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Tuesday
Jan072014

When Does Forgiving Make Us Feel Like A Doormat?

Forgiveness can be really good for our relationships. To name just a few benefits, forgiving a transgression reduces blood pressure for both victims and their wrongdoing partners,1 and increases the victim’s life satisfaction and positive mood.2 Researchers are also beginning to understand what it takes to forgive; for example, we are more likely to forgive our partners when they apologize (i.e., make amends) for bad behavior. But what happens when we forgive someone who hasn’t attempted to make up for their transgression? In a series of four studies, Laura Luchies and her colleagues found that forgiving a partner who does not make amends after wrongdoing erodes the victim’s self-respect and self-concept clarity (the extent to which we have a clear sense of ourselves).3 In other words, we seem to lose respect for ourselves and feel more confused about who we are if we forgive a partner who hasn’t apologized.

Interestingly, when wrongdoing partners do try to make up for bad behavior, forgiving them boosts victims’ self-respect and self-concept clarity.3 The authors reasoned that offering amends signals to victims that they are safe and valued in their relationships, and so when partners apologize for bad behavior, victims feel more secure if they choose to forgive. On the other hand, when partners do not make amends or make weak amends like an insincere apology, this suggests to victims that they are not terribly valued in their relationships, and thus victims who forgive the bad behavior feel worse about themselves (like they are a doormat their partner can walk all over). In sum, if your partner apologizes for his or her wrongdoing, forgiving can be quite healthy for you, but you should be careful about forgiving a partner who has not made amends for a transgression.

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1Hannon, P. A., Finkel, E. J., Kumashiro, M., & Rusbult, C. E. (2012). The soothing effects of forgiveness on victims’ and perpetrators’ blood pressure. Personal Relationships, 19, 279-289.

2Bono, G., McCullough, M. E., & Root, L. M. (2008). Forgiveness, feeling connected to others, and well-being: Two longitudinal studies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 182-195.

3Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., McNulty, J. K., & Kumashiro, M. (2010). The doormat effect: When forgiving erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 734-749.

Sarah Stanton, M.Sc. - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Sarah is interested in how different types of people think, feel, and behave in relationships, the positive and negative relationship outcomes associated with low self-regulatory ability, and how relationship experiences influence goal pursuit, bodily stress responses, and mental and physical health outcomes.

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