Forgiveness and health: assessing the mediating effect of health behavior, social support, and interpersonal functioning

J Psychol. 2013 Sep-Oct;147(5):391-414. doi: 10.1080/00223980.2012.700964.


Religiousness and spirituality are important to most Americans and while beneficial associations between forgiveness and health are consistently observed, little is known regarding the mechanism of association. Cross-sectional multiple mediation-based analyses of associations between dimensions of forgiveness and physical and mental health were conducted using a sample of 363 undergraduate students from rural Southern Appalachia. Controlling for demographic variables (i.e., gender, age, education, ethnicity, and marital status) and lifetime religiousness, multivariable analyses reflected associations of forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others, but not feeling forgiven by God, with physical health status, somatic symptoms, mental health status, and psychological distress. All such associations operated through health behavior and/or social support; however, only in the context of forgiveness of self did such associations also operate through interpersonal functioning (problems). While forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others each appear to have a robust indirect relationship with health, mediation-based associations involving forgiveness of self were nearly twice as frequent. It may be that forgiveness of self is relatively more important to health-related outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Appalachian Region
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Forgiveness*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology*
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Social Support*
  • Spirituality*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult