Bury the hatchet for renewed health, joy, altruism, well being.
People can hurt us in a million ways. Cut off in traffic, betrayed by a sibling, badmouthed by a co-worker. Every day we are faced with situations that force us to choose whether to fume or forgive.
Fuming seems the easy choice while forgiveness is easier said than done. Those darn thoughts of revenge, retaliation and reliving the hurt seem to follow us wherever we go. Just imagine how holding on to hundreds of thousands of hurtful incidents can corrupt your happiness and your health!
It’s been pretty well documented by scientific study that anger (the by-product of living in an unforgiving state) takes its toll on our overall well being. Forgiveness, on the other hand, appears to be closely associated with heart health, as well as other positive life experiences. One study from The Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and overall stress relief.
Harvard Health Publications’ newsletter entitled Harvard Women’s Health Watch published an article discussing five positive health effects of forgiving that have been scientifically studied:
Reduced stress. Researchers found that mentally nursing a grudge puts your body through the same strains as a major stressful event: Muscles tense, blood pressure rises and sweating increases.
Better heart health. One study found a link between forgiving someone for a betrayal and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate, and a decreased workload for the heart.
Stronger relationships. A 2004 study showed that women who were able to forgive their spouses and feel benevolent toward them resolved conflicts more effectively.
Reduced pain. A small study on people with chronic back pain found that those who practiced meditation focusing on converting anger to compassion felt less pain and anxiety than those who received regular care.
Greater happiness. When you forgive someone, you make yourself—rather than the person who hurt you—responsible for your happiness. One survey showed that people who talk about forgiveness during psychotherapy sessions experience greater improvements than those who don't.
“Heart forgiveness unlocks the door of the ‘energy prison’ we create with anger,” says Dr. Ed Carlson, Founder of Core Health. Holding on to your anger makes you a prisoner of your own pain while it takes control of your emotions, thoughts and physiology. Dr. Carlson has developed “Heart Forgiveness,” a process that addresses anger on an energy or vibrational level.
Another study, published in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that forgiveness not only restores positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the offending party, the benefits of forgiveness spill over to positive behaviors toward others outside of the relationship. Forgiveness is associated with more volunteerism, donating to charity and other altruistic behaviors. (And the converse is true of non-forgiveness.)
Forgiveness therapy is also being used with cancer patients as a way of improving immune system functioning and healing (see sidebar).
Ok, so we get it: Forgiveness is a good thing for us and for everyone around us. But how does one grab a slice of this emotional pie in the sky? Well, the first step is…you gotta want it! Mary Hayes Grieco, in her book, Unconditional Forgiveness, suggests that there are many reasons why people decide to effectively accomplish forgiveness. These are:
You are tired of suffering about something and need to move on.
You want to reduce your stress and improve your health.
You are on a spiritual path and want to reach your potential and live with purpose.
You want to be a better Christian, Buddhist, Yogi, etc. and actively live the forgiveness teachings of your faith.
You are in a Twelve Step Recovery Program.
You want to improve your relationship with a member of your family.
You are a mental health professional and want a reliable tool to help your clients release the pain of the past.
You want to experience joy!
Surely each of us can find ourselves drawn toward one or more of these reasons. As a card carrying “person wanting to experience real forgiveness,” you may want to explore Grieco’s “simple and proven method to forgive everyone and everything,” which can be found in her book (available at www.maryhayesgrieco.com).
There are many books, workshops, forgiveness facilitators and other resources that can serve as a guide for those ready to hit the forgiveness trail. No need to stress over finding the right one for you, should you decide to accept this mission. Once you create a real intention to embrace forgiveness, forgiveness opportunities and direction will find you. Remember the old saying—when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
Be on the lookout…
There are lots of online resources to learn more about the power of forgiveness. Here are a few I used for this article. Google can help you find more.
World Research Links Disease to Unforgiveness
A number of studies show promise in the link between our emotional state of “dis-ease” associated with unforgiveness and our physical state of “dis-ease,” including heart disease and cancer.
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND – INSTITUTE OF HUMAN VIROLOGY
The program's preliminary work suggests that forgiveness lowered the stress hormone cortisol that in turn affects the immune system, but only when the patients forgave the ones they blamed.
ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY - NEW YORK
Forgiveness could boost the immune system by reducing the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
STANFORD UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN DISEASE PREVENTION
When you hold onto the bitterness for years, it stops you from living your life fully. As it turns out, it wears out your immune system and hurts your heart.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN - RESEARCH DEPT.
Those who received forgiveness training showed improvements in the blood flow to their hearts.
OHIO STATES UNIVERSITY
Researchers found that the highly stressed women had lower levels of natural killer cells than women who reported less stress. "Natural killer cells have an extremely important function with regard to cancer because they are capable of detecting and killing cancer cells. Psychological interventions, such as forgiveness, have important roles in reducing stress and improving quality of life, but also in extending survival." Barbara Andersen, Professor of Psychology, Ohio State University
YALE MEDICAL SCHOOL
“I have collected 57 extremely well documented so-called cancer miracles. At a certain particular moment in time they decided that the anger and the depression were probably not the best way to go, since they had such little time left. And so they went from that to being loving, caring, no longer angry, no longer depressed and able to talk to the people they loved. These 57 people had the same pattern. They gave up, totally, their anger and they gave up, totally, their depression, by specifically a decision to do so. And at that point the tumors started to shrink. Dr. Bernie Siegel, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Yale Medical School
INSTITUTE OF RADICAL FORGIVENESS
"When I suggest emotional healing to people with cancer, they always misunderstand me. They hear it as emotional support. They think I either just want to comfort them, or show them how to have a more positive attitude. They don’t get that something like forgiveness might be the key to their getting well. I see their eyes glaze over when I go on to say that emotional toxicity is most likely the cause of their cancer, and that forgiveness, if used with appropriate treatments and lifestyle changes that address the physical, is a 'first-line' primary treatment. Their inability to hear this as a strategy for survival, is a measure of how brainwashed we all are into thinking that treatment for cancer must always be harsh, drastic and violent. With our War-on-Cancer mind-set, it's hard to imagine that something so seemingly soft and gentle as forgiveness could be the answer to our problem. Colin Tipping, Director, Institute of Radical Forgiveness.