The old adage that forgiveness is divine may be true for older women, but it may always not make men feel any better, a new study suggests.
The researchers found that older women who forgave others were less likely to be depressed. And, that was true even if they felt unforgiven by others. However, men who forgave others, but also felt unforgiven had the highest levels of depression, the study revealed.
The research stemmed from a survey of more than 1,000 American adults. The study participants were all aged 67 and older. The survey asked about their mental and physical health, as well as their religious beliefs.
“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,” study co-author Christine Proulx, an associate professor in the department of human development and family science at the University of Missouri, said in a university news release.
“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,” Proulx said.
The findings suggest that mental health counselors may have to use different, gender-specific approaches when dealing with older women and older men, the researchers said.
Many people begin to reflect on their lives as they get older, including how they may have been hurt by or hurt others, Proulx noted.
And while forgiving others may reduce some people’s risk of depression, forgiving oneself doesn’t seem to help.
“Self-forgiveness didn’t act as the protector against depression. It’s really about whether individuals can forgive other people and their willingness to forgive others,” Proulx said.
The study was published recently in the journal Aging & Mental Health.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about depression.