National Forgiveness Day on Oct. 25: Let Bygones Be Bygones for Your Emotional Health

Oct. 22, 2014

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Forgiving — and being forgiven — are good for your emotional health, research has shown, and National Forgiveness Day on Saturday, Oct. 25, may be a good time to let bygones be bygones and also to make amends.

Research by Baylor University psychologists shows that making amends over a wrong gives you emotional permission to forgive yourself, according to two studies published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. That’s important, researchers said, because previous studies show that the inability to self-forgive can be a factor in depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system.

"One barrier people face in forgiving themselves is that they feel they deserve to feel bad. Our study found that making amends gives us permission to let go,” said Thomas Carpenter, a researcher in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

In one study of self-forgiveness, 269 participants recalled diverse “real-world” wrongs they had done, ranging from romantic betrayals to physical injury to gossip to rejection. They were asked how much they have forgiven themselves, how much they had made such overtures as apology, asking forgiveness and restitution; and how much they felt it was OK to self-forgive. The study found that the more they had tried to make things right, the more it was permissible to let go.

The study also examined hypothetical wrongs to better test people uniformly. Participants were asked about failing to admit to an action that caused a friend to get fired. The guiltier a person felt and the more serious the wrong, the less likely he or she was to self-forgive. Making amends appeared to help by reducing those feelings, the researchers found.

Which raises the question: Do actions speak louder than words when it comes to forgiveness?

People are more likely to show forgiving behavior if they receive restitution, but they are more prone to report they have forgiven if they get an apology, according to another Baylor study on forgiving behavior published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. The study underscores the importance of both restitution and apology, researchers said.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 24 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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