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health benefits of forgiveness

The Health Benefits of Forgiveness

by / 0 Comments / October 14, 2013

Health Benefits of Forgiveness

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;”  Hebrews 12:15

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, to forgive means:

: to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong)

: to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)

Let’s be real for a minute… forgiveness is tough.

Have you ever loaned money to someone when you really couldn’t afford to lend it?  Once your electric bill came due and you couldn’t afford to pay it, chances are you were tempted to hound your debtor relentlessly until he or she paid up.

Many of us were hurt by a parent or close family member during our formative years. Then we grow up and move on without fully dealing with the pain of those formative experiences.  We develop new relationships without realizing we’re in a deficit of love and forgiveness.  So when heartache strikes again, we can’t afford
to forgive.  Somebody has to pay.

I know a very wise man who once likened forgiveness to bankruptcy.  When you file, your debts are forgiven, but try and get credit with your debt collectors again!  It’s not going to happen.  In the same way, when you forgive someone, you’re not saying that you’ll trust them again.  In fact, you don’t even have to continue a relationship with him or her.  You simply settle the debt.

Everyone is entitled to their emotions, anger included.  Anger is not such a bad thing, especially when it motivates you to do something to improve your situation.  But there comes a point when anger turns to resentment and all it does is hurt you and those closest to you.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that forgiveness has a powerful impact on human health.  One study in particular focused on five areas of health:  physical ailments, number of medications used, sleep quality,  fatigue, and depression.  The study found that forgiveness alone either partially or completely healed each of these health areas.

From evidence gained in this study and others, researchers theorize that forgiveness facilitates health in six specific ways:

1 – Decreased psychophysiological reactivity:  Even heart rate, blood pressure, etc. in response to reminders of hurt and betrayal.  Acute stress-inducing reactivity has been linked to cardiovascular illness and health in general.

2 – Less interpersonal stress:  Forgiveness and letting go of anger improves a person’s ability to enjoy healthy relationships, so they do not suffer from continual strife and stress on an ongoing basis.

3 – Less frequent stress:  Learning how to let go of hurt and anger improves a person’s ability to manage stress in all areas of life, so they do not experience stress as often as those who hold on to past offenses.

4 – Less hostility:  Hostility is linked to anxiety and depression in almost every study on forgiveness, with evidence that these negative emotions lead to impaired health.

5 – More healthy behaviors:  Those who practice forgiveness tend to engage in healthier behaviors, providing more positive experiences and improving their overall health.

6 – Transcendent or religious factors:  When forgiveness originates from philosophical or religious
purposes, it generally manifests out of a greater sense of spiritual health and well being.

The Mayo Clinic also adds that forgiveness lowers your risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

In short, scientific evidence clearly links forgiveness with better health, and on the flip side, unforgiveness with illness.  So if you’re holding on to a past offense because you don’t want to release someone from blame, consider the damage those feelings may be creating within your physical body.  Truly, you’re only hurting yourself if you continue to carry a grudge.  So take some time, do the emotional work, and free yourself from the weight of resentment.

Sources:
Journal of Behavioral Medicine Vol 28 No 2.  The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways  April 2005
Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness.

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