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EVALUATION OF A SELF-FORGIVENESS INTERVENTION:

DOES IT PROMOTE EMOTION RESOLUTION AND PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR?

by

MICKIE L. FISHER

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Dissertation Advisor: Dr. Julie Exline

Department of Psychology

CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

January 2009

CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

SCHOOL OF GRADUATE STUDIES

We hereby approve the dissertation of

Mickie Lynn Fisher

candidate for the Ph.D. degree *.

(signed)

Julie Exline, PhD

(chair of the committee)

Heath Demaree, PhD

Emilia McGucken, PhD

Sandra Russ, PhD

(date)

October 4th, 2007

*We also certify that written approval has been obtained for any proprietary material contained therein.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables……………………………………………………………………… 4

Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………

5

Abstract…………………………………………………………………………

6

Introduction………………………………………………………………………

7

Method…………………………………………………………………………….

24

Results……………………………………………………………………………

34

Discussion…………………………………………………………………………. 50

Tables……………………………………………………………………………… 62

Appendix A: Questionnaire and Workbook Material ……………………………

75

References………………………………………………………………………… 166

2

List of Tables

Table 1

Hypothesized Differences between Intervention and Control

62

Condition

Table 2

Hypothesized Changes in Emotional and Prosocial Variables

63

during the Intervention

Table 3

Order of Administration of Key Measures

65

Table 4

Baseline Measures: Means, Standard Deviations, Possible and

67

Observed Ranges, Skew with Standard Error, and Kurtosis with

Standard Error

Table 5

Follow-Up Measures: Means, Standard Deviations, Possible and

68

Observed Ranges, Skew with Standard Error, and Kurtosis with

Standard Error

Table 6

Prosocial Measures: Repeated Measure MANOVA Results for

69

Comparisons between Groups

Table 7

Emotion Measures: Repeated Measure MANOVA Results for

71

Comparisons between Groups with Revised Sample

Table 8

Workbook Planned Comparison Results

72

3

Acknowledgements

A dissertation project is always a labor of love. During this process, many people

have provided encouragement and support, and I would like to recognize them here.

First, I would like to thank my dissertation advisor, Dr. Julie Exline. She has been an

inspiration to me both professionally and personally. She is very dedicated to writing,

researching, and doing therapy in areas that she believes in strongly and feels “called” to

doing. I hope that in my vocation, I also can be as true to my values and interests as you

have been. Thank you for all the meetings to discuss this project, even while you were

on sabbatical. Your commitment to making sure I am successful and always learning has

not gone unnoticed.

Second, I would like to thank my committee members, Dr. Heath Demaree, Dr.

Sandy Russ, and Dr. Emilia McGucken. Each met with me outside of the official

dissertation meetings to provide me with guidance about my proposal. I appreciate your

insight, expertise, and time.

Third, although not reported within this document, I also was allowed to gather

data for the project within Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Housing

Residence Life and Greek Life. Everyone in the department was open and flexible with

the demands of collecting data within a sensitive population. Thank you also for your

enthusiasm about being a part of my Ph.D. experience.

Finally, I would like to thank my parents, Jim and Rhonda Fisher for their love

and unconditional acceptance of me. Their support has enabled me to take on challenges

and push myself beyond what I often felt capable of doing. Thank you for surrounding

me with so much love that taking risks felt safe.

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Evaluation of a Self-Forgiveness Intervention:

Does It Promote Emotion Resolution and Prosocial Behavior?

Abstract

By

MICKIE L FISHER

Self-forgiveness research indicates that resolving negative emotion about a transgression

does not guarantee a prosocial response (e.g. apologizing or making amends; reducing

defensiveness). A review of the literature indicates that the following processes may be

important if emotion resolution and prosocial response are to occur: acknowledging

responsibility, dealing with shame, apologizing and making amends, and releasing

lingering negative feelings. In order to explore the role of these processes,

undergraduates (n = 172) who had committed an offense against another person

completed a web-based self-forgiveness intervention. The participants’ emotional and

behavioral responses were compared with the reactions of participants who did not

receive the intervention. Results indicate that, compared to the control condition, the

intervention significantly reduced participants’ defensiveness regarding their role in the

transgression and trended toward increasing their apology and amend behavior.

Furthermore, in those who exhibited negative emotion at baseline, the intervention

significantly reduced participants’ feelings of remorse about their offense and trended

toward decreasing shame and increasing self-forgiveness compared to the control

condition. Suggestions for future self-forgiveness interventions are discussed.

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Evaluation of a Self-Forgiveness Intervention:

Does It Promote Emotion Resolution and Prosocial Behavior?

Everyone makes mistakes. On occasion, people gossip about others, ignore needs

of those around them, and speak unkindly; however, people can respond to these offenses

in a variety of ways. Sometimes people avoid feeling bad about their actions, by

justifying and, thereby, excusing their behavior. Other times they feel ashamed and

become trapped in negative self-views. In other instances, people respond to their

mistakes in a healthy manner. They feel remorse for their misdeeds, seek to repair any

damage their actions have caused, and eventually let go of their negative feelings. In

other words, they respond to their offense in a manner helpful to both themselves and the

offended party. In the following study, a self-forgiveness intervention was constructed to

help offenders respond to their transgressions in a healthy manner. The intervention was

evaluated on its ability to help the offenders rid themselves of self-punishing, negative

emotion and also its influence on encouraging prosocial responses from offenders.

Background: Self-Forgiveness Research

Self-forgiveness most recently has been defined as “a set of motivational changes

whereby one becomes decreasingly motivated to avoid stimuli associated with the

offense, decreasingly motivated to retaliate against the self (e.g. punish the self, engage in

self-destructive behaviors), and increasingly motivated to act benevolently towards the

self” (Hall & Fincham, 2005, p. 622). In other words, after self-forgiveness, an

offender’s drive to make the self pay for the event changes into acceptance of the self.

Additionally, the offender is better able to face what he or she has done.

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Potential Benefits of Self-Forgiveness

Only a handful of empirical studies have been conducted regarding self-

forgiveness. Results of these studies consistently demonstrate that trait self-forgiveness

is associated with indicators of mental health. For instance, self-forgiveness is negatively

correlated with anxiety (Ross, Kendall, Matters, Wrobel, & Rye, 2004; Maltby,

Macaskill, & Day, 2001; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002), depression (Ross et al., 2004;

Maltby, Macaskill, & Day, 2001), and neuroticism (Ross, et al., 2004; Maltby, Macaskill,

& Day, 2001; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002). Additionally, self-forgiveness has been found

to be positively associated with well-being (Mauger et al., 1992), self-esteem (Mauger et

al., 1992), low self-consciousness (Ross, et al., 2004), positive emotion (Ross et al.,

2004), and lack of shame (Tangney & Boone, 2004).

Fisher and Exline (2006b) have recently replicated these findings. In order to

examine the connection between well-being and measures of self-forgiveness, they

created an index of well-being. Satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and emotional stability

loaded positively onto the index while measures of depression, anxiety, and anger loaded

negatively. They found that the well-being index was significantly positively associated

with self-forgiveness.

The clinical literature also reflects the positive role that self-forgiveness plays in

mental health. From the earliest writings of Sigmund Freud, excessive shame and guilt

have been implicated as negatively impacting well-being (Breuer & Freud, 1895/1957;

for a recent review of shame in psychoanalytic theory see Lansky, 2005). Newer therapy

modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, emphasize intervention on negative

thought patterns associated with shame and guilt to help clients overcome anxiety and

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depression (Beck, 1973; Dattilio, 2000). Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical

Manual of Mental Disorders (4 th Ed.-Text Revision) (American Psychiatric Association,

2000) lists inappropriate guilt as one of the possible central features of major depression.

Possible Costs of Self-Forgiveness

Both clinicians and researchers seem to agree that self-forgiveness is related to

well-being. However, despite this association, there has been hesitation— and even some

negative reaction—to the potential use of self-forgiveness in justice and clinical settings

(e.g. Vitz, 1999; Murphy, 2002). For instance, Murphy (2002) argues that self-

forgiveness may dishonor the victim and promote scenarios in which the offender never

apologizes or makes amends. He makes the case that self-forgiveness without appropriate

prosocial response can impact society negatively.

Theorists within the self-forgiveness research community have also voiced

concerns regarding self-forgiveness without acknowledgment of wrongdoing (Holmgren,

1998, 2002; Tangney, Boone, & Dearing, 2005; Hall & Fincham, 2005). For instance,

Hall and Fincham (2005) warn against confusing authentic self-forgiveness with pseudo

self-forgiveness, which occurs when an offender no longer feels remorse but has never

taken responsibility for the offense. Authentic self-forgiveness entails examining the role

one played in hurting another and admitting that another person may have been wounded

by the event.

While recognizing these important distinctions, researchers have struggled to

measure self-forgiveness in a way that differentiates authentic self-forgiveness from

pseudo self-forgiveness. Fisher and Exline (2006a; 2006b) examined several

dispositional measures of self-forgiveness: the Heartland Forgiveness Inventory

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(Thompson & Snyder, 2003), the Forgiveness of Self Scale (Mauger, et al., 1992), and

the Multidimensional Forgiveness Inventory (Tangney, Boone, & Dearing, 2005). They

found that each measure did an excellent job of assessing the absence of negative

emotion. However, each measure had difficulty differentiating between those whose

absence of negative emotion resulted from condoning and excusing their behavior, and

those whose lack of negative emotion resulted from genuine self forgiveness.

This finding helps to explain the mixed pattern of associations between prosocial

orientation and self-forgiveness that has been found in prior research. For example, some

studies indicate a positive link. Self-forgiveness has been found to be positively

associated with personality traits such as warmth, gregariousness, trust,

conscientiousness, competence, and self-discipline and negatively associated with

hostility and impulsiveness (Ross, et al., 2004). Furthermore, self-forgiveness is

positively linked with friendliness (Walker & Gorsuch, 2002), trusting attitudes (Mauger

et al., 1992), and a disposition toward forgiveness (Thompson, et al., 2005).

In contrast, other studies have found self-forgiveness to be associated with

activities and attitudes that negatively impact society. Tangney and Boone (2004) found

that those scoring high on a dispositional self-forgiveness measure tended not to be

motivated to change when others evaluated them negatively. Disinclined to feel ashamed

about wrongdoing, they tended not to fear negative evaluation by others, were reluctant

to succumb to socially prescribed perfectionism and tended toward narcissism.

Additionally, they had a propensity to harbor anger when they were transgressed against

and to resort to physical aggression and other negative coping strategies during

interpersonal conflict. These results led the authors to conclude that their measure of

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self-forgiveness may be a better measure of pseudo self-forgiveness than authentic self-

forgiveness.

Zechmeister and Romero (2002) asked offenders to write narratives about a

wrongdoing they had committed in the past. The researchers then examined these

narratives for themes. They found that when offenders reported engaging in self-

forgiveness, they tended to report that the victim provoked the offense, claim that the

victim had over-reacted, and describe anger toward the victim about the event. In other

words, those who described feeling better about a wrongdoing tended to blame the victim

for the event.

These varied results about the connection between prosocial orientation and self-

forgiveness come from studies using measures and methods that did not clearly

differentiate between condoning and self-forgiveness. The investigators examined

reductions in negative emotion after wrongdoing. However, they did not examine

whether these reductions were because of inappropriate dismissal of responsibility or

authentic self-forgiveness.

Obviously, then, resolving negative emotion after a wrongdoing is not

automatically associated with prosocial attitudes or true self-forgiveness. Thus, self-

forgiveness interventions must be formulated with care. One must be concerned about

targeting not only the negative emotions involved in an offense but also the offender’s

responsibility attributions and responses toward the victim.

Four Proposed Elements of the Self-Forgiveness Process

Given this information, what is the best way to intervene to increase self-

forgiveness? How might one cultivate a process that is helpful to the individual but also

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caring toward the victim? The literature on shame, guilt, apology and amends, and self-

forgiveness describe a healthy process of self-forgiveness that should be beneficial for

both the transgressor and society. Based on this literature, one might propose four parts

of a healthy self-forgiveness process. Specifically, it seems important to ensure that

offenders accept responsibility for their actions, address feelings of shame, take the

opportunity to make amends when possible, and release any lingering negative emotion.

Further clarification regarding these important processes is outlined below.

Responsibility

As the ideas surrounding self-forgiveness continue to be refined, it has become

evident that the role of responsibility-taking is essential for a healthy process of self-

forgiveness. Enright and colleagues (1996) were the first to state this stipulation within

the psychology literature. In their influential article on forgiveness theory, they suggest

that the first step of self-forgiveness is to confront denial about one’s role in an offense.

Since espousing this idea, other self-forgiveness theorists have echoed the proposition

that self-forgiveness begins by taking responsibility for wrongdoing (Dillion, 2001;

Flanigan, 1996; Hall & Fincham, 2005; Holmgren, 1998; 2002; Snow, 1993).

Fisher and Exline (2006b) conducted research in regard to the role of

responsibility within self-forgiveness. Participants were asked to recall a time when they

committed an interpersonal offense. They were then asked to rate their attitudes

regarding the offense, including their feelings of responsibility. When people reported

acknowledging responsibility, they were more likely to participate in activities that

indicated repentance (such as apologizing and making amends). Furthermore, when

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participants took responsibility for their role in the offense, they tended to report more

humble attitudes and greater understanding of their capacity for wrongdoing.

When self-forgiveness begins by accepting appropriate responsibility for an

offense, theorists agree that feelings of shame, guilt, and regret may emerge, which can

be difficult to resolve (Tangney, Boone, & Dearing, 2005; Hall & Fincham, 2005).

Indeed, Fisher and Exline (2006b) found that responsibility-taking was positively

correlated with experiencing feelings of remorse and self-condemnation in relation to a

transgression. Furthermore, those participants who reported greater effort in overcoming

their negative feelings about the event tended to engage in more repentant actions such as

apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

But most people feel bad about their offenses, correct? Research suggests that

this is not always true. In general, people tend to avoid seeing themselves in a negative

light (Beauregard & Dunning, 2001; Taylor, 1989; Tesser, 2001). They often resort to

comparisons with others who have acted worse than themselves (Kruglanski &

Mayseless, 1990; Wood, Taylor, & Lichtman, 1985) and change their beliefs in order to

avoid negative self-evaluation (Festinger, 1957).

Research on perpetrators also suggests that people avoid responsibility and

negative feelings after transgression. When undergraduates were asked to identify with a

perpetrator in a given scenario, they tended to exaggerate extenuating circumstances

about the offense and leave out facts that showed the perpetrator as being in the wrong

(Stillwell & Baumeister, 1997). In another study, perpetrators tended to describe their

negative behavior in a manner that made their offenses seem meaningful and

comprehensible (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotman, 1990). Taken together, this research

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suggests that acknowledging responsibility is not a natural tendency for people; yet,

acknowledging responsibility may be an essential ingredient for authentic self-

forgiveness.

Is there research indicating the best method by which to assist people in

acknowledging their responsibility for an offense? Self-forgiveness theory suggests that

overcoming the tendency to minimize negative behavior requires confrontation of denial

(Enright & The Human Development Study Group, 1996; Flanigan, 1996). In one study

(Exline, 2006), undergraduate participants were asked to recall an offense they had

committed and focus on their role in the wrongdoing. They were then asked to imagine

their role represented by a suitcase, which they were to envision picking up, thereby

accepting responsibility. Preliminary analyses suggest that, two weeks later, those in the

imagery condition participated in more prosocial behaviors than those assigned to a

condition in which they simply imagined forgiving themselves for the event. These

preliminary findings suggest that an important aspect of a self-forgiveness intervention

will be to have participants allow feelings of responsibility to become salient.

Furthermore, participants need some time to act upon those feelings in prosocial ways. If

negative emotions are relieved immediately, a person may be less likely to make amends.

Shame

Research suggests that after acknowledging wrongdoing, offenders experience a

variety of negative emotions (Fisher & Exline, 2006b). These emotions—such as shame,

guilt, and regret—are distinctive and experienced in unique ways (Fisher & Exline,

2006c). However, one emotion in particular seems to be the most toxic: shame.

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Feelings of shame emerge when people begin to identify themselves too closely

with their offenses; they focus on the idea that they are a bad person, instead of a person

who has done something bad (Tangney, 1998). Often shame is accompanied by feelings

of being small, worthless, and powerless (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Additionally,

people often report a desire to hide from their actions because they have been exposed

and feel vulnerable (Tangney & Dearing, 2002).

However, the effects and repercussions of shame are not limited to the duration of

the offense or immediately thereafter, shame has long-term consequences. A tendency to

experience shame has long-term consequences. For instance, those experiencing high

trait-level shame during childhood are less likely to apply to college and to participate in

projects that assist the community (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Recovering drug addicts

tend to display more shame than other individuals (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). In fact,

shame-proneness in the 5 th grade predicts future drug use, suicide attempts, and high

school suspensions (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Shame proneness is associated with

depression and anxiety (Tangney, Burggraf, & Wagner, 1995), and, additionally, shame

can be an obstacle to self-forgiveness (Zechmeister & Romero, 2002).

Shame is good, however, because, in an effort to rid themselves of the feeling,

perpetrators try to make things right with the victim, correct? Again, research implies

otherwise. First, although feelings of both self-punishment and remorse are associated

with repentance, only remorse is a significant predictor of repentance when these

emotions are examined simultaneously (Fisher & Exline, 2006b). Furthermore, even

though both self-punishment and remorse are linked with feeling responsible, only

remorse is a significant predictor of accepting responsibility (Fisher & Exline, 2006b).

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These findings are consistent with prior studies indicating that shame is not

associated with prosocial attitudes and actions (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Those with

high shame tend to interact with victims in a negative manner. For instance, they tend to

cover up their transgressions, deny responsibility, shift blame outside themselves, and

avoid interacting with the injured party (Tangney, 1995b). They also report being more

concerned about the transgression’s negative consequences for themselves than for the

person whom they hurt (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Those high in shame also tend to act

in hostile and angry ways toward their victims (Tangney, 1994). Furthermore, they are

less likely to attempt to make reparations and amends after a transgression (Tangney &

Dearing, 2002).

In general, those with high levels of trait shame often have impaired perspective

taking (Leith & Baumeister, 1998) and poor empathic skills (Tangney, 1991; Tangney,

1994). They have difficulty managing conflict in a constructive manner (Tangney &

Dearing, 2002). Additionally, they often resort to destructive acts when angry—even

having a tendency to use verbal and physical aggression (Tangney & Dearing, 2002).

Thus, one can see that shame is an emotion that impacts both the offender and the injured

party negatively. A well-constructed self-forgiveness intervention would assist offenders

in resolving feelings of shame regarding their misbehavior.

How might one intervene to reduce feelings of shame? Tangney, Boone, and

Dearing (2005) suggest that shame reduction may be facilitated by helping offenders

differentiate between being a bad person and doing a bad deed (see also Zechmeister &

Romero, 2002; Holmgren, 2002; Tangney & Dearing, 2002). When negative emotion

centers on action (i.e., having done something bad), a person may be able to make

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amends for the behavior or to plan to behave differently in the future. Both strategies

could reduce negative feelings. However, when an action has caused a global

devaluation of the self, a person will probably have difficulty finding ways in which to

“make up” for being a bad person.

The restorative justice movement has used this concept of differentiating between

a “bad person” and a “bad deed” while working with criminal offenders. Restorative

justice offender programs aid convicts in increasing feelings of empathy for the victim

and accepting responsibility for their role in the crime. At the same time, the programs

assist offenders in reducing feelings of shame and creating a new identity as a good

person (Braithwaite, 2000; Maurna, 2001). In restorative justice programs, convicts are

encouraged to remember that they have hurt others but are reminded that their deed does

not define them. They realize that they have opportunities every day to choose to act in a

positive manner. By doing so, there is a sense in which they can leave their criminal

identity behind and form a more positive identity.

One longitudinal study found evidence that a positive cognitive shift was a factor

in reducing recidivism (Maruna, 2001). British ex-convicts who reported committing a

crime, but no longer being a criminal, had the most success after release from prison.

They reported that they had changed their identity into a more prosocial one and had a

clear explanation of how they had changed. This research indicates that one key to

intervening on shame may be to help the person differentiate between being a bad person

and having committed a bad deed.

Apology and Amends

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Thus far, research indicates that a prosocial intervention for self-forgiveness

should attempt to increase appropriate responsibility while reducing feelings of shame.

However, another emotion that the person may be experiencing is guilt. In opposition to

shame, feelings of guilt seem to be more adaptive (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). This is

because guilt focuses on specific negative actions and does not entail global devaluation

of the self (Tangney & Fischer, 1995; Tangney, 1995a; Tangney, 1998; Tangney, 1999).

Research indicates that guilt is positively associated with pro-social attitudes and

actions. Those who readily feel guilty are more likely to have empathy for others (Leith

& Baumeister, 1998; Tangney, 1991; Tangney 1994; Tangney 1995b; Tangney &

Dearing, 2002). Guilt-prone individuals are more adept at interpersonal problem solving.

For instance, they are more likely to diffuse their anger through non-hostile discussion

and cognitive restructuring (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Studies have also shown that

guilt is positively associated with taking steps of reparation and making a commitment to

change future behavior (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1995; Tangney & Dearing,

2002). Guilt serves to help people relate better with each other by reminding them to

tend to relationships and motivating them to change harmful behavior (Baumeister,

Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994).

The pathway by which guilt is resolved is best explained via a concept known as

the injustice gap (Exline, Worthington, Hill, & McCullough, 2003; Worthington, 2003;

Witvliet et al., in press). Transgressors are aware of the discrepancy between their

actions and just treatment of the victim, and this produces feelings of guilt for the specific

wrongful action. Transgressors attempt to bridge the injustice gap by either punishing the

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self or engaging in prosocial activities such as apologizing and making amends to the

victim.

There is evidence that prosocial activities have a particularly positive effect on

bridging the injustice gap. For instance, in one study (Tangney & Dearing, 2002)

students were asked to recall two types of situations in which they felt guilty. One was a

situation that was experienced positively and the other was experienced negatively.

Positive guilt experiences were defined as events in which participants felt bad about a

wrongdoing but were able to resolve the guilt. Negative experiences were defined as

events in which resolving guilt was so difficult that participants were unable to fully

expunge this emotion. The main difference between these two types of events was that in

the positive guilt events, participants reported involvement in actions that sought to

amend for the transgression, such as apologizing or asking for forgiveness. In other

words, when guilt was described as being resolved, people had taken actions to amend for

their behavior.

Complementary with these findings, Estrada-Hollenbeck and Heatherton (1998)

found that people participate in amend-making behaviors, such as confessing and

admitting blame, as a means of reducing guilt. When participants were asked to write

about a transgression that they had committed, their narratives were replete with

descriptions of attempts to make amends for their behavior as a direct result of their

negative feelings. Another study showed that those who reported being able to self-

forgive after an offense were more likely to have attempted to apologize and make

amends than those who were still struggling to self-forgive (Zechmeister & Romero,

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2002). This same pattern, in which repentance facilitates self-forgiveness, occurs even

when apologizing and making amends are imagined (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002).

This research indicates that a self-forgiveness intervention that benefits both the

offender and the victim would encourage participants to consider repentance strategies.

Preliminary research also indicates that it is important to allow participants time to

engage in these activities before they rid themselves of their negative emotions. In one

recent study, researchers primed participants to think about engagement in amend

behaviors in relation to an interpersonal offense (Exline, 2006). One group was asked to

immediately forgive themselves for the event, while the other was not. Two weeks later,

those in the group who had not immediately released their guilt reported greater

willingness to engage in amend-making behavior than those instructed to immediately

release their guilt.

Releasing Lingering Negative Emotion

Once offenders have taken responsibility for their role in an offense, dealt with

their feelings of shame, and made amends for their behavior, what if they still have

negative feelings? Self-forgiveness theorist Holmgren (1998) contends that if a person

has truly apologized, committed to never engage in the behavior again, and participated

in acts intended to communicate sorrow to the victim, there is little benefit in holding on

to feelings of guilt and shame. Under these circumstances, Holmgren (1998) states that it

is healthy and appropriate for offenders to let go of persisting negative emotion.

Additionally, there are times in which an offense may be so severe that no amount

of apology and amends could ever repair the damage. In these instances, offenders may

have to admit that they have done all that they can do about the situation. They may need

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to simply make a decision to release any lingering negative feelings (Enright & The

Human Development Study Group, 1996).

By letting go of remaining guilt and shame, people complete the final step of the

proposed self-forgiveness process. A well-constructed self-forgiveness intervention

would assist offenders in completing this process. This final step might be considered the

“self-forgiveness” section of the intervention because this is when any lingering

motivation to retaliate against the self is released. However, in the present model of self-

forgiveness, it is simply seen as the final step in a process. In the model proposed here,

all four processes are potentially important parts of self-forgiveness.

Summary

In review, the literature suggests that in order to foster both the personal gains

(e.g. lowered negative emotion) and the societal benefits (e.g. amend making) of self-

forgiveness, several important processes may need to take place. First, offenders should

be encouraged to accept responsibility for their role in the offense. Second, feelings of

shame should be addressed by helping offenders to distinguish between being a bad

person and having done a bad thing. Third, a healthy self-forgiveness intervention should

facilitate thought about amend-making behavior and give time for offenders to make

reparations. Finally, the intervention should assist offenders in fostering self-compassion

and releasing negative feelings once they have taken steps to apologize and make

amends.

Overview and Major Hypotheses

The purpose of the study was to evaluate a brief self-forgiveness intervention.

The present intervention was built upon a preliminary self-forgiveness intervention study

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(Exline, 2006). In this preliminary study, participants wrote about an offense they

committed and then were assigned to one of four conditions. The “whole intervention”

condition included the entire self-forgiveness intervention. This consisted of two sections

focusing on taking responsibility and making amends and two sections intended to help

participants acknowledge and release their negative feelings about their wrongdoing. The

“responsibility” condition included only the first two sections of the intervention, which

dealt with taking responsibility and making amends. The “emotion release” condition

included the final two sections of the intervention in which participants were asked to

release their negative feelings. Finally, a control condition did not receive any part of the

intervention. Two weeks later, follow-up data were collected.

Preliminary analysis of this dataset indicated that those in the “responsibility”

condition, when compared with those in the “emotion release” condition, were more

likely to have apologized and made amends at follow-up. They were also more willing to

continue to make amends in the future than those in the “emotion release” condition.

Those who received the “whole intervention” (i.e., both the responsibility and emotion

release interventions) did not differ from the other groups in terms of prosocial behaviors.

This seemed to indicate that the responsibility section was able to influence people’s

prosocial behaviors, but only when time was given for people to engage in prosocial acts

before they released their emotion. Therefore, the responsibility portion of the

intervention was incorporated into the present intervention design, and participants were

given one week after the “responsibility” section before being exposed to the “emotion-

release” portion of the intervention. (Both sections were also modified somewhat for

content and length for the present study.)

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The new design for this intervention allowed participants to reflect on their

responsibility for the offense, have time to act in prosocial ways for one week, and then

have the opportunity to release their negative emotion. Additionally, due to a further

review of the literature, a section on releasing shame (or self-condemnation) was added to

the intervention. The new intervention thus incorporated the strengths of the Exline

(2006) study and added a new component based on an added theoretical

conceptualization.

The intervention designed for this study was administered via an online

workbook. Participants were recruited from a pool of Psychology 101 students who were

given partial class credit for participation. Participants were randomly assigned to an

intervention condition or a control condition. The control group only received the

baseline and follow-up measures. This experimental design was used in order to explore

whether or not the online workbook elicited changes in mood above and beyond the

natural improvement in mood that takes place with time as in the case of grief (Kubler-

Ross, 1970) and depression (Keller, Shapiro, Lavori, & Wolfe, 1982).

The workbook consisted of four sections: Your Role in the Violation (to address

acknowledgment of responsibility), Dealing with Shame (to intervene on self-

punishment), Making Peace with the Situation (to encourage reflection and action about

making amends), and Releasing Negative Feelings (to encourage participants to let go of

lingering negative emotion). It was hypothesized that those who received the

intervention would show gains in both their emotional well-being and their prosocial

approach to the situation. Thus, the intervention group would indicate reductions in

negative emotion such as remorse and self-punishment, along with increases in self-

22

forgiveness when compared to controls. Furthermore, those in the intervention group

would show gains over the control group in the area of prosocial attitudes and actions.

(Please see Table 1 for a summary of the specific hypothesized comparisons between the

intervention and control conditions.)

Another prediction was that the individual sections of the intervention would

show evidence of their intended purpose. For instance, after the section entitled Your

Role in the Violation, participants should have indicated an increased acknowledgement

of responsibility and heightened feelings of remorse and self-punishment. After the

Dealing with Shame section, participants should have reported less self-punishment.

After the Making Peace with the Situation section, participants should have shown

increases in both their attitudes and actions regarding amend-making for the situation.

Finally, after the Releasing Negative Feelings section, participants should have shown

decreases in remorse and self-punishment. (Please see Table 2 for a summary of the

hypothesized changes in emotional and prosocial variables during the intervention.)

Participants

Method

Participants were students enrolled in Psychology 101 at Case Western Reserve

University, a private research university in Cleveland, Ohio. The students participated in

psychology experiments for class credit. In total, there were 179 participants with 7

participants withdrawing prematurely from the study. There were no significant

differences on baseline measures or assigned condition between the withdrawing

participants and the 172 participants who completed the entire study. Of the participants

who completed the entire study, there were 82 participants in the workbook condition and

23

90 participants in the control condition. The sample consisted of 72 males and 100

females with a mean age of 18.55 (SD = 0.94). Most participants were single (n = 155).

Two were married, nine were living with a romantic partner, and six classified their

marital status as “other.” The sample was 5% African American, 22% Asian or Pacific

Islander, 1% Latino/Hispanic, 2% Middle Eastern, 1% Native American, and 73%

White/Caucasian. (Please note that the total percentage is greater than 100% because

participants were allowed to check more than one category.)

Procedure

Students were recruited by advertising a study “examining the emotional and

behavioral processes that individuals undergo after hurting or offending someone.”

Students were given 1.5 units of experiment credit for their participation, which was

prorated if they only completed a portion of the experiment. As an incentive to complete

all three sections of the intervention, students were given the opportunity to be put into a

drawing for a $25 gift certificate if they filled out the questionnaire at all three data

collection time points.

As a part of the recruitment materials, participants were directed to an online

website that contained the first section of the study material. (Please see Appendix A for

the questionnaires and workbook material.) Once logged into the website, the

participants were assigned to either the control or workbook condition. Because

generation of random numbers was not possible with the online survey software, quasi-

randomization occurred by having participants type in the hour of the time in which they

began the study. They were then assigned to a condition dependent upon whether their

number was even or odd. This quasi-randomization technique has been successful in

24

prior studies (Exline, 2006). All participants were given a variety of background

questionnaires assessing gender, age, ethnicity, and marital status. They were then asked

to give a full description of the interpersonal offense.

To provide baseline data, the participants responded to online questionnaires

assessing the following: remorse, self-punishment, acceptance of responsibility for the

offense, self-forgiveness, amend behaviors, willingness to apologize, commitment to

future behavior change, defensive attitudes, and feelings of becoming more humble. (All

measures are described in detail below.) Additionally, participants completed a measure

of entitlement. After answering these questionnaires, participants in the control condition

received no further measures other than the follow-up questionnaire, which was e-mailed

to them two weeks later. (Please see Table 3 for an outline of the order of administration

of key measures.)

For the workbook condition, after the baseline measures were completed,

participants began the online self-forgiveness workbook intervention. The workbook

began with the section entitled: Your Role in the Violation.

In this section, participants

were asked to think about their role in the situation and to do imagery focused on taking

responsibility for their part in the offense. They were then asked to rate their feelings of

responsibility, remorse, and self-punishment.

In the second section of the workbook, which was entitled Dealing with Shame,

participants received information regarding the difference between doing something bad

and being a bad person. Additionally, they were asked to visualize imagery in which

they left their negative identity behind while retaining their feeling of responsibility.

They then were asked to rate their feelings of remorse and self-punishment.

25

The third section of the workbook, which was entitled Making Peace with the

Situation, began by asking participants to evaluate how they might make peace with

themselves and others about the offense. It then evaluated feelings of remorse and self-

punishment. Participants completed this material and then were given a one-week period

in which they could choose to make amends for the situation. Recall that prior research

(Exline, 2006) suggested the importance of giving participants time to make amends

before encouraging them to release negative emotions. After one week, they were

emailed a link where they completed this section of the workbook and finished the final

workbook section.

In the second half of the Making Peace with the Situation section, participants

were asked about whether or not they engaged in amend and apology behaviors, their

willingness to apologize and make amends, their commitment to future change, and any

defensive attitudes that they retained. Additionally, they were asked about their feelings

of remorse and self-punishment.

Participants then completed the final section of the workbook, which was entitled

Releasing Negative Feelings. In this section, participants were asked about any

remaining negative feelings. During this section, they were provided with

psychoeducational material about the harm in holding on to negative feelings—especially

in light of having apologized and made amends. Additionally, they were asked to

visualize imagery in regard to releasing their lingering negative emotion. At this point,

they were again asked to rate their feelings of remorse and self-punishment.

All participants were emailed a link to the follow-up questionnaire two weeks

after baseline measures were taken. These data were also gathered via a website. The

26

follow-up questionnaire included the same measures of emotional responses and

repentance that were included at baseline.

Validation of measures used in the study. In general, the measures used in this

study have evidence of validity; however, one will note that many measures have a single

study demonstrating their validity. Since the study of self-forgiveness is relatively

young, there are few existing measures to assess the subtle constructs involved in the

process of self-forgiveness. The measures selected for this study were chosen because

they had been used in prior self-forgiveness studies and had good face validity.

Remorse and self-condemnation. In order to assess feelings of remorse and self-

condemnation, two subscales of a measure developed by Fisher and Exline (2006) were

used. Fisher and Exline (2006) created the measure by asking participants to respond to

the prompt, “When I think about this incident now, I feel…” followed by sixteen items.

Each item was rated from 0 (don’t feel this very much) to 10 (feel this very much). Fisher

and Exline (2006b) described three factors extracted from these questions. Of these

factors, two factors that were relevant to the present study were used in the current study.

The first assessed feelings of remorse. Statements loading onto this factor

included: “remorse,” “regret about what I did,” “guilty,” “sad about what I did,”

“disgusted with what I did,” and “sorrow about what I did.” The measure has a

previously demonstrated Cronbach’s alpha of .91 (Fisher & Exline, 2006b). The second

subset of questions assessed self-condemnation. Statements loading onto this factor

included: “like a bad person,” “like I deserve to suffer for this,” “angry at myself,” and

“hateful toward myself.” A previous study indicates a Cronbach’s alpha of .88 (Fisher &

27

Exline, 2006b). Scores on each subscale were averaged, with higher mean scores

indicating greater remorse or self-condemnation.

Evidence for validity for these subscales comes from findings by Fisher and

Exline (2006). They found that feelings of remorse and self-condemnation were

associated with taking greater responsibility for an offense; however, when both

subscales were entered into a regression equation, only remorse remained a significant

predictor of acknowledgement of responsibility. Furthermore, this same pattern emerged

when examining repentance. Repentance behaviors were significantly correlated with

both remorse and self-condemnation; however, regression indicated that remorse was the

only significant predictor of repentance behaviors. These findings are predicted by the

overarching literature on differences between dispositional shame and guilt (e.g. Tangney

& Dearing, 2002).

Responsibility. In order to assess acknowledgment of responsibility, a scale by

Fisher and Exline (2006b) was used. The scale contains five items, two of which were

reverse scored. Participants could respond on a scale of 0 (completely disagree) to 10

(completely agree). Instructions for these questions were: “Please rate the degree to

which you agree or disagree with each statement.” The statements included: “I feel I was

responsible for what happened,” “I wasn’t really to blame for this” (reverse scored), “I

was in the wrong in the situation,” “this was clearly my fault,” and “I did not really do

anything wrong” (reverse scored). Scores for each statement were averaged, with higher

scores indicating greater acknowledgement of responsibility. A prior study indicates a

Cronbach’s alpha of .83 (Fisher & Exline, 2006b).

28

This scale has shown evidence of validity. Fisher and Exline (2006) found that

the higher the score on the responsibility scale, the more negative emotion was present

about the offense and the greater effort was necessary to recover from the emotional

impact of the offense. Furthermore, lack of responsibility was found to be associated

with dispositional egotism (high narcissism and entitlement along with low humility) and

resistance to feeling more humble after committing an offense.

Self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness was assessed using the behavioral subscale

from the Wahkinney-DeShea Self-Forgiveness Scale (Wohl, DeShea, & Wahkinney,

2003). Higher scores on this scale indicated greater self-forgiveness for a specific

offense. Prior studies indicate that the instrument has Cronbach’s alphas ranging from

.75 to .93 (Wohl, DeShea, & Wahkinney, in press).

The instrument has demonstrated validity. It has been found to be positively

correlated with self-esteem, emotional stability, and extraversion (Wohl, DeShea, &

Wahkinney, in press). Additionally, it has associations with ratings on the question, “As

I consider what I did that was wrong, I have forgiven myself” (Wohl, DeShea, &

Wahkinney, in press).

Amend behaviors. In order to assess offenders’ participation in amend behaviors,

participants were asked to rate the extent to which they engaged in a variety of activities.

The questions were rated on a scale from 0 (I have not done this at all) to 10 (I have done

this fully). Repentance was assessed by averaging across items. Amend behaviors

included: apologizing, confessing wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness, making amends,

and doing something to make up for the incident. These questions were modified from a

study by Fisher and Exline (2006b) in order to better manage the length of the present

29

study. A prior study indicates that Cronbach’s alpha for this instrument was .86 (Fisher

& Exline, 2006b).

Validity for the scale is demonstrated in a study by Fisher and Exline (2006b).

They found that the more remorse and self-punishment people felt and the more they

accepted responsibility, the more they tended to engage in amend behaviors.

Additionally, engagement in repentance behaviors was related to becoming more humble

after committing an offense.

Willingness to make apology and amends. Participants were asked to describe

their current attitude about apologizing or making amends. This question was adapted

from research by Exline (2006). Participants were given a list of choices including: “I

have no intention of ever apologizing/making amends,” “I might consider

apologizing/making amends, but I’m not sure whether I want to,” “I wouldn’t mind

apologizing/making amends, but I don’t feel ready yet (or don’t know how),” “I would

definitely like to apologize/make amends, but I don’t feel ready yet (or don’t know

how),” “I am ready to apologize/make amends, but I haven’t tried to actually do it yet,”

“I have tried to apologize/make amends, but I don’t feel like the process is complete,”

and “I have completely apologized or made amends.” Higher scores indicated a greater

willingness to apologize and make amends.

As a demonstration of validity, Exline (2006) asked a group of participants to

imagine engaging in amend behaviors in relation to hurting another. Half of the group

was asked to immediately release their negative emotion, while the other was not given

this instruction. Two weeks later, those who had immediately released their negative

30

feelings reported lower scores on this instrument than the other group, thus indicating less

willingness to engage in amend behaviors.

Commitment to future change. Commitment to future change was assessed

through a question constructed for this study: “To what extent do you currently feel you

have made a decision to not commit the same violation again?” Responses could range

from 0 (not at all) to 10 (extremely).

Defensive attitudes. Defensive attitudes regarding the offense were assessed

through a variety of questions (Exline, 2006). Participants were given the prompt,

“Regarding this violation, to what extent do you currently feel…” and were asked to rate

statements on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (very much). The following statements were

rated: “a need to defend or ‘stand up for’ yourself,” “a desire to protest your innocence,”

“a sense that you have been unfairly blamed,” and “a belief that you were actually the

main victim of harm.” Higher scores on this scale indicated a greater level of defensive

attitudes.

A prior study indicated a Cronbach’s alpha of .77 (Exline, 2006). As evidence

of validity, this scale as been found to have a positive correlation with entitlement and a

negative association with responsibility acknowledgement (Exline, 2006).

Humbling changes. Fisher and Exline (2006b) designed a scale aimed at

assessing whether people had experienced an increase in their feelings of humility due to

their offense.

These questions were adapted for the current study. Participants read the

prompt, “Regarding this violation, in what ways do you currently feel…” They then

rated a series of statements on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (extremely). The items on

this scale included: “I have become more aware of my ability to hurt others,” “The bad

and good aspects of me feel more integrated into who I am,” and “I am less judgmental of

31

other’s mistakes.” Higher scores indicated greater humbling changes. Cronbach’s alpha

for these questions is reported to be .60 (Fisher & Exline, 2006b). This is somewhat low

reliability; however, it is consistent with other scales measuring trait humility (Landrum,

2002.)

This scale shows validity as indicated in a study by Fisher and Exline (2006b).

For instance, both remorse and self-punishment are correlated with experiencing

humbling changes after a transgression. Additionally, humbling changes are experienced

in association with taking responsibility for an offense and feeling that working through

negative emotion about an event required effort.

Entitlement.

The Psychological Entitlement Scale (Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton,

Exline, & Bushman, 2004) is a nine-item scale that assesses trait entitlement.

Participants responded to statements on a scale of 1 (strong disagreement) to 7 (strong

agreement). A total score was then derived by summing responses. A greater total score

indicated greater psychological entitlement. Cronbach’s alpha for this instrument ranges

from .83 to .88 (Campbell, et al., 2004). Test-retest reliability ranges between .70 and .72

(Campbell, et al., 2004).

The Psychological Entitlement Scale is a widely used measure and has

demonstrated validity. It has been found to be positively related to narcissism,

exhibitionism, vanity, superiority, and exploitativeness (Campbell, et al., 2004). The

scale is associated with selfishness in romantic relationships and engagement in

aggressive acts following threat to the ego (Campbell et al., 2004). Entitlement scores

have also been found to be associated with willingness to take candy from children

(Campbell et al., 2004).

32

Preliminary Analyses

Results

Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were performed on each of the baseline

variables (remorse, self-punishment, self-forgiveness, responsibility, amend behaviors,

willingness to apologize, commitment to future change, defensive attitudes, and

humbling changes) in order to compare differences between the workbook and control

conditions. There were no significant differences between baseline measures. Means,

standard deviations, ranges, and Cronbach’s alphas were calculated for all baseline and

follow-up measures and are presented in Tables 4 and 5.

Skewness and kurtosis were calculated for all continuous variables. (Please see

Tables 4 and 5.) Defensive attitudes and self-punishment were positively skewed at both

baseline and follow-up, with most of the scores clustering at the low end of the scale.

Entitlement was positively skewed at baseline. Furthermore, remorse and commitment to

future behavior change were positively skewed at follow-up. Responsibility was

negatively skewed at baseline, with most of the scores clustering at the high end of the

scale. Willingness to apologize was negatively skewed at both baseline and follow-up.

Several variables were found to have significant negative kurtosis at baseline,

being more peaked than normal. The variables displaying baseline negative kurtosis

included: remorse, self-punishment, amend behaviors, willingness to apologize and

commitment to future behavior change. Additionally, amend behavior, commitment to

future behavior change and humbling changes displayed negative kurtosis at follow-up.

Finally, at follow-up, remorse, self-punishment, and defensive attitudes were flatter than

a normal distribution, displaying positive kurtosis.

33

Correction of the non-normal data through data transformation was attempted;

however, data transformation using a variety of methods (e.g. square root, cube root,

inverse, log e, log 10) did not produce data that met criteria for normality within the

variables. The one exception to this pattern was for the entitlement measure. This

measure was corrected for normality through the use of a square root data transformation

(see, e.g. Tabachnick & Fidell, 2006), and all analyses using this measure were

completed with this correction. Through visual inspection, it was determined that many

of the measures resistant to correction had pronounced floor and ceiling effects at follow-

up. Consultation with several sources resulted in the conclusion that, since the sample

size was quite large (n = 172), repeated measures ANOVA would not be pathologically

affected by the non-normal data (Kirk, 1994; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2006). Thus,

statistical analysis was performed without correction of the data for normality for these

measures.

Hypotheses about the Intervention

Two main hypotheses were tested. The first hypothesis was that the intervention

group would show a greater reduction in negative emotion from baseline to follow-up in

comparison to the control group. This was investigated through repeated measures

MANOVA on the dependent variables of remorse, self-punishment, and self-forgiveness

measured at baseline and follow-up. It was predicted that there would be a significant

effect of Condition x Time for each variable. Contrary to predictions, the overall

MANOVA for this hypothesis was non-significant, F (3, 168) = 1.34; p = .27, and thus,

did not allow for interpretation of individual variables.

34

The second hypothesis was that the workbook group would show a greater

increase in prosocial behavior and attitudes from baseline to follow-up in comparison to

the control group. This was examined by conducting a repeated-measures MANOVA on

the dependent variables of responsibility, amend behaviors, willingness to apologize,

commitment to future change, defensive attitudes, and humbling changes measured at

baseline and follow-up. It was predicted that there would be a significant effect of

Condition x Time for each variable.

The overall MANOVA examining Condition x Time for this hypothesis was

significant, F (6, 165) = 2.51; p < .05. As predicted, defensive attitudes and amend

behaviors were significant at the .05 level for Condition x Time. Contrary to predictions,

responsibility, willingness to apologize, commitment to future change and humbling

changes were not significant. In order to control for chance findings, a Bonferroni

correction was applied (Rosenthal & Rubin, 1984). The significance level of .05 was

divided by the number of variables within the MANOVA (n = 6), thus resulting in a

revised significance testing level of .008. When the correction was applied to the p-

values, only one significant finding remained. Specifically, the workbook group had a

greater decrease in defensive attitudes regarding the transgression in comparison to

control group participants, F (1, 170) = 12.46; p <.008. (Please see Table 6 for a

summary of results for the prosocial measures including means and standard deviations.)

Exploratory Analysis of Remorse, Self-Punishment, and Self-Forgiveness after

Correcting for Floor Effects

Upon closer analysis of scores at baseline, it was noted that many participants

initially reported experiencing very low levels of remorse and self-punishment. Because

35

this study was testing an intervention, floor effects on the dependent variable could

reduce the odds of detecting a significant effect of the intervention. Would the workbook

make an impact on emotion if participants who had extremely low negative emotion at

baseline were eliminated? In order to explore this possibility, participants that scored

0.25 or less out of 10 on either remorse or self-punishment were removed from analysis.

This resulted in 24 participants being deleted (n = 16 eliminated for workbook; n = 9

eliminated for control). The repeated measures MANOVA examining Condition x Time

on remorse, self-punishment, and self-forgiveness was then run again with the revised

sample.

As predicted, the omnibus F for this test was significant, F (3, 144) = 2.97; p <

.05. Also as predicted, all three variables (self-punishment, remorse, and self-

forgiveness) differed significantly between the groups at the p .05 level. Chance findings

were controlled for with a Bonferroni correction, resulting in a new p-level of .017. After

the correction was applied, one significant finding remained. The workbook group had a

greater decrease in feelings of remorse than the control group, F (1, 146) = 15.30; p <

.017. (Please see Table 7 for a summary of the revised sample emotion variable results,

including means and standard deviations.)

Planned Comparisons within the Intervention Condition

Emotional processes. In order to gain detailed insight into the emotional processes

underlying the intervention, a repeated measures MANOVA with contrasts specified a

priori was carried out on the dependent variables of self-punishment and remorse for the

intervention group only. Each dependent variable was entered into the MANOVA with a

fixed factor of time. Time had seven levels since the dependent variables were

36

administered seven times throughout baseline, workbook, and follow-up. The omnibus

MANOVA indicated that there were differences between time points on remorse and

self-punishment, F (12, 70) = 12.01; p < .001. Remorse had a significant effect over

time, F (6, 486) = 29.62; p < .001, and self-punishment also had a significant effect over

time, F (6, 486) = 43.70; p <.001. A Bonferroni correction was applied, resulting in a

corrected significance level of .025. The time effect for both self-punishment and

remorse remained significant.

Next, t-tests were performed for the specific a priori predictions regarding self-

punishment and remorse. All planned comparisons were found to be significant at the .05

level. (Please see Table 8 for a summary of workbook planned comparison results,

including means and standard deviations.) First, self-punishment and remorse were

theorized to be amplified after the first section of the workbook, which was intended to

increase acceptance of responsibility; however, contrary to predictions, self-punishment

and remorse were actually significantly lower after this section compared to baseline.

Second, as predicted, self-punishment was lower after the second section of the

workbook, which was intended to intervene on feelings of shame, than it was before this

section was given. Third, as predicted, self-punishment and remorse were lower after the

section assisting people with releasing their negative feelings than before this section was

administered. Finally, as predicted, self-punishment and remorse were significantly lower

at follow-up than baseline. A Bonferroni correction was applied, resulting in a corrected

significance testing level of .007. All planned comparisons remained significant except

for the finding that remorse was lower after the section on responsibility than before this

section was given.

37

In summary, contrary to predictions, self-punishment significantly decreased and

remorse trended toward a reduction after the responsibility section of the workbook was

administered. After the shame section of the workbook, self-punishment significantly

decreased. Both self-punishment and remorse were significantly lowered after the

section assisting people with releasing their lingering feelings. Finally, self-punishment

and remorse decreased from baseline to follow-up.

Prosocial attitudes and behaviors. Similarly, in order to more carefully analyze

change in prosocial attitudes and behaviors during the intervention, a MANOVA with

contrasts specified a priori was performed on the dependent variables of responsibility,

amend behaviors, willingness to apologize, commitment to future change, humbling

attitudes, and defensive attitudes for the intervention group only. Again, each dependent

variable was entered into the MANOVA with a fixed factor of time. Time had three

levels since the dependent variables were administered three times throughout baseline,

workbook, and follow-up.

The MANOVA indicated that there was a main effect of time, F (12, 70) = 5.39; p

< .001. The time main effect was significant for all six prosocial measures:

responsibility, F (2, 162) = 12.28; p < .001; willingness to make apology and amends, F

(2, 162) = 5.07; p < .01; amend behaviors, F (2, 162) = 7.53; p < .001; commitment to

future change, F (2, 162) = 7.80; p < .001; humbling changes, F (2, 162) = 4.15; p < .05;

and defensive attitudes, F (2, 162) = 15.42; p < .001. A Bonferroni correction for chance

findings was completed (Rosenthal & Rubin, 1984). The significance testing level .05

was divided by the number of variables (n = 6), resulting in a modified significance

testing level of .008. With this correction, responsibility, amend behaviors, commitment

38

to future change, and defensive attitudes remained significant. However, willingness to

apologize and humbling changes lost significance.

It was predicted that planned comparisons would reveal several specific

differences. (Please see Table 8, for a summary of workbook planned comparison

results, including means and standard deviations). First, responsibility was predicted to

increase after participants had completed the responsibility section of the workbook

(Your Role in the Violation) compared to before this section was given. This finding was

non-significant. Second, it was predicted that after the section intended to encourage

prosocial response to the situation (Making Peace with the Situation), the following

measures would show increases as compared to baseline: willingness to apologize, amend

behaviors, commitment to future change, and humbling changes. Additionally, there

would be a decrease in defensive attitudes during this same time period. Since the time

effect for willingness to apologize and humbling changes did not remain significant after

correcting the significance level, any specific hypotheses using these measures could not

be further evaluated. However, as predicted, amend behaviors and commitment to future

change significantly increased after the section entitled Making Peace with the Situation.

Contrary to predictions, there was not a significant reduction in defensive attitudes.

Additionally, each of the prosocial measures was predicted to be greater at

follow-up as compared to baseline, and defensive attitudes were predicted to be lower at

follow-up compared to baseline. Again, since the time effect for willingness to apologize

and humbling changes did not remain significant after correcting for chance findings, any

specific hypotheses using these measures could not be further evaluated. However, at

follow-up compared to baseline, defensive attitudes significantly decreased, and amend

39

behaviors significantly increased. Commitment to future change did not increase

significantly. Unexpectedly, responsibility significantly decreased from baseline to

follow-up although it was predicted to increase.

In total, there were 8 individual planned comparisons, 5 of which were

significant. Using the Bonferroni method of correcting for chance significance levels, .05

was divided by 8 to produce a new significance testing level of .006. Using the new

criteria, all significant individual planned comparisons of prosocial measures remained

significant, except the finding that amend behaviors were increased from baseline to

follow-up.

In summary, from the beginning of the study until the workbook was completed,

there was a decrease in defensive attitudes and a trend toward an increase in amend

behaviors. However, in opposition to predictions, responsibility significantly decreased

over this same time period. The section intended to help participants engage in prosocial

behaviors (Making Peace with the Situation) resulted in greater participation in amend

behaviors and greater commitment to change in the future.

Hypotheses Regarding Entitlement

It was predicted that entitlement would negatively correlate with acknowledgment

of responsibility, apology willingness, amend behaviors, commitment to future change,

and humbling changes. It was also predicted that defensive attitudes would be positively

correlated with entitlement. This pattern was expected to appear at both baseline and

follow-up. Several of these hypotheses were unable to be tested due to significant skew

and kurtosis within the data (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2006). Specifically, any hypothesis

related to defensive attitudes, amend behaviors, commitment to future change, and

40

willingness to apologize and make amends were unable to be tested. However, at both

baseline and follow-up, entitlement was not significantly correlated with responsibility

(rs ranging from .04 to .06, ns) or humbling changes (rs ranging from .05 to .07, ns).

Furthermore, it was predicted that high entitlement would negatively impact the

effectiveness of sections of the intervention that were intended to produce a prosocial

response. Specifically, it was expected that entitlement would predict lower levels of

acknowledgment of responsibility, apology willingness, amend behaviors, commitment

to future change, and humbling changes at follow-up, while controlling for each measure

at baseline. Additionally, it was hypothesized that entitlement would predict defensive

attitudes at follow-up, while controlling for defensive attitudes at baseline. Again, due to

problems with skewed data, the hypotheses related to apology willingness, amend

behaviors, commitment to future change, and defensive attitudes were unable to be

tested. Results indicated that entitlement did not significantly predict effectiveness of the

workbook on either responsibility (pr = .05, ns) or humbling changes (pr = -.05, ns).

Supplemental Analysis on Workbook Sections

In order to assess whether or not the workbook was working as expected and

actually creating the differences between groups, a variety of manipulation checks were

evaluated. Because the workbook was a complicated document, each aspect of the

workbook will be explained, section by section.

Your Role in the Violation. The first section of the workbook was entitled Your

Role in the Violation. This section was designed to increase the salience of the idea that

taking responsibility for the offense was important. The first paragraphs of this section

gave the participant examples of ways in which people might take responsibility for an

41

offense, even if the offense may have been complicated by other factors. The emphasis

was that reflection on the situation often produces insight about behavior that may have

been more appropriate.

After this section participants were asked if they could acknowledge

responsibility for an aspect of the offense. A total of 73 out of the 82 workbook

participants were able to acknowledge responsibility. These participants were then asked

to describe their contribution to the wrongdoing. All 73 participants were able to

complete this task. This statistic is confirmed by the fact that after this section of the

workbook, when participants were asked to what extent they were able to focus on their

role in the offense, the average rating was in the moderate to high range, a 6.49 (SD =

2.45) on a scale of 10. Participants were also asked, “How difficult was it to focus on

your role in wrongdoing?” Participants did not find it difficult to focus on their role in

the situation. They responded with an average rating in the low to moderate range, 3.65

(SD = 2.79) on a scale of 0 to 10. Participants were then asked to list what aspects of the

situation they were NOT responsible for affecting. Only 4 participants were unable to

complete this portion of the task. Altogether these data show that participants were able

to acknowledge their responsibility for the offense in the situation and also to list ways in

which their responsibility may have been complicated by outside factors.

All participants in the workbook group were then asked to envision themselves

taking ownership for their wrongdoing by forming an image of their responsibility (i.e.

picking up an imaginary suitcase, folder, rock, etc.). This seems to have been a difficult

task for most participants. Only 23 out of the 82 participants were able to imagine a

representation of their wrongdoing. On the other hand, 45 participants reported being

42

unable to do the imagery, 7 participants envisioned apologizing, 4 explained their offense

again, 2 stated that they did nothing wrong in the situation, and 1 envisioned acting

differently. The conclusion that most people had difficulty with the responsibility

imagery is confirmed by the fact that when asked at the end of the section to rate the

extent to which they were able to perform the imagery, the average rating was medium

range, 4.44 (SD = 3.54) out of 10. And when asked how difficult the imagery was to do,

the average rating was in the medium to high range, a 5.81 (SD = 3.58) out of 10.

In summary, people were able to acknowledge their responsibility for the offense

during this section of the workbook. However, they were also readily able to

acknowledge ways in which they were not responsible. Additionally, participants found

the imagery section of the workbook to be difficult.

Dealing with Shame. The next section in the workbook was entitled Dealing with

Shame. This section of the workbook was intended to help the participant release any

feelings of self-punishment in regard to the situation. The section began by asking

participants whether they felt that their view of themselves as “good” was disrupted

because of this event. A total of 69 out of 82 participants felt that the situation disrupted

their view of themselves. All workbook participants were then asked to explain in

writing why they either felt shamed or did not feel shamed because of their wrongdoing.

After this, they were asked to consider the statement, “There are no bad people, only

good people who have done bad things” with further explanation about what this

statement meant. Participants were asked to rate (using a scale from - 5 to + 5) the extent

to which they agreed with the statement, “There are no bad people, only good people who

have done bad things.” Participants gave a mean rating of 0.77 (SD = 2.90), indicating

43

that most people felt fairly neutral about their agreement with the statement. Participants

were then asked to think about what the statement meant for them personally. A total of

57 out of 82 participants were able to see how the statement applied to their situation.

Finally, participants were asked to imagine their feelings of shame and self-

punishment as a black cape and were given the opportunity to release the black cape of

shame and walk away from it. They then were asked to describe the imagery they used.

Participants were allowed to put N/A down if they could not do the imagery, they didn’t

feel the imagery applied to them, they did not want to do it, or they did not understand the

directions. A total of 28 participants described their imagery as N/A. An additional 10

participants described similar reasons for not doing the imagery. Twenty-two

participants described completing the imagery with success.

At the end of this workbook section, participants were asked, “To what extent

were you able to focus on releasing any feelings of being a bad person?” On of a scale

from 0 to 10, participants’ average rating for this question was in the medium range (M =

5.21; SD = 2.90). They also were asked, “How difficult was it to focus on releasing these

feelings [of being a bad person]?” They indicated that it was a low to medium level of

difficulty to release their negative emotions (M = 3.54; SD = 2.96). When asked, “To

what extent were you able to do the imagery part of the exercise,” participants responded

with a medium rating (M = 4.65; SD = 3.56). Additionally, participants rated that it was

moderately difficult to do the imagery (M = 4.55; SD = 3.56).

Recall that self-condemnation significantly decreased from directly prior to this

section to after this section was given. Were the changes in self-condemnation related to

the main concept in the workbook section? The most important aspect of this section was

44

the concept that “There are no bad people, only good people who have done bad things.”

In order to see if the changes in self-condemnation were related to people’s agreement

with this statement, two groups were formed. Self-punishment ratings taken directly after

the completion of this section of the workbook were subtracted from ratings taken

directly before this section. This resulted in a self-punishment-change score in which

negative numbers indicated a decrease in self-punishment and positive numbers

represented an increase in self-punishment. Participants then were divided via a median

split: one group who had a decrease in self-punishment (n = 40; change scores less than -

0.50) and one group who either remained close to the same or increased in self-

punishment (n = 42; change scores greater than -0.50). An ANOVA was then performed

on participants’ ratings of their agreement with the statement, “There are no bad people,

only good people who have done bad things.”

The ANOVA was significant, F (1, 80) =

5.61; p < .05, indicating that those who had reductions in self-punishment while

completing the workbook section were more likely to agree with the concept statement

(M = 6.53, SD = 2.50) than those who did not change or who increased their self-

punishment ratings (M = 5.05, SD = 3.10).

In summary, on average participants felt neutral when asked about their

agreement with the concept statement in this section of the workbook. However, when

further analysis was completed, those that most agreed with the concept statement, were

also those most likely to have reductions in self-punishment. According to the written

responses to the imagery portion of the section, participants seemed to struggle; however,

when asked to rate their difficulty with the imagery, they only reported struggling with it

a moderate amount.

45

Making Peace with the Situation. The third section of the workbook was entitled

Making Peace with the Situation. The intent of this section was to encourage the

participant to reflect on ways in which they might take action to amend for their offense.

The section began by having people explain what they liked about how they handled the

offense and what they did not like. Additionally, it asked them to write down what steps

they had taken to make peace with themselves and others about the offense. Participants

were then asked if they could think of any steps which they could take in the future to

make peace with the situation. Out of the 82 participants in the workbook condition, 43

were able to think of future steps to take. They were then asked to list the steps they

could take and rate how likely they were to take the steps. The average rating (on a scale

of 0 to 10) for likelihood of taking the steps was in the high range (M = 6.81; SD = 2.20),

indicating that most participants intended to follow through with their plan of action.

Those who were unable to think of any steps to take (n = 39) were asked to describe why

they were having difficulty thinking of steps to take.

Participants were given one week to take action to accomplish the steps, after

which they were emailed part two of the study. When they began part two, they were

asked if they were able to think of steps to take (either before the study, during the study,

or in the past week) to make peace with self and others about their role in the offense.

Forty-eight participants answered “yes” to this question. This means that during the

week in which people were asked to act on their steps, that 5 more people thought of

actions they could take to make peace with the situation.

Participants were then asked if they took action on any of the steps they

brainstormed. Most participants (35 out of the 48) reported taking action. The 35 action-

46

taking participants were asked a variety of questions with ratings on a scale of 0 to 10.

Participants felt that they had accomplished the steps that they had thought of to a high

degree (M = 7.94; SD = 1.98) and that taking these steps made them feel better about the

situation (M = 7.80; SD = 2.08). In general, participants denied feeling worse about the

situation after taking action (M =1.40; SD = 1.90). Participants were then asked to

describe the actual steps they took and the reasons they took these steps.

Finally, all workbook participants were asked how they felt about how they had

handled the situation. Using a rating scale of – 5 (very dissatisfied) to + 5 (very

satisfied), participants responded to this prompt with an average rating of 2.04 (SD =

2.38), indicating that most participants felt satisfied with how they handled the situation.

Workbook participants were also asked, “In the days since you completed Part I of the

study, have you done anything to help repair the situation?” In response to this prompt,

34 out of the 82 workbook participants reported that they had done something since the

study started.

In summary, over half of the participants were able to think of steps they could

take to make peace with the situation, and they rated the probability of taking those steps

as high. After given a week to take action on the steps, 73% of those who thought of

steps reported following through by making amends, apologizing, etc. In general, they

rated that taking the actions made them feel better about the situation.

Releasing Lingering Feelings. The final section of the workbook was entitled:

Releasing Lingering Feelings. The purpose of this section was to help the participant

release any remaining negative feelings that they were struggling to release. A total of 31

of the 82 participants reported that they had lingering feelings about the offense. Of

47

those with lingering feelings, they reported their feelings as being low to moderate in

intensity (Scale from 0 to 10; M = 4.10; SD = 2.18). Participants received an

instructional paragraph that explained that holding on to negative feelings for extended

periods of time may not be helpful, especially if the offender has attempted to make the

situation right.

After this educational piece, participants were asked whether they felt ready to

release the last of their self-directed negative emotion. A total of 23 out of the 31 people

who reported lingering feelings felt that they were ready to release the last of their

feelings. The 13 people who did not feel ready were asked to describe why they did not

feel ready. Sample reasons included feeling too depressed to fix the situation, needing to

apologize more fully, and requiring more time. All workbook participants were then

asked to do imagery, which helped them release the last of their emotion. Suggested

images included ropes being cut and volume knobs being turned down.

They were then

asked to describe the imagery they chose to use.

The entire workbook sample indicated

moderate success with releasing their lingering emotion (Scale from 0 to 10; M = 5.26;

SD = 2.16) and rated the difficulty they had with releasing their emotion as falling in the

moderate range (Scale from 0 to 10; M = 4.89; SD = 2.47). They also reported moderate

success with their ability to do the imagery portion of the workbook (Scale from 0 to 10;

M = 4.48; SD = 3.12), and rated their difficulty with the imagery within the moderate

range (from 0 to 10; M = 4.74; SD = 3.44).

In summary, 38% of workbook participants indicated that they felt lingering

negative emotion prior to completing this section of the workbook. A total of 74% of

those reported being ready to release the last of their negative emotion. All participants

48

reported a moderate amount of success with releasing their feelings and a moderate

amount of success with the imagery portion of the section.

Discussion

Conservative Error Control

Throughout the discussion section, results that were significant and results that

became non-significant after Type I error correction will be discussed. Those results that

became non-significant will be labeled as trends. The Bonferroni method for controlling

for Type I error has been criticized for increasing Type II error and reducing statistical

power to recognize real differences between groups (Jaccard & Wan, 1996; Perneger,

1998). Because one intention of the study was to glean as much information about the

success of the intervention as possible, it is important not to miss any real findings. Also,

a discussion of trends helps to illuminate areas that may need minor improvement to

achieve significance.

Summary of Main Hypotheses Findings

The main purpose of the study was to evaluate whether the self-forgiveness

intervention would be effective at reducing negative emotion while also increasing

prosocial response to the offense. In summary, results indicated that participants in the

workbook condition were found to have greater decreases in defensive attitudes than

those in the control group. Additionally, participants in the workbook conditions trended

toward a greater increase in apology and amend behaviors in comparison to the control

group. Furthermore, once those who had reported low initial negative emotion were

deleted from the sample, the workbook group had greater reductions in remorse than the

control group. Additionally, looking at this same sub-sample, the workbook group had a

49

trend in greater reductions in self-punishment and greater increases in self-forgiveness

than the control group.

How Similar were the Workbook and Control Groups?

Although the number of significant findings of differences between the groups

were few (after controlling for Type I error), there are signs that those results may be

very robust. There are indications that both the control group and workbook conditions

were working as interventions. Therefore, the study may actually be a comparison

between two interventions and not simply a comparison between a control condition and

intervention.

For instance, when participants were given a free response area to state what they

had learned by being in the study, many control group participants gave responses

indicating that reflecting on their offense had changed their attitudes and actions about

the event. Altogether, only 13 of the 90 participants in the control group reported that

they did not learn anything from being in the study. Similarly, 11 out of the 82

participants in the workbook condition reported that they did not learn anything from the

study. These responses suggest that simply reflecting on an offense may help change

attitudes and actions in regard to that event.

Discussion of the Individual Workbook Sections

So how do we know that the effect of the individual workbook sections is what

can account for the differences found between the control condition and the workbook

condition? A discussion of each section of the workbook follows in an attempt to answer

this question.

50

Your Role in the Violation. Your Role in the Violation was the first section of the

workbook. The intent of this section was to help the participants contemplate and

acknowledge their responsibility for wrongdoing in the offense. Results showed that,

contrary to predictions, perceived responsibility did not increase after completion of this

section. Furthermore, a by-product of increased responsibility-taking, namely, negative

emotion, did not increase after this section as expected. In fact, self-punishment actually

was significantly reduced, and remorse showed a trend in reduction after this section.

When one further examines the manipulation checks within this section of the

workbook, the picture becomes clearer about why this section may have worked contrary

to expectations. Although participants reported that they were able to focus on their

responsibility and did not find this task difficult, they also reported that they struggled to

do the imagery that was intended to increase perceived responsibility. Thus, participants’

inability to engage in the imagery may have negatively impacted the section’s

effectiveness.

Additionally, there may have been a confound in the workbook design.

Participants were asked to think about both their responsibility for the offense and also

asked to brainstorm ways in which they were not responsible. This may have succeeded

in increasing acknowledgement of responsibility on one hand, while also working to

broaden their perspective on the situation, and, thereby, reducing their acknowledgement

of responsibility. Altogether, this may explain why this section of the workbook did not

succeed in decreasing responsibility, and, contrary to predictions, decreased feelings of

self-punishment. The ineffectiveness of this section of the workbook may also explain

51

why responsibility significantly decreased from baseline to follow-up, despite the

prediction that it would increase during this time period.

Dealing with Shame. The second section of the workbook was Dealing with

Shame and was intended to assist the participant in releasing self-punishment. Results

indicated that self-punishment significantly decreased after this section was given.

Despite participants’ struggles with the imagery section of the workbook (with only 27%

completing the imagery as instructed), the psychoeducational aspect of the section seems

to have been effective. Participants were asked to consider the statement, “There are no

bad people, only good people who have done bad things.” When those who had

decreases in self-punishment were compared to those who had either no change or an

increase in self-punishment, the decreased self-punishment group was found to agree to a

significantly higher degree that the above statement was true. Altogether, these results

indicate that this section of the workbook was effective and the differences found

between groups may be partially attributable to this section of the workbook.

Making Peace with the Situation. The section entitled Making Peace with the

Situation was intended to assist the participant with reflecting on their offense and

thinking of ways in which they might take action to make peace with themselves and

others about the wrongdoing. A total of 59% of the workbook participants were able to

think of steps they could still take to make peace with the situation, and 73% of those

participants reported following through by taking action in regard to those steps. Those

who took steps to repair the situation tended to indicate that taking those steps made them

feel better about their offense. Furthermore, results indicated that after completing this

section of the workbook, participants had significant increases in apology and amend

52

behaviors and greater commitment to change their behavior in the future. Altogether, this

indicates that the Making Peace with the Situation section of the workbook was effective

and is likely to be a contributing factor to the differences found between the groups.

Releasing Lingering Feelings. The fourth section of the workbook was called

Releasing Lingering Feelings. This section was intended to assist participants in

releasing any remaining negative feelings about the situation. At the beginning of this

section of the workbook, a total of 38% of participants felt that they still had negative

feelings about the situation. After reading information about releasing negative emotion,

74% of those who still had negative feelings about the situation, reported feeling ready to

release the last of their emotion. Participants reported moderate success with the imagery

portion of the section. Both self-punishment and remorse were found to be significantly

lower after this section than before this section was administered. Altogether, this

indicates that the differences between the control group and workbook group may have

been influenced by the effectiveness of this section of the workbook.

Overall Workbook. Finally, there were several significant findings about changes

from baseline to follow-up for the workbook group. First, remorse and self-punishment

decreased. Second, participants showed decreases in their defensive attitudes from

baseline to follow-up. Third, there was a trend in amend behaviors increasing from

before the workbook was administered to after the workbook was completed. Again,

altogether this indicates that the differences found between the control and workbook

group are a result of the workbook intervention.

Responsibility and Defensive Attitudes.

53

Since the responsibility section did not work as expected, what implications might

this have for the overall study? Recall that taking responsibility is an important aspect of

the self-forgiveness process. If someone has reduced negative emotion, but does not take

responsibility, this is condoning and not self-forgiveness (Fisher & Exline, 2006b). The

lack of success of this section may explain why there were not robust differences between

the groups on amend behaviors. (Recall that there was only a trend in difference between

the control group and intervention group on this variable). Remember that in comparison

to those who take prosocial action and then release their remorse, those that release

remorse immediately without participating in amend behaviors tend to apologize and

make amends less often (Exline, 2006). The trend in reduction of remorse after this

section may have impacted people’s participation in amend behaviors. This may also

help to explain why other prosocial variables (such as apology intent, humbling changes,

commitment to future change) also did not show significant differences between groups.

However, despite the failure of this workbook section, there is some evidence that

participants in the workbook condition were more willing to accept their role in the

offense, despite not having increased responsibility ratings. The workbook group showed

a greater decrease in defensive attitudes compared to the control group. Conceptually,

this measure is related to the measure of responsibility. The responsibility measure

assesses acknowledgement of having a role in the wrongdoing, whereas the defensive

attitudes measure assesses the denial and deflection of responsibility. Workbook

participants were not increasing their acknowledgment of responsibility but were

decreasing their defensiveness about their responsibility.

54

If this is true, there are a few implications. First, the measurement of

responsibility as performed in this study may not be adequate to assess the process that

participants are undergoing. Instead, the defensive attitudes measure may be a better

indicator of the changes underlying the self-forgiveness process. Recall that during the

section on responsibility, participants were asked to consider both their responsibility and

areas in which they were not responsible. This may have succeeded in both increasing

their acknowledgment of responsibility while also helping to broaden their perspective

about the complexity of responsibility in any situation. This dual perspective may be

helpful to complete the process of self-forgiveness; thus, a measure of responsibility

attitudes may not be an accurate indicator of the self-forgiveness process.

For instance, a person may completely acknowledge that they hurt someone,

while at the same time realize that they acted in a harsh manner because earlier in the day

someone had yelled at them. As a part of self-forgiveness, they are able to more

accurately see that they did something wrong, yet also see how other factors contributed

to their behavior. Thus, as they progress through self-forgiveness, they are likely to have

reductions in responsibility as they see the broader picture of the situation. However, if

there truly is a real acknowledgement of personal responsibility (even while a

simultaneous diffusion of responsibility), participants should be able to more readily

admit that they were at fault, without being defensive. Thus the measure of defensive

attitudes may be a better indicator of a person not minimizing or excusing their behavior,

but truly going through the difficult process of self-forgiveness.

Finally, several hypotheses involving entitlement were evaluated. In general, they

presupposed that the higher the entitlement the less effective the workbook would be. All

55

of these hypotheses were either unable to be tested due to skewed data or else were non-

significant. The non-significant results may indicate that entitlement may disrupt

productive use of the workbook less than previously thought; however, this hypothesis is

by no means conclusive because so many hypotheses were unable to be tested.

Limitations

There are several limitations to the generalizability of the study. First, the study

was conducted on a population of undergraduate college students. This population may

not be representative of the general population because of the limited range of age and

life experience. Thus, these findings need to be replicated in a community sample.

Second, all of the data from the study are self-report, which requires that the usual

caveats of interpretation are remembered. Namely, one can never be sure of the role that

social desirability plays in participant responses to questions. There are no data

confirming, from an outside source, whether or not they answered the questions honestly

and accurately. However, when examining the written responses to questions throughout

the workbook, there were indications that the participants were engaged with the material

and answering honestly.

Third, the types of offenses participants recalled are likely to be of low severity

within this population. A cursory examination of the participant’s offense narratives

suggests that many participants talked about dissolution of romantic relationships and

inappropriate interactions in social situations. These types of offenses may not be severe

enough to create a struggle to forgive the self, thus this study may have limited

application with in clinical populations where transgression may be more intense.

56

Fourth, because of the difficulty with skewed data within the study, hypotheses

related to the role of entitlement were unable to be tested thoroughly. Theoretically, it

makes sense that this variable may play a role in the effectiveness of the intervention.

This study has a limitation because the influence of this variable could not be examined

and, therefore, it is not clearly understood the degree to which the intervention is

effective in populations with high entitlement.

Finally, the workbook group was compared to a control group. The control

group, although not given the intervention, was required to reflect on their transgression

when they asked baseline and follow-up questions. This alone may have served to

intervene on the emotions and attitudes of participants. This means that the study was

unable to compare the effects of the workbook against the simple effect of elapsed time

without intervention. Although, in reality, this may be an impossible comparison to

make, it does serve as a limitation to the study.

Implications and Future Directions

In summary, what are the implications from this study? First, changes may need

to be made to the responsibility section of the intervention. It may be wise to have

participants brainstorm the ways in which they were responsible and wait to brainstorm

ways in which they were not responsible later in the intervention (once they have had a

chance to apologize and make amends). Keeping thoughts of responsibility salient,

before broadening the perspective on the situation, may make the likelihood of prosocial

change increase.

Second, participants had difficulty with the imagery in the responsibility section.

This was intended to make the personal responsibility aspect of the situation more salient

57

and to evoke emotion about the responsibility; however, participants generally struggled

to do the imagery and, therefore, the intended benefit of this exercise was not realized.

This section either needs to be reworded to make the imagery directions more clear or the

imagery should be eliminated entirely.

There are also several implications related to the shame section of the workbook.

The shame section of the workbook seems to have been effective at significantly

reducing feelings of self-punishment. Results indicated that agreement with the section

concept statement “There are no bad people, only good people who have done bad

things” differentiated those who had reduced self-punishment during this section and

those who did not. Overall though, participants’ agreement with this statement was

moderate. Future studies should examine ways to clarify this concept and to assist

participants with feeling comfortable endorsing this statement. Additionally, although

participants rated their success at performing the imagery in the moderate range, their

written descriptions of the imagery indicated that they struggled to successfully complete

the imagery. The imagery should be further evaluated as to whether it can be modified to

increase participation or whether this aspect of the section needs to be eliminated.

Furthermore, the study also gives insight in to possible improvements to the

amends section of the workbook. The workbook seems to be able to influence amend-

making behavior and commitment to future behavior change. At the same time, 41% of

the workbook participants were unable to think of any steps to make amends for the

situation. This could be due to a variety of factors (e.g. they had already taken all of the

steps that they felt were necessary; they did not feel that the situation warranted any

action on their part); however, it is also possible that instructions need to be more clear or

58

that more examples of possible behaviors need to be given. Future studies should further

examine whether it is possible to increase the percentage of people who could think of

future steps to take in regard to the offense.

There are also implications from this study for the section intended to help people

release their lingering feelings. Overall, results indicated that people were able to release

their lingering emotions. Most people who had remaining negative emotion were able to

complete the imagery portion of the section. However, the entire workbook sample

reported moderate success with the task. This may indicate that only those who still need

to release negative emotion should complete the imagery portion of this section. Those

who did not feel the need to release any more emotion may not benefit from the exercise.

Overall, results indicate that the intervention was effective at decreasing people’s

defensive attitudes in comparison to the control group’s attitudes. As previously

presented in the Discussion section, this measure may be a more effective assessment of

responsibility than the responsibility measure that was used. Future studies should

evaluate whether the use of the defensive attitudes measure is an improvement over the

use of the responsibility measure.

Additionally, another finding was that eliminating participants (those who started

the study with low negative emotion) resulted in significant differences between groups

on remorse and trends in differences between groups on self-punishment and self-

forgiveness. When the entire sample was used, these results were non-significant (and

not trends). This may indicate that future studies using this workbook should screen

participants to ensure that they have some level of negative emotion surrounding the

incident in order to benefit from the workbook.

59

Conclusion

There are two important aspects of authentic self-forgiveness. First, people who

have successfully completed this process should feel better about the situation. They

should not feel as much shame and should struggle less with intense feelings of remorse.

Second, offenders should also show evidence of a prosocial response to the situation.

They should not feel defensive about their responsibility for the event and should have

made an attempt to apologize and make amends to the victim.

The intervention entailed in this study sought to accomplish these two aims of

authentic self-forgiveness. The intervention was able to successfully reduce the amount

of defensiveness people had about their role in the offense. The intervention also,

marginally but not significantly, increased the amount of apology and amends in which

people engaged, compared to controls. Furthermore, once those who held little remorse

or self-punishment at the start of the study were eliminated from the sample, the

intervention effectively reduced remorse, marginally reduced self-punishment, and

marginally increased self-forgiveness. Altogether, the study provides insight into the

process of self-forgiveness while also suggesting improvements to future self-forgiveness

interventions.

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Table 1

Hypothesized Differences between Intervention and Control Condition

Emotional Changes from Baseline to Follow-up

Measure

Prediction for Intervention Group

Remorse

Larger Decrease than Control Group

Self-punishment

Larger Decrease than Control Group

Self-forgiveness

Larger Increase than Control Group

Prosocial Changes from Baseline to Follow-up

Measure

Prediction for Intervention Group

Responsibility

Larger Increase than Control Group

Amend Behaviors

Larger Increase than Control Group

Willingness to Apologize

Larger Increase than Control Group

Commitment to Future Change

Larger Increase than Control Group

Defensive Attitudes

Larger Decrease than Control Group

Humbling Changes

Larger Increase than Control Group

61

Table 2

Hypothesized Changes in Emotional and Prosocial Variables during the Intervention

Measure

Prediction

Section: Your Role in the Violation

Responsibility

Increase (from Baseline)

Remorse

Increase (from Baseline)

Self-punishment

Increase (from Baseline)

Section: Dealing with Shame

Self-punishment

Section: Making Peace with the Situation

Apology Willingness

Apology and Amends

Commitment to Future Change

Humbling Changes

Defensive Attitudes

Section: Releasing Negative Feelings

Decrease (from Your Role in the Violation)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Decrease (from Baseline)

Remorse

Decrease (from Dealing with Shame)

Self-punishment

Decrease (from Dealing with Shame)

62

Table 2 (cont.)

Entire Workbook

Remorse

Decrease (from Baseline)

Self-punishment

Decrease (from Baseline)

Apology Willingness

Increase (from Baseline)

Apology and Amends

Increase (from Baseline)

Commitment to Future Change

Increase (from Baseline)

Humbling Changes

Increase (from Baseline)

Defensive Attitudes

Decrease (from Baseline)

Responsibility

Increase (from Baseline)

63

Table 3

Order of Administration of Key Measures

Time

Section

Measures Included

Time One

Baseline

Remorse

 

Self-punishment

Self-Forgiveness

Responsibility

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Commitment to Future Change

Humbling Attitudes

Defensive Attitudes

Entitlement

Time One

Your Role in the Violation

Remorse

 

Self-Punishment

Responsibility

Time One

Dealing with Shame

Remorse

 

Self-punishment

Time One

Making Peace with the Situation I

Remorse

 

Self-Punishment

64

Table 3 (cont.)

Time Two a

Making Peace with the Situation II

Remorse

 

Self-Punishment

Responsibility

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Commitment to Future Change

Humbling Attitudes

Defensive Attitudes

Time Two a

Releasing Negative Feelings

Remorse

 

Self-Punishment

Time Three b

Follow-up

Remorse

 

Self-Punishment

Self-Forgiveness

Responsibility

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Commitment to Future Change

Humbling Attitudes

Defensive Attitudes

a One week after baseline (intervention group only). b Two weeks after baseline.

65

Baseline Measures: Means, Standard Deviations, Possible and Observed Ranges, Skew with Standard Error, and Kurtosis with

Standard Error

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Remorse

Humbling Changes

Defensive Attitudes

Responsibility

Entitlement

Table 4

Commitment to Future Change

Self-Punishment

Self-Forgiveness

4.87(3.46)

4.99(2.09)

M(SD)

4.57(2.85)

4.73(2.47)

23.43(10.15)

2.82(2.33)

3.35 (2.64)

6.44(2.13)

3.07(1.07)

5.68(3.01)

Possible

0 - 10

9 - 63

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 5

1 - 7

Range

0 - 10

Observed

9 – 50

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 10

0 - 5

1 - 7

Range

--

Cronbach's

--

.86

.91

.92

.81

.81

.75

.88

.68

Alpha

-0.83(0.19)

0.65(0.19)

0.04(0.19)

0.87(0.19)

-0.03(0.19)

0.51(0.19)

-0.22(0.19)

-0.33(0.19)

-0.47(0.19)

-0.21(0.19)

Skew(SE)

Kurtosis(SE)

-0.74(0.37)

0.42(0.37)

-1.40(0.37)

-0.19(0.37)

-0.67(0.37)

-0.91(0.37)

-1.07(0.37)

-0.15(0.37)

-0.20(0.37)

-0.80(0.37)

66

Follow-Up Measures: Means, Standard Deviations, Possible and Observed Ranges, Skew with Standard Error, and Kurtosis with

Standard Error

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Remorse

Humbling Changes

Responsibility

Defensive Attitudes

Table 5

Commitment to Future Change

Self-Forgiveness

Self-Punishment

M (SD)

2.08(2.45)

2.13(2.32)

5.44(2.21)

5.96(3.10)

5.35(3.47)

3.62(1.02)

5.11(2.69)

5.61(2.34)

1.23(1.94)

Possible

0-10

0-10

0-10

0-10

0-10

0-10

0-10

0-5

1-7

Range

0-10

0-10

0-10

Observed

0-10

0-10

0-10

0.5-5

0-10

1-7

Range

--

Cronbach's

--

.87

.95

.92

.76

.92

.73

.84

Alpha

2.28(0.19)

0.42(0.19)

-1.14(0.19)

-0.19(0.19)

-0.17(0.19)

-0.34(0.19)

-0.13(0.19)

Skew(SE)

1.15(0.19)

1.51(0.19)

Kurtosis(SE)

0.75(0.37)

-0.36(0.37)

-0.95(0.37)

-1.38(0.37)

-0.10(0.37)

-0.40(0.37)

-0.89(0.37)

5.88(0.37)

1.67(0.37)

67

Prosocial Measures: Repeated Measure MANOVA Results for Comparisons between Groups

Amend Behaviors

Willingness to Apologize

Responsibility

Table 6

Commitment to Future Change

*p < .05, ***p < .001

Baseline

Baseline

Baseline

Baseline

Follow-Up

Follow-Up

Follow-Up

Follow-Up

Time

4.99(2.09)

4.87(3.46)

Whole Sample

6.44(2.13)

5.68(3.01)

5.35(3.47)

5.44(2.21)

5.96(3.10)

5.61(2.24)

M(SD)

4.67(2.22)

4.41(3.42)

Workbook

6.28(2.15)

5.49(3.20)

6.02(3.29)

5.20(2.48)

5.36(3.80)

5.41(2.13)

M(SD)

M(SD)

6.58(2.12)

5.28(1.92)

Control

5.29(3.46)

5.86(2.84)

5.35(3.17)

5.66(1.93)

5.90(2.93)

5.79(2.52)

F (1, 170) = 17.11*

F (1, 170) = 0.46

F (1, 170) = 5.20

F (1, 170) = 0.14

Omnibus F

68

Defensive Attitudes

Humbling Changes

Table 6 (cont.)

*p < .05, ***p < .001

Baseline

Baseline

Follow-up

Follow-Up

4.73(2.47)

2.82(2.33)

2.13(2.32)

5.11(2.69)

4.70(2.27)

2.92(2.36)

5.00(2.61)

1.63(2.04)

4.77(2.65)

2.73(2.32)

2.57(2.47)

5.21(2.77)

F (1, 170) = 0.43

F (1, 170) = 27.46***

69

Emotion Measures: Repeated Measure MANOVA Results for Comparisons between Groups with Revised Sample

Remorse

Table 7

Self-Forgiveness

Self-Punishment

*p < .05

Baseline

Follow-Up

Follow-Up

Follow-Up

Baseline

Baseline

Time

Whole Sample

2.37(2.52)

2.92(1.02)

3.88(2.47)

3.53(1.02)

5.19(2.53)

1.40(2.03)

M(SD)

4.06(2.48)

Workbook

2.93(.97)

3.72(1.01)

5.29(2.43)

1.13(1.58)

1.96(2.06)

M(SD)

M(SD)

2.70(2.80)

2.91(1.06)

3.73(2.48)

3.38(1.00)

Control

5.11(2.61)

1.62(2.32)

F (1, 146) = 5.41*

F (1, 146) = 5.84*

F (1, 146) = 4.07*

Omnibus F

70

a Omnibus F was non-significant so the t-test was not performed. *p < .05, **p < .01, **p < .001

Table 8

Section: Your Role in the Violation

Section: Dealing with Shame

Workbook Planned Comparison Results

Measure

Responsibility

Remorse

Self-punishment

Self-punishment

Prediction

Decrease (from Your Role in the Violation) 2.67(2.43)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

4.42(2.88)

Early Mean

3.30(2.71)

6.29(2.15)

2.08(2.30)

4.03(2.79)

2.67(2.43)

Later Mean

6.35(2.15)

t (82)

2.09*

3.27**

0.35

3.54***

71

a Omnibus F was non-significant so the t-test was not performed. *p < .05, **p < .01, **p < .001

Table 8 (cont.)

Section: Releasing Negative Feelings

Section: Making Peace with the Situation

Apology and Amends

Apology Willingness

Defensive Attitudes

Humbling Changes

Remorse

Commitment to Future Change

Self-punishment

Decrease (from Dealing with Shame)

Increase (from Baseline)

Decrease (from Dealing with Shame)

Decrease (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

2.08(2.29)

4.41(3.41)

2.92(2.36)

4.70(2.27)

4.67(2.22)

3.49(2.81)

5.49(3.20)

2.48(2.37)

2.22(2.44)

6.56(3.02)

5.34(3.36)

5.33(2.24)

5.01(2.43)

1.46(2.35)

3.44***

-3.63***

-3.50***

6.24***

1.82

--- a

--- a

72

Entire Workbook

a Omnibus F was non-significant so the t-test was not performed. *p < .05, **p < .01, **p < .001

Table 8 (cont.)

Apology Willingness

Apology and Amends

Responsibility

Humbling Changes

Defensive Attitudes

Remorse

Commitment to Future Change

Self-punishment

Decrease (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Decrease (from Baseline)

Decrease (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

Increase (from Baseline)

4.42(2.88)

4.41(3.42)

4.70(2.27)

2.92(2.36)

4.67(2.22)

3.30(2.71)

6.28(2.15)

5.49(3.20)

0.95(1.48)

6.02(3.29)

5.41(2.13)

5.36(3.80)

5.00(2.61)

5.20(2.48)

1.63(2.04)

1.62(1.98)

4.93***

4.19***

2.79**

9.71***

1.84

10.91***

--- a

--- a

73

Appendix A

Questionnaire and Workbook Materials

Emotion Processing Study

Thank you for your willingness to consider being in this study. The study is intended to examine the emotional and behavioral process that individuals undergo after hurting or offending another person.

On the next page you will find the informed consent document. It contains all the details of the study. Please read this carefully. At the end of the informed consent, you will be asked if you'd like to participate in the study or not.

If you check that you'd like to participate in the study, the study questions will begin. If you check that you would not like to participate in the study, you will be directed to a screen asking you to close your web browser. If you choose not to participate in the study no information will be collected about you, including your name, email address, or IP address.

NOTE: If you are participating in a campus study entitled Judicial Study you may not participate in this study.

74

Informed Consent

Informed Consent

You are being asked to be in a research study that focuses on examining people's

You are being asked to be in a research study that focuses on examining people's

behaviors and attitudes after they have hurt or offended another person. Researchers at

behaviors and attitudes after they have hurt or offended another person. Researchers at

Case Western Reserve University are conducting this study.

Case Western Reserve University are conducting this study.

Please note that you must be at least 18 years old to participate in this study.

Please note that you must be at least 18 years old to participate in this study.

Background Information:

Background Information:

The purpose of this study is to better understand the emotional and behavioral process

The purpose of this study is to better understand the emotional and behavioral process

that individuals undergo after hurting or offending another person.

that individuals undergo after hurting or offending another person.

Procedures: This study involves completing three web-based surveys over a two week

Procedures: This study involves completing three web-based surveys over a two week

period. These surveys ask a variety of questions about your background and response to

period. These surveys ask a variety of questions about your background and response to

the offense. Additionally, they may give you some educational material about possible

the offense. Additionally, they may give you some educational material about possible

reactions to the violation and/or ask you to do some imagery related to the violation.

reactions to the violation and/or ask you to do some imagery related to the violation.

During the surveys you will be asked to reflect and answer questions regarding how you

During the surveys you will be asked to reflect and answer questions regarding how you

are feeling, thinking, and acting in regard to your judicial violation. The total amount of

are feeling, thinking, and acting in regard to your judicial violation. The total amount of

time required to participate in all three surveys in the study should not exceed one hour

time required to participate in all three surveys in the study should not exceed one hour

and fifteen minutes.

and fifteen minutes.

Risks and Benefits to Being in the Study:

Risks and Benefits to Being in the Study:

Some people may find it uncomfortable to reflect on hurting another person. In terms of

Some people may find it uncomfortable to reflect on hurting another person. In terms of

potential benefits, reflecting on your experiences may give you insights that will be helpful

potential benefits, reflecting on your experiences may give you insights that will be helpful

to you. If you choose to participate, your privacy will be protected at all times during the

to you. If you choose to participate, your privacy will be protected at all times during the

study.

study.

Compensation:

Compensation:

You will receive the following compensation: If you complete all three surveys in the

You will receive the following compensation: If you complete all three surveys in the

study, you will receive 1.5 hours of Psychology 101 study credit. If you choose to not

study, you will receive 1.5 hours of Psychology 101 study credit. If you choose to not

complete all the surveys, you will receive a prorated amount of 1.5 hours of study credit.

complete all the surveys, you will receive a prorated amount of 1.5 hours of study credit.

In addition to this compensation, if you complete the entire sequence of surveys, you will

In addition to this compensation, if you complete the entire sequence of surveys, you will

be entered into a drawing for a $25 amazon.com gift certificate.

be entered into a drawing for a $25 amazon.com gift certificate.

Confidentiality:

Confidentiality:

You will be asked to give your name and an email address in order to be sent future links

You will be asked to give your name and an email address in order to be sent future links

to study materials and to receive your Psychology 101 credit. Once we have received your

to study materials and to receive your Psychology 101 credit. Once we have received your

name and email address, it will be separated from all study materials and placed onto a

name and email address, it will be separated from all study materials and placed onto a

master list associated with your participant number. Your name and email address will be

master list associated with your participant number. Your name and email address will be

erased from the master list as soon as your study participation is complete or when the

erased from the master list as soon as your study participation is complete or when the

study ends (whichever comes first).

study ends (whichever comes first).

The records of this study will be kept private. In any report we might publish, we will not

The records of this study will be kept private. In any report we might publish, we will not

include any information that will make it possible to identify a participant. Research

include any information that will make it possible to identify a participant. Research

records will be kept on a password protected computer in password protected files, and

records will be kept on a password protected computer in password protected files, and

access will be limited to the researchers, the University review board responsible for

access will be limited to the researchers, the University review board responsible for

protecting human participants, and regulatory agencies.

protecting human participants, and regulatory agencies.

Voluntary Nature of the Study:

Voluntary Nature of the Study:

Your participation is completely voluntary. Your decision about whether to participate will

Your participation is completely voluntary. Your decision about whether to participate will

not affect your grades, your class standing, or your current or future relations with the

not affect your grades, your class standing, or your current or future relations with the

University.

University.

75

Contacts and Questions:

Contacts and Questions:

The researchers conducting this study are Mickie Fisher, MS and Julie Exline, PhD. If you

The researchers conducting this study are Mickie Fisher, MS and Julie Exline, PhD. If you

have questions, you may contact Ms. Fisher at (216) 368-1475 and mlf12@case.edu or Dr.

have questions, you may contact Ms. Fisher at (216) 368-1475 and mlf12@case.edu or Dr.

Exline at (216) 368-8573 and julie.exline@case.edu.

Exline at (216) 368-8573 and julie.exline@case.edu.

If you would like to talk to someone other than the researchers about: (1) concerns

If you would like to talk to someone other than the researchers about: (1) concerns

regarding this study, (2) research participant rights, (3) research-related injuries, or (4)

regarding this study, (2) research participant rights, (3) research-related injuries, or (4)

other human subjects issues, please contact Case Western Reserve University's Office of

other human subjects issues, please contact Case Western Reserve University's Office of

Research Compliance at (216) 368-6925 or write:

Research Compliance at (216) 368-6925 or write:

Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University

Office of Research Compliance

Office of Research Compliance

Sears Building 657

Sears Building 657

Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7230

Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7230

If you experience any sort of emotional distress as a result of being in this study and

If you experience any sort of emotional distress as a result of being in this study and

would like to talk with a mental health professional about your concerns, please feel free

would like to talk with a mental health professional about your concerns, please feel free

to contact University Counseling Services at 368-5872. (Web address for Counseling

to contact University Counseling Services at 368-5872. (Web address for Counseling

Services: http://www.cwru.edu/stuaff/ucs/index.html)

Services: http://www.cwru.edu/stuaff/ucs/index.html)

We recommend that you print or store a copy of this information for your records.

We recommend tha