Towards positive aging: Links between forgiveness and health
Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology
Forgiveness may serve as an essential positive resource to help individuals cope emotionally with stressful events, ultimately influencing health. Examination of how individuals forgive within the context of close relationships can provide useful information about positive aging. In this study, we examine how the severity of a recent transgression committed by a spouse/partner or other close social relationship is associated with self-reported physical health among older adults. We also examine how state forgiveness (i.e., in context of a specific event) can offset the potentially negative impact of transgressions on health and further compare the impact when the transgressor is a spouse/partner versus another close social relationship. Data are from the Detroit Community Survey, a cross-sectional survey of social relations, forgiveness, humility, and health in the Detroit Metropolitan Area. Respondents age 50 and older were selected for analysis (N=380). Structural equation models indicated that greater transgression severity was associated with worse self-rated health. Further, state forgiveness was found to play a significant moderating role. Among older adults who were more likely to forgive their transgressor, experiencing a more severe transgression was associated with worse health. In contrast, among older adults less likely to forgive, there was no association between transgression severity and self-rated health. Additionally, among older adults less likely to forgive, the transgressor being a close other social relationship was associated with worse health compared to when it was a spouse/partner. In contrast, when more likely to forgive there was no association between who the transgressor was and self-rated health. This study contributes to a better understanding of how interpersonal stress, specifically a recent transgression experienced within the context of close social relationships, can be harmful to older adults’ health. Findings highlight the importance of forgiveness as a resource that can help facilitate positive aging.
Link to Published Version
Webster, N., Ajrouch, K., & Antonucci, T. (2020). Towards positive aging: Links between forgiveness and health. OBM Geriatrics, 4(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.21926/obm.geriatr.2002118