What is Forgiveness? Why some people forgive and others don’t. According to English poet Alexander Pope “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Let’s analyze what forgiveness is? Why some people are more forgiving than others? How does forgiveness affect our well-being?


Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”. We face situations in our everyday life where we are offended by other people which makes us retaliate. This retaliation and revengeful behavior is deeply rooted in our biological and psychological nature. Studies have documented that some other primates like chimpanzees also have tendency to retaliate if victimized by other animals. The revenge taking motive “eye for eye” has been an integral part of human culture for centuries to deal with perceived injustices in the society.

Forgiveness can be a response, a personality trait and characteristic of social unit.

Forgiveness as a Response

A prosocial change in victim’s thoughts and behavior and it becomes more positive and less negative.

Forgiveness as a Trait

It is a propensity to forgive others generally in wide variety of interpersonal circumstances.

Forgiveness as a quality of Social unit

Social structures like marriages, families and communities are more prone to forgive individuals.

Why some people are more forgiving than others?

There are many personal and social factors which contribute to our inclination to forgive such as age, personality, relationships and community.


Forgiveness seems to evolve with age, people become more forgiving as they age. This could be due to overall ethical, moral and cognitive development as a person with age.  According to psychologists, stages of moral development contribute to the propensity to forgive. At an early stage of moral development people only think of forgiveness as appropriate after taking revenge. At an intermediate stage of moral development, people tend to forgive due to cultural, social and religious pressures. After attaining a high stage of moral development, people forgive to promote harmony in the society.


People who are more empathic and agreeable in general tend to forgive more. Similarly, people who are low on neuroticism and narcissism also have general tendency to forgive. Emotions also play an important role in forging forgiveness. People who experience less negative emotions and have low levels of anxiety and depression are more prone to forgive others. Less hostile and less exploitative people also tend to forgive.

Social and interpersonal factors

Apologies also seem to play an important role in developing propensity to forgive. Apologies reduces the negative affect experienced by the victim and increases the empathy for the offender. Intimacy and closeness of interpersonal relationships also affect the tendency to forgive. People tend to forgive those individuals more with whom they have intimate, satisfied and committed relationships.

Forgiveness and well-being

Forgiveness has been found to be associated with life satisfaction, high self-esteem, quality interpersonal relationships, less anger, less stress, less anxiety and less depression.

Forgiveness helps in better recovery from heart diseases and spinal cord injuries. Conflict in interpersonal relationships is associated with illnesses such as cancer and chronic pain. Forgiveness is important for maintaining good quality relationships, therefore it indirectly has positive affect on health. Forgiveness is also associated with better heart rate and blood pressure.

Forgiveness Application

  • Don’t hesitate to apologize
  • Develop inclination to forgive
  • Forgive people and feel good mentally and physically