Explorations and comparisons of actual, ideal, and ought forgiveness definitions : a Q-methodological study /
Atkinson, Tammy Stewart.
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Numerous definitions of forgiveness have been proposed in the literature (e.g.. North, 1987; Enright, Freedman & Rique, 1998), most ofwhich are based on religious or philosophical notions, rather than on empirical evidence. Definitions employed by researchers have typically set very high standards for forgiveness. This research was designed to investigate the possibility that these definitions describe an ideal of forgiveness and may not reflect laypersons' beliefe and experiences. Using Higgins' Self-Discrepancy Theory as a fiamework, three types of forgiveness beliefs were investigated: actual, ideal, and ought Q-methodology (which permits intensive study ofphenomena in small samples) was employed to examine and compare participants' beliefs about forgiveness across these domains. Thirty participants (20 women), 25 to 78 years of age, were recruited firom the community. They were asked to sort a set of66 statements about forgiveness according to their level of agreement with each statement This process was repeated three times, with the goal of modelling participants' actual experiences, their ideals, and how they believed forgiveness ought to be. Three perspectives on forgiveness emerged across the domains: forgiveness as motivated by religious beliefs, reconciliation-focussed forgiveness, and conflicted forgiveness. These perspectives indicated that, for many participants, the definitions presented in the literature may coincide with their beliefs about how forgiveness would ideally be and should be, as well as with their experiences of forgiveness; however, a large number of participants' experiences of, and beliefs about, forgiveness do not conform to the standards set out in the literature, and to exclude these participants' experiences and beliefs would mean overlooking what forgiveness means to a large portion of people. Results of this study indicate that researchers need to keep an open mind about what forgiveness may mean to their participants.