NOWTTT Toussaint Wilson interview
Apr 17, 2023

Can Forgiving Ourselves Lead to Flourishing? Exploring Self-Forgiveness & Mental Health in the Caribbean

Researchers are studying self-forgiveness as a means to reduce self-destructive behaviors in Trinidad and Tobago.

By Templeton Staff

Researchers define self-forgiveness as "a response to negative feelings resulting from self-instigated wrongs resulting in accountability and a constructive shift in one’s relationship to, reconciliation with, and acceptance of the self," (Webb 2017). Science suggests that forgiving oneself may offer a protective effect against suicide, substance use, and mental health disorders. However, it can often be the most difficult form of forgiveness to practice, as we tend to be our own worst critics, or to hold ourselves to impossible standards. A lack of exposure to or misconceptions about the practice may also pose a challenge.

There has been limited research on the cultural relevance and effectiveness of self-forgiveness in the Caribbean context. With Templeton World Charity Foundation backing, the Caribbean Self-Forgiveness and Flourishing Project hopes to change this, and has recently launched the first phase of its studies. The project focuses on promoting self-forgiveness as a means to reduce self-destructive behaviors in Trinidad and Tobago. The study will begin by collecting data from a survey open to residents of the twin-island country.

The lead investigators of the project are featured in this recent segment of Trinidad and Tobago Television's NOW Morning Show. Watch the above video for an interview with Dr. Loren Toussaint, professor of psychology at Luther College; Akeisha Alexis-St Hilaire, Adjunct Lecturer, University of the Southern Caribbean; and Dr. Colwick Wilson, President, University of the Southern Caribbean. You'll hear about what self-forgiveness entails, and why it's important to research and practice it. They also touch upon the expected outcomes of their project.

Key Takeaways:

One of the main goals of the project is to educate, and to raise levels of awareness about the benefits of forgiveness in general and about self-forgiveness. "Research shows that you can teach people to forgive, and they will actually get better at doing it," says Toussaint.

Toussaint lists some of the mental health benefits of forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Both have been found to reduce shame and guilt, as well as "the amount of overthinking you do about either a time that somebody hurts you or a time that you hurt someone else," he says. "We also think it's connected to [reducing proclivity for] substance use, and we know that it also has some impact on your overall longevity."

Toussaint emphasizes that forgiveness and self-forgiveness support connections with people through social relationships, networking, and community. Wilson agrees and adds "Trinidad and Tobago is known for strong relationships, strong bonds. Forgiveness serves as a powerful mechanism for healthier relationships."

It's difficult for some people to forgive themselves because they realize they've fallen short of their own expectations of perfection. "Sometimes we have to don't take ourselves that seriously, and recognize that we are imperfect, and it is in those imperfect moments that we have the opportunity to develop some perfect moments by forgiving ourselves, forgiving others, and actually seeking forgiveness," says Wilson.

The research is set to take place through four studies. The first is a questionnaire open to residents of Trinidad and Tobago that takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete online. Details about the other studies will be posted via the project's social media.

The researchers hopes to use this project as a baseline to work from to generalize and extend the study and practice of self-forgiveness across areas of the Caribbean, and eventually broader regions as well. Wilson notes a conference on religion and health that will highlight forgiveness is being planned at the University of the Southern Caribbean.

Dr. Loren Toussaint, Professor of Psychology, Luther College; Vice Chair of the Templeton Discover Forgiveness Scientific Advisory Council.

Dr. Colwick Wilson, President, University of the Southern Caribbean.

Akeisha Alexis-St Hilaire, Adjunct Lecturer, University of the Southern Caribbean.