Have you felt hurt or betrayed? Have you ever been so bitter and upset towards a situation or person that you could not imagine forgiving them? You may have even replayed the event(s) over and over in your head. With each repetition, your feelings intensify and you feel worse about yourself and it. There is evidence to prove that harboring these emotions can negatively impact your health. Thus the subject of forgiveness surfaces to the top of this blog!
Forgiveness from a clinical perspective is the process of relinquishing one’s feeling of resentment and thoughts of vengeance. Forgiveness also includes the process of fostering compassion, generosity, and even love towards those who have inflicted pain.
It is obviously not an easy thing to do. Clinicians will undoubtedly tell you if your wounds are deep and traumas many you will need more time to heal. Nonetheless, forgiveness is possible and I believe necessary. Let me tell you why?
Over 15 years ago there lacked any research on the impact of forgiveness on our health. Thankfully to date, there are hundreds of scientific papers and clinicians ready to share their knowledge with us.
Forgiveness Improves Your Life
Let us start with the impact of staying angry, being frustrated or feeling negative about an event. Dr. Steven Standiford, chief of surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, says that holding onto these negative emotions creates a chronic state of anxiety.
This produces a predictable excess of adrenaline and cortisol, which deplete the production of natural killer cells. These cells are your protection against cancer. If you refuse to forgive it not only makes you sick but can keep you that way.
Since we are on the topic of cancer, a neat randomized controlled trial with over 83 cancer patients evaluated feelings of forgiveness, pessimism, and self-acceptance after taking a course in self-forgiveness. The course taught techniques such as reflection, expressive writing etc.
As expected, the patients that took the course had statistically significant higher scores for self-forgiveness, acceptance, self-improvement, and lower pessimism scores compared to the control group.
If you think of an old memory of being mistreated, hurt, or offended you automatically start to feel unwell. The fact is that there are immediate emotional and/or physiological responses that occur when you are having these memories. These responses include:
- Your blood pressure increases
- Your muscles tighten
- You start to swell
These are all signs of stress and anxiety. Recent studies show that participants who practice empathy and forgiveness to those who do them wrong have a lowered stress response. To further deepen this point, roughly 1,500 Americans who forgave reported greater satisfaction with their lives, less distress symptoms, less nervousness, and less sadness.
Forgiveness even helps in cases of severe emotional abuse. Women were placed into two treatment groups; the first using techniques such as anger validation, assertiveness, interpersonal skill building, and the second using forgiveness. Women in the forgiveness group had significant improvements in depression scores, post-traumatic stress symptom, self-esteem, less anxiety, and better overall mastery of their life. Months later all these gains were still present! YAY! Forgiveness is powerful!
Forgiveness Positively Impacts Your Immunity
One controlled study assessed 78 medicated HIV patients for feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of forgiveness. Participants who truly forgave had higher percentages of CD4 immune cancer-fighting cells!
The improvement of blood pressure and cardiovagal tone is yet another benefit of forgiveness. Researchers have been able to show that forgiveness has a cardioprotective effect on the heart. While anger, is cardiotoxic, which damages the heart muscle.
Forgiveness Benefits Your Quality of Sleep
One study found that forgiveness of interpersonal transgressions is related to better sleep. While staying resentful, angry or even keeping hostile feelings around relate to a poorer quality of sleep.
The list goes on and on. The health benefits of forgiveness are monumental. Now that you have some facts, think and devise a forgiveness plan. Start by forgiving yourself, and then move onto forgiving others. If you do not know how to forgive, contact a spiritual psychotherapist or psychologist in your area for help.
It is time to let go of past grievances. It is time to feel lighter. It is time to be free of the past to create space for a brighter present!