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Title: An investigation into interpersonal forgiveness and its effects on a variety of psychological wellbeing outcomes : a mixed methods study
Author: Akhtar, Sadaf
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2015
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Background: Understanding about factors that can improve psychological wellbeing is important because such wellbeing is linked to the prevention of mental and physical illness, improved learning and educational attainment, and greater work productivity. Whilst there is a growing body of research highlighting the role of forgiveness in improving some aspects of mental health, few studies have examined its relationship to a variety of psychological health outcomes. Even fewer studies have explored the process of state forgiveness, particularly among under-studied religious/spiritual and nonreligious/spiritual samples outside of a US context. Methods: To address these gaps, a mixed methods study was undertaken and applied in three phases. In phase one, I conducted qualitative interviews to explore how participants practiced interpersonal forgiveness, the mechanisms that facilitated and obstructed this process, and perceptions about the effects of choosing to forgive in response to being hurt. In phase two, I tested the qualitative study results by conducting an internet survey study of under-studied samples within a UK context to explore links between state (real life) forgiveness and wider dimensions of wellbeing as well as testing for any moderator effects. In phase three, I conducted a systematic review of the effectiveness of forgiveness-based interventions. RCT studies were retrieved using electronic databases and reference sections of previous reviews; each study was assessed for risk of bias. Standardized mean differences and confidence intervals were used to assess treatment effects. Results: The results of the qualitative study indicated that factors that assisted forgiveness entailed accepting responsibility, meditation, prayer, a focus on positive qualities, beliefs in being spiritually connected with others, talking, as well as the offender making amends. Key barriers to forgiveness were blame, not feeling understood or acknowledged, powerlessness, constantly thinking about the hurt, wanting revenge, ongoing transgressions and a need for physical distance. All interview participants described experiencing a variety of benefits as a result of forgiving such as reductions in negative affect, increases in event-specific and general positive emotions, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, positive relations, empowerment as well as spiritual development. The qualitative results also suggested that forgiveness entailed a shift from negative resentment based emotions, thoughts and behaviours towards an experience of positive regard for the offender. Differences were also identified in relation to conditional and unconditional forms of forgiveness. The survey data was analysed using hierarchical multiple regression analysis. The results of the survey suggested that forgiveness significantly predicts some components of mental wellbeing (i.e. eudaimonic) over and above the level of variance accounted by other important variables such as age, employment, meditation and connectedness. The survey results did not indicate that connectedness and meditation moderate (or mediate) the association between forgiveness and wellbeing. Results of the review showed that forgiveness interventions reduce depression, stress and distress as well as promote general positive affect. The results also indicated a low to moderate quality of evidence. Conclusion: In conclusion, the results of this research project suggest that forgiving a variety of real life interpersonal offenses can facilitate the reduction of a range of mental health problems, promote general positive emotions and increase eudaimonic wellbeing. This study also suggests that a range of mechanisms can act to assist or hinder state forgiveness and indicated important differences in how forgiveness is practiced, and the influence this can have on psychological functioning. Further research is, however, needed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology