Forgiveness and Health

Some experts define forgiveness as, “.... a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” If this action of forgiveness is to take place, it may require one to recognize the pain associated with the act(s) for which the forgiveness is needed. All of this is difficult, pain in and of itself is a formidable opponent; however, our health and well-being may be better for it—if we can find our way through the processes of forgiveness.

The scientific literature suggests that unforgiveness may be associated with a depressed immune system, high blood pressure, sleep difficulties, cardiovascular issues, chronic pain, and increased mortality. Forgiveness exercises are actually being included in some cancer recovery plans, in light of the boost it may provide to immune function and healing. The forgiveness literature also demonstrates improvement in mental health outcomes such as reductions in depression and anxiety, with one study showing when levels of forgiveness rose, reported stress decreased.

More data demonstrate that people who were involved in a group through which forgiveness is fostered, had more success with addiction management, reductions in feelings of guilt, and improvements in hope.  Additionally, the Stanford University forgiveness project found improvements in overall health and reductions in stress among 25- to 50-year-olds who went through their forgiveness training.

The data is clear, forgiveness is worth a try, and there are a number of ways to begin that journey. Working with a trained mental health professional can be a safe and productive way to explore the processes around forgiveness. There are a number of positively reviewed health and forgiveness texts that may prove useful, such as The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and MPHO Tutu or Forgive for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin. We can also include mindfulness meditation geared for forgiveness, and of course pursue forgiveness for self and others through prayer. In the end, forgiveness is an act of kindness and compassion to self—one insightful quote tells us:

“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free, and realizing you were the prisoner” ~Author unknown.