The One Skill That Could Protect You Against Depression

Research says forgiving and forgetting can have positive mental health benefits for women.

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Forgiving someone else might make you less depressed. According to new research published in the journal Aging & Mental Health, forgiving others, even if they don’t necessarily forgive you, can protect women against depression. But pardoning others and knowing the favor’s not returned actually increases levels of depression for men.

Researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia analyzed responses from more than 1,000 seniors across the nation taking part in the Religion, Aging and Health Survey. More than 99 percent of those who took the study were regular churchgoers or affiliated with a Christian church at sometime during their adulthood. As part of the study, the seniors were interviewed about symptoms of depression and self-rated health. They were also asked questions about their habits such as “How often do you hold a grudge?” to measure forgiveness of others, “I forgive myself for the things I have done wrong” for self-forgiveness, and “I know there are people who still blame me for things I have done in the past” for unforgiveness by others.

The researchers found that women who forgave others were less likely to be depressed. 

“It sounds like moral superiority, but it’s not about being a better person,” study co-author Christine Proulux said in a statement. “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.

Women who were neither quick to forgive or who didn't feel forgiven were able to reach inner peace by absolving themselves of past transgressions. Researchers reasoned self forgiveness releases guilt and shame, two emotions that are often related with depression. 

“Since forgivingness can be described as a trait, forgiving others and the self could serve as innate resources that help women cope with inter-personal ills that occur over the life course and be more reliant when experiencing a transgression or a lack of forgiveness from others,” lead study author Ashley Ermer writes in the study.

Men, however, who forgave others but felt others didn’t excuse them, reported higher levels of depression. The researchers say forgiveness is often seen as a feminine characteristic, so the process could make men feel vulnerable and more open to negative thoughts. They also note that men who forgive others might be more aware of their own faults. 

Need some help letting bygones be bygones? Here are a few tips on how to forgive and forget. Is forgiving yourself the struggle? Learn how to handle your guilt.