John Beiter

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2007


Worldwide Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Michael Sipiora

Committee Member

Will W. Adams


forgiving others, Self-forgiveness


This dissertation critically explored both theoretical and research findings pertaining to self-forgiveness, especially as it related to psychology. An important, though rather apparent finding or conclusion derived from this literature review was that there is an astounding paucity of both theoretical and research work about self-forgiveness within psychology. This lack or shortcoming holds, surprisingly, even in those disciplines perhaps associated more intuitively with self-forgiveness, for example theological and religious studies, and philosophy. Moreover, a contamination, conflation, or supplementarity characterized the relationship between forgiveness and self-forgiveness, such that no clear consensus exists with respect to the distinctions or similarities between those concepts. Additionally, it seemed clear that the very understanding of self-forgiveness (both academic and lay) is premised on, or seriously mediated by, cultural and religious influences, such as the primacy of a retributive "eye-for-an-eye" response to perceived wrongs, over that of forgiveness. This dissertation consequently attempted to contribute to lacunae in both the psychological research and theoretical literature. To that end, an interpretive study was undertaken. Three research participants, all of who reported an instance of self-forgiveness, were interviewed at great length and depth, their stories providing the data for this research. Using the theoretical insights of Paul Ricoeur (Ricoeur 1985) and Daniel Polkinghorne (Polkinghorne 1983, 1989, 2005) as departure point, the data was analyzed in terms of the manner in which humans make sense of their lives in narrative. Results indicate a severe disjuncture between the experience of self-forgiveness and the common-sense cultural understanding, as well as the dominant academic understanding thereof, primarily and fundamentally inasmuch as the path to self-forgiveness seems to pivot on the suspension of the belief in, or the appropriation of the right to, an eye-for-an-eye retribution toward self [or other]. Undoubtedly the primary finding of the research, the implications are far-reaching and dramatic, not only with respect to a theoretical challenge to prevailing concepts of forgiveness and self-forgiveness, but also in the applied and clinical sphere of psychotherapy. In addition, the research suggests the interconnectedness of self-forgiveness with interpersonal forgiveness -- forgiving another. These are not separate and distinct concepts but interrelated such that the forgiveness of another can only be granted by first forgiving oneself.