Forgiveness and Health

Recent developments in the fields of positive psychology have shed great light on the role of forgiveness on our health and well being.

A number of studies have found that forgiveness has a direct impact on mental health and well being. Mental health correlates with forgiveness for a number of reasons, including:-

  • Being unforgiving has been associated as a core component of stress resulting from an interpersonal offense, and stress is directly associated with decreased mental health.
  • Being unforgiving resulting from intrapersonal transgressions tends to manifest as guilt, shame, and regret, which impact one's emotional and mental health.
  • Since mental health is linked to physical health, increase in mental illness impacts both physical health as well as significantly increase costs of physical health care provision.

Benefits of forgiving?

Numerous studies have found forgiveness to positively impact well being, life satisfaction and mental health. In addition, other benefits include:-

  • Reduced stress, anxiety and anger
  • Stronger healthier relationships
  • Greater psychological well-being
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lessen pain
  • Boost self-respect
  • Greater sense of happiness
  • Fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Less aggression and hostility

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a process that begins with the intention and willingness to let-go of resentment and thoughts to revenge. Forgiveness involves a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender.

Forgiveness does not mean to forget, on the contrary, forgiveness means that although the act that hurt or offended may remain part of one's life, but it is commitment to a gradual process of change.

When we experience hurt by someone we care for or trust, we tend to "hold" onto the event or events that resulted in the hurt. By dwelling upon or replaying the offending event(s), we cultivate feelings of anger, revenge and resentment.

Holding onto such emotions and thoughts contributes to stress, anxiety and anger. Chronic stress inevitably leads to a whole range of negative health issues impacting our mental, emotional and physical health.

To understand forgiveness, it is essential to recognise what forgiveness is not.

  • Forgiveness does NOT mean to forget or dismissing the offending event(s)
  • Forgiveness is NOT excusing behaviour or actions
  • Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation
  • Forgiveness is NOT giving permission to continue behaviour

The process of forgiveness

Stanford Forgiveness Projects Methodology: 9 Steps to Forgiveness

Stanford Forgiveness Projects:

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's flight or fight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.