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Forgiveness reduces depression symptoms

Nearly everyone has been told to "forgive and forget" if he or she has been wronged. However, if you've been betrayed or hurt, you may find that it's a little more difficult to do. Holding a grudge comes easy, and avoiding that person might seem like a better idea. Unfortunately, this may do more harm than good when it comes to women, and forgive and forget may be more than just a turn of phrase.

Depression risks lower with forgiveness
In a study published in Aging & Mental Health, researchers from the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences found that older women who are able to forgive others experience fewer instances and symptoms of depression than those who hold a grudge. However, the chance of men facing a similar benefit is low.

The investigators used information on 1,009 seniors from the Religion, Aging and Health Survey, a national study of adults aged 67 and older. The survey used the eight-item short form of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression scale, which includes the following questions about how often people felt certain emotions in the past week:

  • Did you feel depressed?
  • Did you feel everything you did was an effort?
  • Did you enjoy life?
  • Was your sleep restless?
  • Did you feel sad?
  • Were you happy?
  • Did you feel lonely?
  • Were you unable to get going?

From analyzing the results, the researchers discovered that men and women who forgave themselves had fewer instances of depression. However, only women experienced health benefits from forgiving others, and men were still negatively affected by not being forgiven by people. Neither forgiving others nor self-forgiveness could make a significant difference in male participants.

"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," said Christine Proulx, an associate professor at the university and the study's co-author. "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."

Forgiveness offers health benefits
When someone refuses to forgive you, you may find it easy to feel guilty. It can be just as simple to hold a grudge when you feel someone has wronged you. However, that situation can come with a variety of negativity. Dwelling on these emotions can give you anxiety and bitterness, which can later lead to depression, The Mayo Clinic explained. It can interfere with your day-to-day life and affect your current relationships.

However, forgiveness comes with countless benefits, according to the source. You'll not only experience more positive relationships, less stress and higher self-esteem, but you also see advantages in your physical and mental well-being. You may have lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, better heart health and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

While it may be hard to offer forgiveness to both yourself and others, the act will be better for you in the long run.