The Key to Health: Forgiveness

“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed.”

 Karen Swartz, MD

We know that unforgiveness is caused by chronic anger (even low-grade anger), and creates numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions. Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to good health, such as reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as fewer physical health issues and lower mortality rates. (1)

Then why do so many find it hard to forgive?

One reason is the belief that we are letting someone off the hook who harmed us. They should be held accountable for their actions, right?

Not according to Everett Worthington, Jr., PhD (2). He has done great research in the area of forgiveness and says that forgiveness is not the same as justice, and does not require reconciliation.

“Whether I forgive or don’t forgive isn’t going to affect whether justice is done. Forgiveness happens inside my skin.”

Everett Worthington, Jr.

Another misconception is that forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Worthington says that anyone who has forgiven knows that is not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Most scholars view this as an intentional and voluntary process, driven by a deliberate decision to forgive.

There are many studies that have used The Stanford Forgiveness Project Methodology to train people to forgive. (3) The results have been extremely effective for multiple populations. I will share a few of my favorite tools from this list of “9 Steps to Forgiveness”.

1.     Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person who hurt you. Nor condoning their action. Your goal is to find peace.

2.     Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt, thoughts, and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years– ago.

3.     Remember that a life well-lived is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the kindness and good around you.


Visual Aid: If you are struggling with unforgiveness towards someone, picture yourself literally holding them on your back. Go ahead. Picture yourself bent forward, walking around during your day with an adult strapped to your back. Can you see yourself squeezing into your office or cube and trying to sit down with that person on your back? Or attempting to fit the two of you in the driver’s seat of your car? Trust me, they get heavy. Make the decision to forgive, and do it. You may very well need to do it again. And again. But that is ok. Each time you forgive that person, they slide right off your back.

And off you go to be THANKFUL.

(2)   Everett L. Worthington, Jr., PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University
(3)    Stanford Forgiveness Projects:

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