Updated 02 March 2016

Men forgive differently to women

A study suggests that mental health counsellors, when dealing with issues of forgiveness, may have to use gender-specific approaches as the way men and women forgive is different for the sexes.


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.

Gender-specific approaches needed

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.

ReadWomen are better at forgiving

"People who are forgiving are altruistic, compassionate and 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.

Read: An apology often leads to forgiveness

The findings suggest that mental health counsellors 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.

Study was published recently in the journal Ageing & Mental Health.

Read more:

Crime: forgive and forget?

'Cancer is your fault'

Signs that depressed people want to commit suicide

Image: Older woman on her mobile from iStock


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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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