Forgiveness is a complex process, one often fraught with difficulty and angst. Now, researchers in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences studied how different facets of forgiveness affected aging adults’ feelings of depression. The researchers found older women who forgave others were less likely to report depressive symptoms regardless of whether they felt unforgiven by others. Older men, however, reported the highest levels of depression when they both forgave others and felt unforgiven by others. The researchers say their results may help counselors of older adults develop gender-appropriate interventions since men and women process forgiveness differently.
“It doesn’t feel good when we perceive that others haven’t forgiven us for something,” said Christine Proulx, study co-author and an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science. “When we think about forgiveness and characteristics of people who are forgiving — altruistic, compassionate, empathetic — these people forgive others and seem to compensate for the fact that others aren’t forgiving them. It sounds like moral superiority, but it’s not about being a better person. It’s ‘I know that this hurts because it’s hurting me,’ and those people are more likely to forgive others, which appears to help decrease levels of depression, particularly for women.”