Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Forgiveness...what do you think about, when you hear the word? Maybe you are sorry for something you’ve done, and you’re hoping that someone will forgive you. Maybe the word makes you mad because there is someone who has done you wrong and there is NO WAY you could ever forgive them. Possibly, forgiveness is scary because then you may have to admit you’re wrong or maybe you have to face your worst fears...looking in the mirror to forgive yourself. Whatever the case may be, forgiveness is not just a good practice for your head and heart, but it is actually good for your health. Would you believe that there is research to back that up?
Forgiveness is defined as a deliberate decision to release someone from an action that has caused some degree of harm. So much of the time, it is connected to religious and spiritual beliefs, but it also has direct implications for our health and well being outside of a faith-based practice. No matter what your connection to forgiveness is, I pray that you’d continue reading and consider others’ contributions to the idea that forgiveness helps your health. The Mayo Clinic says that “by embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.” Isn’t it amazing how one act can yield access to such powerful states of being?
In the magazine article from IdeaFit, titled “The Forgiveness Factor” by Lee Jordan, MS and Beth Jordan, published on March 3, 2020, there is discussion about forgiveness being associated with better physical health and decreased physical symptoms, better responses to stress supporting cardiovascular health, and “forgiveness linking with less risk of earlier death” (Krause & Hayward 2013; Toussaint, Owen & Cheadle 2012).
In the Mayo Clinic article, titled “Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness”,
the authors suggest that impacts of forgiveness on health are also seen in “healthier relationships, improved mental health, less anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system, improved heart health and improved self-esteem.
Harvard Health Publishing at the Harvard Medical school shared an article called, “The Power of Forgiveness”, published in May 2019. To quote the article, “Practicing forgiveness can have powerful health benefits. Observational studies, and even some randomized trials, suggest that forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction. Yet, forgiving people is not always easy...Practicing forgiveness can have powerful health benefits. Observational studies, and even some randomized trials, suggest that forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction.
A discussion through CNN offers this piece of information, “Anger is a form of stress, and so when we hold on to anger it is as though we are turning on the body's stress response, or
fight or flight response, chronically. We know that turning on this response chronically leads to wear and tear on the body...It may not be surprising that when we engage in the act of forgiveness, we can begin to turn off the stress response and the physiological changes that accompany it."
Forgiveness helps us to live in the present, rather than in an action we have done in the past or with something that someone has done to us. Seeking to “walk in another person’s shoes”, by trying to look from someone else’s perspective is a hard thing to do, especially when the “wrong” hurts so much. That being said, forgiveness can help with not just having compassion and acceptance for others, but it can also help with self-awareness, according to Jordan and Jordan.
When we can take time to step into someone else’s perspective, it supports relationships development over time. Forgiveness increases human connection and is constant practice that takes time.
The article, “The Forgiveness Factor” by Lee Jordan, MS and Beth Jordan, published on March 3, 2020, also shares a nine-step process to forgiveness. Isn’t it always the case? Things that we know we need to do can be so much easier, when someone tells us how. One of the pieces of the process that has helped me over and over again is realizing that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you condone an action, rather than you can release an action from holding you hostage. Consider this story that was written in the article, and it is a powerful one…“There’s a classic story of two former prisoners of war who meet after many years. The first man asks, “Have you forgiven your captors yet?” and the second man answers, “No, never.” “Well then,” the first man replies, “they still have you in prison” (Kornfield 2009). Will you choose to be a prisoner of your past or a pioneer of your future?”
Then, if we are to forgive for the sake of our relationships and physical, mental, and spiritual health, how do we do it? Some may suggest keeping a journal, talking to a trusted friend or spiritual friend, or seeking out professional supports that help in working through that process.
The Mayo Clinic suggests practicing empathy, considering the same situations and thinking about the impact that same scenario may have on your life, and thinking about when you have been hurt or been the source of hurt for others. You might consider journaling your ideas, practicing meditation or praying about it. Talking to qualified people that you trust and you have found to be a support is also another way.
I guess at the end of the day, we should all realize that forgiveness is a process that gets repeated over and over and over again. Forgiveness can be a possibility, even when repairing relationships is not. I know, at least for me, I want things to be great for every person that passes through my life. The reality is though, we are human beings that make mistakes. Forgiveness is part of the journey and it does help us become better versions of ourselves for us and for those around us. Getting caught up in how to forgive can be challenging, but consider these Points to Ponder that, with permission, my friend Amy Kiehl-Smith allowed me to share from a PowerPoint presentation she shares as part of her social emotional instruction for her students.
*Resist the temptation to get even.
*Stop pretending it’s not there *Stop pretending it didn’t hurt -release it and know it will get better, you’re taking the high road.
*Respond to the offender with “DIGNITY” by acting with dignity, give up “being right”...acting with dignity is the best chance you have for them to come around.
*If you don’t forgive and release it, you’ll be a prisoner of your own making.
*To give forgiveness to others, YOU MUST experience someone forgiving for you.
*Forgiveness is the act of “the will” not “feeling”
*Unforgiveness can ROOT bitterness inside you
*Forgiveness is a PROCESS
*“Forgive and Release” NOT “Forgive and Forget”
*Offer your offender “Undeserved Forgiveness”..so powerful!
So, when we consider the impact of forgiveness on your life and your health...what will you choose?
Resources utilized include the following:
Jordan, Lee and Jordan, Beth (3/3/2020) “The Forgiveness Factor: Learn how the act of forgiveness can affect your health.), retrieved from https://www.ideafit.com/mind-body-recovery/the-forgiveness-factor/
Howard, Jaqueline, CNN (6/5/2019) “Forgiveness and your health: What science says about the benefits”, retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/05/health/forgiveness-health-explainer/index.html
Harvard Men’s Health (no author, May 2019), “The Power of Forgiveness”, retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/the-power-of-forgiveness
Amy Kiehl-Smith Power Point presentation
Mayo Clinic Staff, (11/4/2017), “Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness”, retrieved from