Friday, February 20, 2015

5 Beliefs About Forgiveness

What Do People Believe About 
Forgiveness and Reconciliation?

Anybody interested in the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation knows what psychologists and counselors believe—forgiveness is a good thing for general and mental health. We also know that psychologists define forgiveness as an inside job—forgiveness happens when people let go of the hurt feelings, smoldering anger, and desire for revenge. Some think we should also adopt a positive attitude toward those who hurt us.

And psychologists think reconciliation is different from forgiveness. Reconciliation is the process of repairing a damaged relationship. Trust is the key to reconciliation. Forgiveness can help but you can begin the process of working together even when unforgiven hurts persist. For example, people hurting after a divorce can get along to some extent for the sake of their children. Two employees can work together of projects even though unforgiveness limits their ability to enjoy the time they are together.

There are other ideas people have about forgiveness. So, one of my students, Jaimée Allman, collected survey data. We analyzed the results and presented them at a conference.

First I will give you the survey statement so you can offer your opinion. At the bottom of this page I will give you the answers from the survey participants.


Instructions: Indicate if you agree, disagree, or are neutral on the belief.

1. In general, Christians are more forgiving than non-Christians

2. An apology is necessary before I would forgive someone for other than a minor offense.

3. I feel guilty if I do not forgive someone

4. I think true forgiveness means you try to forget what the person did to you.

5. I think true forgiveness means you also reconcile with the person who offended you


One very important finding is that people from a Christian college and a secular college generally agreed that true forgiveness means people should try to reconcile. I hypothesize that this is a barrier to forgiveness. And I recommend that anyone (e.g., friends, counselors, clergy) trying to help people forgive or reconcile ,take the time to understand what people believe about forgiveness and reconciliation--it just might make a difference.

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Allman, J. Sutton &  G. W., (2009, April). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and spirituality: empirical findings regarding conceptual differences. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, International Conference, Orlando, FL.

You will find details about the sample and other questions in our presentation.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Am I in Love?

Am I in Love?

“He loves me. He loves me not.”

Pulling the petals of love from a flower to gauge the status of a relationship seems so arbitrary.

How do people decide if they are in love?

In western cultures, marriage and long-term relationships have been based on love for decades. And when love is no longer present, couples separate. Marriages dissolve. Some find a second love relationship before an existing one is formally abandoned. Others pause between relationships as if one should end before beginning another.

Love is a squishy idea. Love is hard to define in terms of a checklist. But that does not stop magazines from responding to the demand for answers to the question: “How do I know if I’m in love?”

A Love Model

You might suspect that psychologists study love. And a good deal of what clinicians help people with involves relationships in which some aspect of love plays a role. Psychological scientist, Robert Sternberg, has a reputation for developing models and writing widely on many subjects. His theory of love actually has some empirical support. Sternberg presented his model using three dimensions hence the label, The Triangular Theory of Love. Here’s the three points of the triangle:

1. Intimacy- this is that warm feeling aspect of love rooted in the emotions. When intimacy is strong, people feel close and connected to the person they love.

 2. Passion- this dimension describes the motivational component of love. People are driven by desire. This involves sexual attraction.

 3. Decision and commitment- this component involves thinking and beliefs. People conclude they are in love and make a commitment to a long-term relationship.

Sternberg’s theory gets more complicated. The three components can be combined in different ways to give depth to the meaning of different types of love. For example:

Romantic Love is high on Intimacy and Passion but low on Decision/Commitment.
Companionate Love is high on Intimacy and Decision/Commitment but low on Passion.
Here's a link to Sternberg's Love Scale.

Love Discovered

Rather than begin with a model as did Sternberg, EleanorRosch examined how people seem to understand prototypes. By looking at the language people use, it is possible to develop a coherent perspective on love within a culture. When researchers find a set of features can be reliably grouped together, they may refer to the grouping as a prototype. For example, you may have an image appear in your mind for the following words: Apple, Chair, Car, Dog. Similarly, people have ideas about love. When in a relationship, people compare their relationship to their idea of being in love. One researcher, Beverly Fehr, is well-known for her research on prototypical love. Maternal love ranks high when it comes to a good example of love. (Link to Beverly Fehr bio at University of Manitoba)

Research into prototypes of love identify several common features:

Concern for the other’s well-being

Arthur Aron and Lori Westbay studied features of prototypical love based on the work of Beverly Fehr. When they looked at how the features could be grouped, they found some similarities to the three dimensions presented by Robert Sternberg. (Link to Aron & Westbay, 1996).

So, Am I in Love? 

Five Keys to a Loving Relationship

In clinical practice, psychologists learn to draw on scientific evidence to help people with life. So while scientists continue their work on love, I suggest rewording the question:

How strong is the love in this relationship characterized by____?

We could assess the five common dimensions of love to better understand our love relationships. And you could rate the strength of each of the 5 dimensions on a scale from low to high.

1. Trust
 2. Caring
 3. Honesty
 4. Friendship
 5. Respect

Of course, if you are “up in the air” and your friends aren’t particularly helpful, then by all means see a psychotherapist.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

What about love and religion or spirituality?

Many scientists and clinicians have written about love and religion or spirituality. It’s not surprising that in some faiths like Christianity, researchers find similarities between loving God and loving others. And we would expect the above five elements to be present. Perhaps these five are a good starting point to study how people love God.

Learn more about love and relationships in Christian Cultures in A House Divided



Here's a link to Robert Sternberg's triangular theory of love

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review (93), 119-135.

I drew heavily on chapter 7 in a book by Pamela C. Regan (2008), who summarized research on love in The Mating Game (2nd Ed). Link to book at Sage.

Regan, P.C. (2008). The mating game: A primer on love, sex, and marriage. Los Angeles: Sage

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