The Fundamentals of Forgiveness: Psychological and Physical Health Benefits
Forgiveness is a process of self-actualization in which we choose to move through hurt feelings such as shame, anger, and resentment in favor of self-compassion, self-love, and empathy. Doesn’t that sound liberating? One of the oddities of doing this work is seeing how transformative the work can be and how much people resist it.
Let’s try to break down some of the opposition by highlighting some of the most well-researched aspects of the impact of processing our resentments and shame and finding freedom through forgiveness.
Research from leading institutions has reliably demonstrated the many benefits of practicing forgiveness instead of harboring hurt feelings. Here are a few broad but consequential ways forgiving impacts well-being.
Increased vitality and longevity
Research from Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, among others, has shown that letting go of resentment and learning to forgive lowers blood pressure and reduces cortisol (the stress hormone). These shifts lead to improved heart health, weight loss, better sleep, and less inflammation. Forgiveness is a healing process, and moving into more optimal health is one of the most significant benefits of deciding to forgive.
Greater compassion for self and others
As we question the stories we have about the people we hold grudges against and look more objectively at the things that have happened in our lives, a natural outcome of that shift away from rigidity is more compassion. We cannot authentically move through the process without developing a gentler perceptive and recognizing that we can fail and also be doing our best. This is also true when we forgive ourselves. One benefit is that it lets us lovingly, dispassionately observe our behavior from a place of concern rather than judgment. Instead of criticizing ourselves, we leave space for genuine transformation. You cannot overestimate the power of self-compassion.
A more optimistic outlook
Forgiveness frees us from the weight of believing that our life should have been different or that we are deficient or damaged. That makes it easier to stay present to the beauty around us. Researchers in Switzerland and the United States, among others, have demonstrated a positive correlation between forgiving others, optimism, positive mood, and overall life satisfaction.
Breaking the cycle of multigenerational dysfunction within a family
Where do we learn to be angry, distant, indifferent, and resentful? From our primary caregivers. By integrating a more forgiving, open, and compassionate way of relating, we pass these behaviors on to the next generation.
Transform intimate relationships
When we forgive, we are open; we no longer feel the need to defend ourselves. We cultivate more trusting relationships built on acceptance of ourselves and each other. Our empathy and emotional intelligence attract more trust and goodwill from others in return.
Additional articles on the health benefits of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It
- Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness
- The health benefits of forgiveness
- Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health
Forgivingness and subjective well-being in adulthood: The moderating role of future time perspective Allemand et al. – Journal of Research in Personality – 2012 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2011.11.004)