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Making Amends Can Be Selfish: Study

May 17, 2014 11:58 AM EDT

Forgiving yourself for hurting others may be easier to do if you take action to make amends first. In-fact, this may be the driving selfish factor that causes many people to make amends in the first place, so that they can get the "moral OK" to forgive themselves, according to a recent behavioral study.

We've seen it a dozen times. Guy wrongs girlfriend. Girlfriend is upset. Guy tries to make amends... and his girlfriend says "You're just doing this to make YOURSELF feel better."

A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that this hypothetical girlfriend might not be wrong.

Researchers from Baylor University in Waco, Texas launched two studies investigating what makes forgiving oneself permissible.

The first study involved 269 volunteer subjects who were asked to recall a previous offense they had committed in their life. The researchers outlined an "offense" as something like romantic betrayal, causing physical harm, or emotionally harming someone else.

According to the study, these participants were asked to answer a series of questions concerning how much they have forgiven themselves, how much they felt the other person has forgiven them, how much effort they made to actually make amends, and how much they felt their self-forgiveness was "morally appropriate."

Predictably, those who reported taking the most effort to make amends also felt that these efforts made it appropriate to forgive themselves. Self forgiveness was reportedly even easier if the other person likewise forgave them, but it was not necessary in many of the reported situations.

Interestingly, a second study conducted by the researchers involving hypothetical situations and the same questions showed even more clearly that making an effort to apologize was far more important for forgiving oneself than the forgiveness of the injured party.

Women, the researchers found, were also less self-forgiving than men, although it remains unclear why this is.

The study was published in the May issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

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