This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Impact of Empathy, Coping, and Cultural Differences on the Process of Forgiveness




Goodrich, Tonia

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling


The primary focus of this research was on decisional forgiveness following a traumatic experience. The purpose of this quantitative descriptive study was to examine the impact of empathy, coping skills, and the role culture plays in an individual’s decision to forgive. The exploration of what may impact forgiveness will lend itself useful to helping counselors and counselors-in-training have a better understanding of how forgiveness can be used as an intervention in counseling. An evaluation, utilizing three survey instruments, was used to compare males and females of varying range of ethnicities, ages, and religious or spiritual backgrounds. Demographic questions were used to collect cultural differences without capturing any identifying data of the participants. The resulting data was used to explore how cultural differences, empathy and coping may impact the process of forgiveness. The study was a modified methodology adaptation of a previous study entitled Empathy, Selfism, and Coping as Elements of Psychology of Forgiveness: A Preliminary Study by Varda Konstam, William Holmes, and Bethany Levine (2003). The current study proposed to expand on the existing research by exploring the relationship between one’s ability to cope and the capacity of empathy as essentials or even prerequisites to the decision to forgive. The goal to exploring the differences among people and how this may impact the psychology of forgiveness is that it will aide in conceptualizing the many intricate facets of forgiveness. Potential cultural differences data was collected through demographic questions as the end of the survey. The cultural differences for purposes of this study were gender, age, race/ethnicity, and religiosity/spirituality. The potential for a more diverse sample was greater through an anonymous online survey method design. This method did collect a broader range of diversity among the 158 participants. While the data did not support a significant relationship between coping and decisional forgiveness, other research has supported that coping skills are beneficial to the process of forgiveness. The sample size and diversity may also have been a limitation to these findings As anticipated by the researcher, empathy did emerge as having a statistical significance and positive relationship with decisional forgiveness. The data that surfaced through this research may lend itself useful to counselors and counselors-in-training having a greater understanding for decisional forgiveness and potential impacts. Furthermore, the data may aid in contextualization of forgiveness and assist counselor educators with teaching the essential tools and interventions of forgiveness. The limitations of this study and implications for future research are discussed.