Both religion and medical science agree: forgiveness is good for you!
It’s all about you
You know that it feels great when you’ve messed up and the person affected by your mess forgives you and tells you that they don’t hold it against you.
But why is it good for you to forgive others?
You are human, which means that when someone does or says something hurtful to you, it hurts! Pretending that it doesn’t or that you don’t care is denial. And denying your feelings is suppressing them, which causes emotional harm and physical symptoms.
The range of offences you may have to forgive in your lifetime stretches from insignificant to seemingly insurmountable: from cheating when a colleague takes credit for your work to racism, lies, hijacking, assault, even rape or murder.
You can’t change the perpetrator. They may well remain a racist, a liar or a cheat. Forgiveness does not change their behaviour. But it does change the effect their behaviour has on you.
What forgiveness is and isn’t
Forgiveness is a decision and a process. It starts with a conscious decision to let go of the past and of resentment. Then the process continues: choosing to let go of anger and resentment every time those feelings well up.
The greater the wrong done to you, the longer the process will continue and the more difficult it will be.
Forgiveness is not denying the other person’s responsibility. You look squarely at the offence and recognise the physical or emotional scars you suffered. You do not excuse the offence, but you decide to put it behind you.
Forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean reconciliation. The person who wronged you may be dead or unwilling to change. Forgive them anyway.
The point is to move on and focus on the future. You are saying, “I won’t be a victim. I refuse to let this event poison my happiness and my current or future relationships.”
Why it’s good to forgive
Research shows that forgiveness has many health benefits:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Healthier relationships with others
- Greater spiritual and mental health
- Less stress, anxiety and hostility
- Improved heart health
- Less depression
- Improved self-esteem
- Reduced chronic pain
- Reduced cholesterol levels
Proof of the pudding
The Stanford University Forgiveness Project trained 260 adults during a six-week course in forgiveness. At the end of the course:
- 70% reported decreased feelings of hurt
- 13% had less anger
- 27% experienced fewer physical complaints such as pain and digestive problems
Dr Bernie Siegel of Yale Medical School reported on 57 well-documented cases of cancer “miracles”. These patients, face to face with their mortality, began to let go of their feelings of anger and unforgiveness. Once they did, their tumours began to shrink.
You can’t change the past but an attitude of forgiveness has the power to change your future.
Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.
– Dr Martin Luther King Jr