One of the hardest things in life, along with the damage that other people can cause, is forgiving them for their wrongs. One of my favorite life lessons that I find myself referring to on an almost daily basis is from Lewis B. Smeades: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Researchers at the University of Missouri have completed a study that shows just how true that statement really is.
The study was done by analyzing the Religion, Aging, and Health Survey, which includes information about 1,000 adults over the age of 67. The results showed that older women were less likely to suffer from depression when they made a habit of forgiving others, whether or not they were forgiven themselves. Another interesting find was that men who felt unforgiven showed a propensity for depression. Although this study was a small one, it shows a couple of interesting trends.
First, it shows a correlation between forgiveness and depression for bot the act of forgiveness, as well as the feeling of being forgiven.
Also, this study shows how men and women cope with the theory of forgiveness differently.
Christine Proulx, an author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Missouri, said “It doesn’t feel good when we perceive that others haven’t forgiven us for something. 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.”
The theory behind the results is that when people get older they tend to reflect back on their lives. The fact that women showed fewer instances of depression among those that actively forgave others is an interesting concept.
“It sounds like moral superiority,” said Proulx, “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.”
One surprising aspect of the study found that, despite what your therapist may say, self-forgiveness didn’t have the same effect on depression rates that forgiving others did.
“Self-forgiveness didn’t act as the protector against depression,” Proulx said. “It’s really about whether individuals can forgive other people and their willingness to forgive others.”