Understanding the Victim Mentality of Offenders When They are Denied Forgiveness

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Consider a situation in which you’re reminded of a friend you trusted for years who probably stole valuable items from you. They provided an explanation and apologies hoping you’ll forgive them, and all you did was point out that they had lied to you recently over different other things. Of course they were deeply offended that you called them a thief (which you didn’t) and the offender in question begins to feel like a “victim” in this scenario, a new study explains why.

Recent research highlights an interesting phenomenon regarding apologies and forgiveness. When offenders apologize to those they’ve harmed, they often anticipate receiving forgiveness in return. The study suggests that this expectation sometimes crosses the line into entitlement. If forgiveness is not granted, the wrongdoer may feel aggrieved themselves.

Published in Sage Journals, the research comprises four studies all pointing to the same conclusion: offenders see non-forgiveness as both a breach of social norms and a challenge to their sense of control.

This finding raises concerns about the social pressure on individuals to forgive those who have wronged them and to “take the high road.” It seems unjust that victims not only endure the initial wrongdoing but also risk being labeled as difficult or unforgiving if they choose not to forgive. 

However, the underlying explanation lies in the dynamics of power. When an offender apologizes, they believe they are relinquishing control and returning power to the victim, the person who was hurt. This shift in power dynamics can influence how both parties perceive the situation.

Feeling Disempowered Reinforces the Idea of Being a Victim

According to an article on Reader’s Digest, researchers believe that victims have the choice to either forgive or hold a grudge against their offenders. When forgiveness is granted, offenders regain a sense of control they had lost.

Interestingly, the researchers found that if someone explicitly refuses to forgive, the offender feels more victimized. However, if the response to their apology is ambiguous, they don’t feel as victimized. In both cases, offenders still experience a loss of power and control, although it’s less pronounced in the latter scenario.

Many relationships involve power dynamics, with one person labeled as the offender and the other as the victim. Feeling disempowered reinforces the idea of being a victim.

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The core of offenders’ disgruntlement stems from their belief that they are entitled to forgiveness. This raises questions about whether they truly feel remorse or if their apology is merely self-serving. The study suggests that many offenders feel they deserve forgiveness, but it doesn’t explore these deeper questions about human nature.

Although the study raises important questions about human nature, and highlights, it doesn’t explore these deeper questions about human nature— which still leaves a lot more unsaid than it clarifies.

Forgiveness is Still a Matter of Great Debate

When offenders don’t receive forgiveness, they not only stop trying to make things right but also regret apologizing in the first place.

Reader’s Digest explains that forgiving someone who hurt you can reduce the chances of them hurting you again and decrease repeat cycles of harm.

But victims don’t have to forgive their offenders if they don’t want to. Researchers still search why forgiveness isn’t given, especially for less serious offenses. But is it fair to judge the severity of the harm without experiencing it firsthand? Is the purpose of forgiveness to get back to normal? Most importantly, why is forgiveness necessary?

It’s therefore not surprising that programs such as restorative justice in political spaces, criminal justice systems, and conflicts within private and public institutions are gaining more traction.

Restorative justice, which involves victims and offenders meeting to discuss the wrong facets of an offender’s behavior and how to make things right, has become more popular. This approach to forgiving leans more towards finding common ground on what the offender did wrong and how they can make amends. Researchers believe that when forgiveness isn’t given, it makes this process harder.

According to an article on Psychology Today, forgiveness is a personal choice, and can’t be forced. Some people find it helpful for healing and freeing themselves from hurt, while others don’t feel relief from forgiving. The article points out how important it is for people to be honest about their feelings, whether they choose to forgive or not.

For a lot of us, forgiveness depends on receiving a genuine apology from the person who hurt you. While some may forgive even without an apology— wonder if forgiveness is even the right word for such an act—most of us need that acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

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