The doormat effect: when forgiving erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 May;98(5):734-49. doi: 10.1037/a0017838.

Abstract

We build on principles from interdependence theory and evolutionary psychology to propose that forgiving bolsters one's self-respect and self-concept clarity if the perpetrator has acted in a manner that signals that the victim will be safe and valued in a continued relationship with the perpetrator but that forgiving diminishes one's self-respect and self-concept clarity if the perpetrator has not. Study 1 employed a longitudinal design to demonstrate that the association of marital forgiveness with trajectories of self-respect over the first 5 years of marriage depends on the spouse's dispositional tendency to indicate that the partner will be safe and valued (i.e., agreeableness). Studies 2 and 3 employed experimental procedures to demonstrate that the effects of forgiveness on self-respect and self-concept clarity depend on the perpetrator's event-specific indication that the victim will be safe and valued (i.e., amends). Study 4 employed a longitudinal design to demonstrate that the association of forgiveness with subsequent self-respect and self-concept clarity similarly depends on the extent to which the perpetrator has made amends. These studies reveal that, under some circumstances, forgiveness negatively impacts the self.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Attitude*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Deception
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult