Improve your health by...forgiving someone!

Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, Divine." 

Costs to unforgiveness
However, scientific studies have also suggested that, in addition to spiritual benefits, forgiveness also has physical and mental benefits.  So, what happens when we hold on to resentment, anger and bitterness?  We can develop muscle tension leading to neck-, back- and limb pain, headaches, indigestion, high blood pressure and lead to teeth-grinding at night.  Because our feelings and our body chemistry is closely related, our immune system is less likely to function well, increasing our bodies’ vulnerability to disease. 

Forgiveness myth 
How, then, should we approach forgiveness?  One of the most powerful myths regarding forgiveness is that forgiveness means you have to forget that you were hurt by another person.  This is not true.  One can forgive a person without excusing, minimising or justifying the act.  Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that the offense will be treated as acceptable behaviour in the future.  It is also important to remember that forgiveness is not a feeling.  It is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. 

How do we then forgive?  The first step is to acknowledge the negative feelings and events that caused the hurt.  Sometimes people rush into premature forgiveness to avoid examining these very painful emotions. How do you know if you’ve rushed the forgiveness process?  When you still feel the painful emotions associated with the event in the absence of peace and freedom that results from letting go. The second step is to recognise that you have to move away from the victim-role.  Forgiving the other person is your responsibility. It often takes time, hard work and the recognition that your forgiveness can’t be reliant on the other person’s response.  The other person may never acknowledge how you’ve been hurt or ask for forgiveness.  The third step is to understand how holding on to hurts is influencing your health, thoughts and relationships.  Acknowledging this often provides the motivation necessary to commit to the forgiveness process.  For example, ask yourself: Do I define my life by how I’ve been hurt?  Do I wake up at night thinking how others have hurt me?  Do I run conversations in my head in which I win the argument?  Do past hurts prevent me from trusting others? 

If you still are not convinced that forgiveness have plenty of benefits, consider this:  Forgiveness can help you focus on the positive parts of your life, even if the scars of hurts remain.  Forgiveness can help you grow in compassion, empathy and understanding in relationships, thereby improving your relationships.  Less stress and hostility can lower your blood pressure, relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve psychological and spiritual well-being.  So, what are you waiting for?  Improve your health – forgive someone today!

Note:  In some situations, forgiveness is a more complex process and difficult to complete without support.  This is true when someone, for example, suffered abuse or were the victim of a crime.  Enlisting the support of a counsellor or psychologist might then be the most effective way of going about the forgiveness process.  


Mickey said...

I had to learn how to forgive people who have hurt me in the past and unfortunately still in the present. It does take time because I tend to hold on to the hurt and that causes resentments. When I have resentment against a person, I have no peace of mind. The best advice I heard, though it made no sense at the time, is that I should pray for that person. Through prayer somehow, gradually, that resentment left me. Might take months to years but it works.

FancyScrubs said...

Resentment can really stress a body out and cause heart disease. It's best to get it out and off your chest.

Anonymous said...

I need help with my husband, its been 5 yrs, he got really drunk and said some really hurtful things about me and my son, to my parents. We don't live with each other anymore, but we talk everyday. We have worked through our problems, but how do we get the family to forgive him???? He said some really terrible things. What a mess.

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