Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. John S. Geisler

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert L. Betz

Third Advisor

Dr. Dennis C. Simpson


The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the lived experience of interpersonal forgiveness of individuals (known as co-researchers) by employing the empirical-phenomenological method. This study aimed at identifying, understanding, and describing the general psychological meaning (Tesch, 1990) or the essences/structures (Moustakas, 1994) of the experience of the phenomenon through the protocols of these individuals. It was also a goal of this study to develop a psychological theory of interpersonal forgiveness.

A two-interview structure was conducted with eight individuals (three males and five females) who had forgiven their significant offending others. The first interview focused on the meaning and experience of interpersonal forgiveness, whereas the second was a reflection on the meaning and experience of interpersonal forgiveness. The protocols were analyzed in terms of their meaning units and themes. These meaning units and themes were integrated into textural descriptions of the experience of the phenomenon. Based on the reflection of the textural descriptions, the structural descriptions of the experience of the phenomenon were constructed. These meaning units, themes, and essences were integrated into a composite textural structural description of the experience of the phenomenon.

The findings of this study were categorized into nine major relevant themes: (1) self-projection—temporality and spatiality, (2) existential meaning—a sense of self (3) prevalence of negative emotions, (4) meaning o f the violation—self-otherworld relationship, (5) Gestalt concept o f figure and ground, (6) presence (and nonpresence) o f forgiveness, (7) forgiveness as an evolutionary process, (8) unselfish quality of forgiveness, and (9) philosophy and faith.

Five propositions have emerged from the findings of this study: (1) the decision to forgive is the most difficult hurdle in the process of forgiveness; (2) there is a movement from indecision to an initial decision to a concrete decision to forgive; (3) on the basis of existential spatiality, the presence of forgiveness may be inconclusive or conclusive; (4) during the forgiveness process, the self progresses from in authenticity to authenticity; and (S) the evolution of forgiveness is contingent upon the transcendent self. A theory of forgiveness was constructed based on these propositions. One of the most significant implications revealed by these findings is that the experience of interpersonal forgiveness is a long, difficult, and complex process.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access