim on a 6-point rating scale (0 = not at all to 5 = extremely). The scale has been correlated with measures of dispositional empathy, perspective taking, and helping behavior (Batson, Bolen, Cross, & Neuringer-Benefiel, 1986; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). The alpha coefficient in the present study was .89.

State Anger Scale (SAS; Spielberger, Jacobs, Russell, & Crane, 1983). The SAS has 10 items that measure the current level of anger a participant is experiencing (e.g., "I feel angry" or "I feel like swearing"). Participants indicated their current feelings toward the original victim on a 4-point rating scale (1 = not at all to 4 = very much so). Higher scores indicate higher levels of anger. The scale shows evidence supporting its construct validity and has shown positive correlations with state anxiety, neuroticism, and psychoticism (Spielberger et al., 1983). The alpha coefficient in the present study was .91.

Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Inventory--18 Item Form (TRIM; McCullough & Hoyt, 2002; McCullough et al., 1998). The TRIM consists of 18 items that measure post-transgression motivations toward a particular offender. Participants reported their motivations toward the original victim who denied or expressed forgiveness by indicating their agreement with each item on a 5-point rating scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). The TRIM consists of three motivation subscales: avoidance (TRIM-A; e.g., "I live as if he/she doesn't exist, isn't around"), revenge (TRIM-R; e.g., "I'll make him/her pay"), and benevolence (TRIM-B; e.g., "Even though his/her actions hurt me, I have goodwill for him/her"). The scale shows evidence of construct validity, and it has been positively correlated with other measures of forgiveness, relationship satisfaction, and commitment to a relationship (McCullough & Hoyt, 2002; McCullough et al., 1998). The alpha coefficients in the present study were .93 for TRIM-A, .63 for TRIM-R, and .89 for TRIM-B.

Procedure

Participants were individually tested in a lab, where they were presented with opposite-sex pictures (actors/actresses whom they also would see later on videotape) and asked to imagine the person was their current romantic partner. Participants were instructed to imagine this hypothetical transgression situation: You were with a group of friends with this romantic partner, and you told the group of friends about one of your partner's strong personal fears; then you ridiculed your partner for having this fear. Your partner was hurt, and you felt extremely remorseful.

We attempted to elicit vivid imagery by asking participants to elaborate on their imagined experiences in writing. The participants then imagined themselves confessing their wrongdoing to the partner, hoping to salvage the relationship. Participants were provided a confession script, which they read aloud with feeling as if to their partner. The script culminated in asking for their partner's forgiveness.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of four responses to their request for forgiveness. To increase the reality of the situation, they viewed a videotaped recording of an actor/actress (imagined to be their partner) delivering one of the four scripted responses to their confession. Participants briefly wrote how they felt given the particular response they received in the recording and completed measures reporting their own experiences (as a contrite offender who had offered a good confession) while pondering their partner's response (which was the manipulated variable). Participants also rated the actor/actress at the conclusion of the study on several items (e.g., acting ability, effectiveness), which we used to test for differences in their presentations.

Results and Discussion

Preliminary analyses revealed that ratings of the videotaped actor/actress did not differ across conditions (p = .645), suggesting that acting ability and effectiveness was equitable across conditions and presentation style did not confound the results. Our main hypothesis was that there would be a significant main effect for condition. Specifically, we predicted there would be more negative reactions (i.e., expression of unforgiving responses) and less positive reactions (i.e., less benevolence and empathy) when forgiveness was denied or delayed than when it was partially or fully granted. We grouped together conceptually-related variables for each multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and examined: (1) unforgiving responses (i.e., anger, avoidance motivations, and revenge motivations) and (2) corollaries to forgiveness (i.e., benevolence motivations and empathy).

In the first analysis, we conducted a one-way MANOVA on unforgiving responses (i.e., anger, avoidance motivations, and revenge motivations). The main effect for forgiveness condition on the dependent variables was significant, multivariate F(9, 531) = 8.66, p < .001; Pillai's Trace = .38; partial eta squared = .13. We conducted follow-up analyses by examining the univariate ANOVAs. There was a significant univariate effect of condition on anger, F(3, 177) = 19.20, p < .001; partial eta squared .25, avoidance motivations, F(3, 177) = 23.67, p < .001; partial eta squared .29, and revenge motivations, F (3, 177) = 3.06, p = .030; partial eta squared = .05. Pairwise comparisons revealed a similar pattern for anger and avoidance motivations. Participants in the Denied condition reported the highest levels of anger and avoidance, followed by participants in the Delayed condition, Decisional condition, and Decisive condition (see Table 1). For revenge motivations, participants in the Denied condition reported slightly higher levels of revenge than did participants in the other conditions.

In the second analysis, we conducted a one-way MANOVA on corollaries to forgiveness (i.e., benevolence motivations and empathy). Again, there was a significant main effect for forgiveness condition, multivariate F(6, 354) = 5.69, p < .001; Pillai's Trace = .176; partial eta squared = .09. We conducted follow-up analyses by examining the univariate ANOVAs. There was a significant univariate effect of condition on both benevolence motivations, F(3, 177) = 7.12, p < .001; partial eta squared = .11, and empathy, F(3, 177) = 9.16, p < .001; partial eta squared = .13. Pairwise comparisons revealed participants in the Denied condition had significantly lower benevolence motivations than did participants in each of the other three conditions. Also, participants in the Decisive condition reported the highest level of empathy, followed by participants in the Decisional, Delayed, and Denied conditions.

As hypothesized, participants tended to experience positive reactions when forgiveness was granted but experienced negative reactions when forgiveness was denied. When a bid for forgiveness was flatly denied or even delayed, the participant experienced greater avoidance motivations, greater anger, and less empathy toward the hypothetical partner than when the participant was granted complete forgiveness. Participants also experienced less benevolence for the victim when forgiveness was flatly denied than when they received a communication of partial or full forgiveness. Participants only differentiated between a full grant of forgiveness and a decisional grant of forgiveness (i.e., "I forgive you for what you've done, but it will take more time for me to get over this emotionally.") in the degree of self-reported avoidance motivations. Based on these data, it appears that, at least for these variables, a decisional granting of forgiveness is usually received just as well as complete forgiveness when dealing with a relational offense. In the present study, which had people's request for forgiveness denied by a hypothetical romantic partner, differences in revenge motivations across conditions were very small, which may be due to low levels of revenge across conditions.

Study 2

The purpose of Study 2 was to replicate and extend the results of Study 1 with actual romantic partners, as well as to rule out a potential confound (i.e., relationship commitment). In Study 1, we sought to create a vivid and clear manipulation using actors or actresses. However, scenarios involving hypothetical partners may constrain participants' responses. Thus, we improved our methodology by having participants imagine the same scenario in Study 1 but with a current romantic partner. Additionally, in the context of an ongoing relationship, relationship commitment plays a role in motivating forgiveness (Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002). Consequently, some might argue that level of relationship commitment might account for differences in how transgressors respond to their partners when their request for forgiveness is denied. Thus, we sought to control for relationship commitment by including it as a covariate.

Method

Participants

Participants were 287 undergraduate students (143 females) at a large Mid-Atlantic urban university who reported being currently involved in a romantic relationship. Ages ranged from 18-38 (M = 19.3; SD = 2.27).

Measures

We used the same measures described in Study 1: Batson's Empathy Adjectives (Batson et al., 1983; [alpha] = .86), State Anger Scale (Spielberger et al., 1983; [alpha] = .95), and the 18-item Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Inventory (McCullough & Hoyt, 2002; McCullough et al., 1998; TRIM-A, [alpha] = .94; TRIM-B, [alpha] = .93; TRIM-R, [alpha] = .89). We also included a measure of relationship commitment, which is described below.

Relationship Commitment Scale (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). The Relationship Commitment Scale consists of 7 items that measure the level of commitment individuals feel toward their relationships with their partners. Participants responded to each item (e.g., "I want our relationship to last forever" and "I am committed to maintaining my relationship with my partner") using an 8-point rating scale (1 = do not agree at all to 8 = agree completely). Higher scores indicate greater relationship commitment. Internal reliability was demonstrated with alphas ranging from .91 to .95 (Rusbult et al., 1998). The alpha coefficient in the present study was .93.

Procedure

Participants were recruited for an online study from undergraduate psychology classes. The study specifically solicited participants who were currently in a romantic relationship (to be eligible, participants needed to be involved in the romantic relationship for a minimum of two weeks). We used the same procedure as in Study 1, with one important difference: when participants imagined hurting their partner at a gathering of friends, participants imagined the given scenario unfolding with their current romantic partner. Additionally, instead of viewing the response to their request for forgiveness from a hypothetical partner as in Study 1, participants in Study 2 imagined receiving the response from their actual partner.

Results and Discussion

In Study 2, we sought to replicate findings from Study 1, predicting a main effect for condition. Specifically, we predicted there would be more negative reactions (i.e., expression of unforgiving responses) and less positive reactions (i.e., less benevolence and empathy) when forgiveness was denied or delayed than when it was partially or fully granted. We also controlled for relationship commitment by including it as a covariate. We conducted two parallel MANCOVAs, grouping conceptually-related dependent variables (i.e., unforgiving responses, corollaries to forgiveness) together.

In the first analysis, we conducted a one-way MANCOVA on unforgiving responses (i.e., anger, avoidance motivations, and revenge motivations). As predicted, the overall multivariate main effect for forgiveness condition was significant, multivariate F(9, 816) = 6.19, p < .001; Pillai's Trace = .19; partial eta squared = .06. We conducted follow-up analyses by examining the univariate ANCOVAs. There was a significant univariate effect of condition on state anger, F{3, 272) = 11.20, p < .001; partial eta squared = . 11, and avoidance motivations, F(3, 272) = 13.76, p < .001; partial eta squared = .13, but not revenge motivations, F(3, 272) = 1.99, p = .115, partial eta squared = .02. Pairwise comparisons revealed a similar pattern as Study 1. For state anger and avoidance motivations, participants in the Denied condition reported the highest levels of anger and avoidance, followed by participants in the Delayed condition, Decisional condition and Decisive condition (see Table 2).

In the second analysis, we conducted a one-way MANCOVA on corollaries to forgiveness (i.e., benevolence and empathy). As predicted, the overall multivariate main effect of forgiveness condition was significant, multivariate F{6, 540) = 2.87, p = .009; Pillai's Trace = .06; partial eta squared = .03. We conducted follow-up analyses by examining the univariate ANCOVAs. There was a significant univariate effect of condition on empathy, F(3, 270) = 5.79, p = .001; partial eta squared = .06, but not for benevolence, F(3, 270) = 0.67, p = .569; partial eta squared = .01. Pairwise comparisons revealed participants in the Decisive condition had significantly higher empathy than did participants in the Denied condition and the Delayed condition.

Study 2 extended the results of Study 1 in two ways. First, we improved our methodology by having participants imagine receiving the response to their request for forgiveness from their actual partners rather than a hypothetical partner. We believe that this enhanced the realism of our priming condition. Second, Study 2 replicated most of the findings from Study 1 (we did not replicate the effect on benevolence motivations), and demonstrated that these effects remained significant even when controlling for level of relationship commitment. As in Study 1, rejecting a plea for forgiveness elicited greater anger and avoidance motivations from the participants, but granting forgiveness elicited greater empathy from the participants toward their partners.

General Discussion

Researchers have only recently begun to study how transgressors react when their request for forgiveness is not fully granted. We conceptualized a request for forgiveness as a costly investment, and because requesting forgiveness requires a degree of vulnerability and self-sacrifice, we hypothesized that a person might feel hurt or offended when victims do not grant such requests (i.e., viewing the rejection of forgiveness as a new relational offense). Consequently, the original transgressors might come to view themselves as victims (Baumeister et al., 1990; Zechmeister & Romero, 2002) and employ various coping strategies to deal with the perceived injustice. These might include (a) unforgiving responses toward the original victim such as anger, avoidance, or revenge or (b) understanding responses that are corollaries to forgiveness such as benevolence and empathy. We conducted two studies to test our hypotheses.

Results of the two studies demonstrated that participants responded more negatively (i.e., anger and avoidance) when victims responded unforgivingly, and they responded more positively (i.e., benevolence and empathy) when victims responded forgivingly, even after controlling for relationship commitment. In most cases, participants did not make a significant distinction between complete forgiveness and decisional forgiveness (which lacks an emotional forgiveness component). However, in the first study, anything other than complete forgiveness elicited higher avoidance motivations in participants. Results were consistent with studies that have found that offenders exhibit more positive emotions when they receive a forgiving response and exhibit more negative emotions when they receive an unforgiving response (Meek et al., 1995; Wallace et al., 2008; Witvliet et al., 2002).

These results expand on previous studies (e.g., Wallace et al., 2008) by describing in more detail the internal experience of the transgressors and their motivations toward the victims when forgiveness is denied. Furthermore, our results reiterate that both victims and transgressors influence the process of forgiveness within ongoing relationships (Hannon et al., 2010; Rusbult et al., 2005). The results have important implications for the unfolding of the forgiveness process in romantic relationships that have endured a relational offense. While victims may have different motivations for withholding forgiveness (Williamson, Gonzales, Fernandez, & Williams, 2014), such withholding can create further damage to the relationship. Reasons for withholding forgiveness need to be carefully considered and the potential cost of denying forgiveness weighed in the wake of an offense. The present studies show that denying forgiveness may impact how the transgressor will continue to respond to the victim, potentially inhibiting relational repair.

Limitations and Future Directions

In the present article, we have suggested that forgiveness researchers expand their scope to include the perspective of the transgressor. Though this research constitutes a much-needed step forward and highlights many exciting directions for future research, the present studies also had several limitations. First, the current data were collected on college students whose romantic relationships can be quite transient. Whether these findings are generalizable to stable, long-term relationships, is a question for future research.

Second, the manipulation in our experiments was based on a hypothetical scenario, which may have limited the effects and certainly limited the applicability to ongoing relationships. Researchers may want to find ways to examine how transgressors respond to real situations in real time. Additionally, time itself likely plays a role in their reactions (McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003), and responses immediately following a rejection of forgiveness might differ from those measured days or weeks later (see McCullough, Root Luna, Berry, Tabak, & Bono, 2010).

Third, the present studies looked at the same type of event, which could be viewed as a minor offense. It is possible that people may be more likely to have negative reactions to not being forgiven a minor offense, but these negative responses might be mitigated if the offense were more severe. Further research is needed to determine if the severity of the offense might elicit differential responses.

Finally, our work was based largely on a stress-and-coping theory of forgiveness (Worthington, 2006). Under this broad theory and other related theories (i.e., pragmatic communication theory motivations), more hypotheses could be generated and explored regarding how transgressors will cope and respond to victims when their request for forgiveness is denied or qualified. Future research could also explore the effect of the victim's response on the transgressor and how this ongoing transaction influences the successful outcome or ultimate failure of the relationship. Interventions may be tested to determine the best ways to respond to a transgressor's request for forgiveness even when the victim is not ready to immediately grant it.

Conclusions

Although Scripture commands us to forgive others, the request for forgiveness by a transgressor does not guarantee the victim will grant it. Given the intricacies of individual offenses and the complexities of interpersonal relationships, a number of reasons could impel the victim to withhold--or perhaps qualify--forgiveness. In those cases, the original transgressor may perceive anything short of complete forgiveness from the victim as a new relational offense. Further research focusing on the transgressor's experience is needed in order to fully understand how the forgiveness process may or may not unfold. Although there are well-documented costs to granting forgiveness without consideration of exploitation or self-respect (Luchies, Finkel, Kumashiro, & McNulty, 2010), the present research demonstrates that rejecting a request for forgiveness also has its own costs. In fact, rejecting forgiveness may have the nefarious effect of becoming a new transgression, which may lead to a nasty spiral of hurt if it is a continuing pattern in a relationship. Thus, we hope that this present research serves as a starting point for future research to explore the deleterious effects of denying forgiveness in the context of ongoing relationships when an offense has taken place.

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Author Note: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David J. Jennings II, University of Virginia, 400 Brandon Ave., P.O. Box 800760, Charlottesville, VA 22908. Email: djj2g@virginia.edu

David J. Jennings, II

University of Virginia

Everett L. Worthington, Jr.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Daryl R. Van Tongeren

Hope College

Joshua N. Hook

University of North Texas

Don E. Davis

Georgia State University

Aubrey L. Gartner

Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute

Chelsea L. Greer

Spring Hill College

David K. Mosher

University of North Texas

Author Information

JENNINGS II, DAVID J. PhD. Address: University of Virginia, Elson Student Health, 400 Brandon Avenue, P.O. Box 800760, Charlottesville, VA 22908. Title: Psychologist. Degree: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; MA (Professional Counseling) Richmont Graduate University; BA (Liberal Arts) Bryan College. Specializations: Positive Psychology.

WORTHINGTON JR., EVERETT L. PhD. Address: Virginia Commonwealth University, 806 West Franklin Street, P.O. Box 842018, Richmond, VA 23284. Title: Professor of Psychology. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) University of Missouri-Columbia. Specializations: forgiveness, humility, religious/spiritual interventions, Hope-Focused Couple Approach.

VAN TONGEREN, DARYL R. PhD. Address: Department of Psychology, Hope College, Schaap Science Center, 35 East 12th Street, Holland, MI 49423-3605. Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BA (Psychology) Colorado Christian University; MA (Experimental Psychology) University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; PhD (Social Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University. Specializations: social psychological approaches to meaning, religion, and virtues.

HOOK, JOSHUA, N. Address: University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #311280, Denton, TX 76203. Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BS (Psychology) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; MS (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University. Specializations: positive psychology, humility, forgiveness, religion/spirituality, multicultural counseling.

DAVIS, DON E. PhD. Address: College of Education, Georgia State University, 30 Pryor Street, Room 950, Atlanta, GA 30303. Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; BA (Psychology) Yale University. Specializations: humility, forgiveness, positive psychology, religion/spirituality.

GARTNER, AUBREY L. PhD. Address: 226 Channing St NE, Washington, DC 20002. Title: Licensed Psychologist. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; MS (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; BA (Psychology) Denison University. Specializations: Police psychology, positive psychology.

GREER, CHELSEA L. PhD. Address: Department of Psychology, Spring Hill College, 4000 Dauphin Street, Mobile, AL 36608. Title: Assistant Professor. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; MA (School & Community Counseling) MSU. Specializations: forgiveness for offenses committed within religious communities.

MOSHER, DAVID K. BS. Address: 2020 Stockbridge Rd. APT 5307 Denton, TX 76208. Title: Doctoral student. Degrees: BS (Psychology) Harding University.
TABLE 1
Means and Standard Deviations for Responses by Forgiveness Condition
(Study 1)

                              Anger            Avoidance

Group                        M        SD        M        SD

Denied Forgiveness       17.37 (a)   6.66   19.54 (a)   7.03
Delayed Forgiveness      14.79 (b)   5.48   13.88 (b)   6.49
Decisional Forgiveness   12.13 (c)   2.76   12.53 (b)   6.36
Decisive Forgiveness     10.67 (c)   1.69    8.91 (c)   4.45

                             Revenge           Benevolence

Group                        M        SD        M        SD

Denied Forgiveness       7.46 (a)    3.26   24.39 (a    6.49
Delayed Forgiveness      6.17 (b)    2.05   28.41 (b)   5.18
Decisional Forgiveness   6.74 (ab)   1.98   29.5l (b)   5.62
Decisive Forgiveness     6.20 (b)    1.67   28.94 (b)   6.22

                             Empathy

Group                        M         SD

Denied Forgiveness       15.98 (a)    9.13
Delayed Forgiveness      20.69 (b)    7.44
Decisional Forgiveness   23.00 (b,c)  8.74
Decisive Forgiveness     24.41 (c)    7.63

Note. For each variable, conditions with different superscripts
significantly differ at p < .05 from each other.

TABLE 2
Means and Standard Deviations for Responses by Forgiveness Condition
(Study 2)

                              Anger             Avoidance

Group                        M         SD        M         SD

Denied Forgiveness       19.62 (a)    8.45   17.10 (a)    7.68
Delayed Forgiveness      16.23 (b)    8.26   14.79 (b)    7.52
Decisional Forgiveness   14.51 (bc)   5.58   12.35 (bc)   6.21
Decisive Forgiveness     13.13 (c)    5.68   10.57 (c)    5.01

                             Revenge          Benevolence

Group                        M        SD        M        SD

Denied Forgiveness       8.45 (a)    4.74   27.97 (a)   6.48
Delayed Forgiveness      7.37 (ab)   3.90   27.79 (a)   6.62
Decisional Forgiveness   6.98 (b)    3.31   29.39 (a)   5.87
Decisive Forgiveness     7.03 (b)    3.47   29.31 (a)   5.23

                             Empathy

Group                        M         SD

Denied Forgiveness       25.08 (a)    8.08
Delayed Forgiveness      26.35 (ab)   6.89
Decisional Forgiveness   28.02 (bc)   7.22
Decisive Forgiveness     29.93 (cd)   7.27

Note. For each variable, conditions with different superscripts
significantly differ at p < .05 from each other.
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Author:Jennings, David J., II; Worthington, Everett L., Jr.; Van Tongeren, Daryl R.; Hook, Joshua N.; Davis
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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