For whom do we forgive? A functional analysis of forgiveness

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Abstract

We propose that people forgive to serve particular functions, depending on the extent to which forgiveness is intended to benefit the self, the offender, and their relationship. Three studies on personally experienced transgressions in valued relationships (Ns = 233, 239, and 83) indicate that victims are more likely to forgive for the sake of the self and the relationship than for an offender. Relationship focus is associated with increased benevolence and relationship quality and decreased revenge and avoidance. Offender focus is associated with nonvengeful motivations. Self focus is associated with avoidance and lower relationship closeness; in the immediate aftermath of a transgression, it is also related to unforgiving responses and reduced relationship satisfaction. The findings have important implications for forgiveness theorizing and application.

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