“I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness…”
I have decided that Don Henley is right, it IS about forgiveness. Apparently there is quite a body of research that also agrees! The experts say that forgiveness is about a shift in the way we think about people who have wronged us. They describe the letting go of the desire to “get even.” Sometimes, oftentimes, forgiveness is also about a growing goodwill toward that person, and may include a desire to improve the relationship with that person. But WHY forgive? WHY spend your precious life moments and energy in forgiving someone who really might “deserve” your resentment and revenge? Here’s why:
Forgiveness not only has the power to mend relationships (though forgiveness isn’t the same thing as reconciliation), it has the power to make YOU better, in so many ways! Let us count the ways.
1. Forgiveness is associated with happiness. Active and positive feelings and behaviors in regards to forgiveness lead to long-lasting happiness (Maltby et al. 2005). Don’t wait for the forgiveness to happen; DO something about it! Be proactive, and be happy.
2. Forgiveness is associated with better physical health. Oh yes it is!! Cardiovascular health included, endocrine and immune system included, self-perceived good health included — forgiveness is a sweet, sweet pill (Lawler et al. 2004, Owen et al. 2011, Toussaint et al. 2001, Toussaint & Williams 2003, Wilson et al. 2008).
3. Forgiveness can help heal depression and anxiety. There is actually a “forgiveness therapy” technique used in psychotherapy. Seriously! (Freedman & Enright 1996, Hebl & Enright 1993, Reed & Enright 2006)
4. You will LIVE LONGER if you learn to forgive! It’s true. Research has established a connection between longevity and forgiveness (Toussaint & Cheadle 2012). Is it worth it to give away years of your life so that you can walk around feeling terrible?
Okay, so those are some pretty compelling reasons to forgive. Often, like with many things that are good for you, forgiveness is easier said than done. Here are some tips I have compiled to help with this.
- It starts with a thought. Once you decide to TRY to forgive, that is the beginning of the melting away of resentment. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. Forgiveness involves the ability to remember without resentment. That is an amazing feeling.
- Write. Make a list of the good things that came out of the experience for which you are working to forgive. How are you a better person because of the experience? What did you learn about yourself that is constructive and positive? In what ways are you wiser?
- Remind yourself: We are ALL so very flawed. We need to give each other breaks, constantly! Avoid demonizing a person because of one thing they did.
- Remember, this forgiveness is about you, it’s not about the other person. It’s about you feeling better, living longer, being happy, or being able to enjoy a relationship. Sometimes the person who caused you the need to forgive is no longer in your life, through death or breakup or for whatever reason. Sometimes that person needs to stay not a part of your life.
- If you are interested also in the benefit of a mended relationship as a result of the forgiveness, all of the above strategies can help with that as well. I read somewhere that imagining the offender as a child helps to find the compassion that you need in order to forgive. I’ve tried this. It works. Along those same lines, I have also reminded myself of the divinity in that person, as in, “She is God’s child. Treat her accordingly.”
- Practice gratitude. It helps with everything I can think of. It makes life better in every way. It aids the forgiveness process. More on gratitude soon.
In conclusion, do not carry around that heavy, ugly, sickly resentment. Kick it to the curb. Trade it in for the sweet pill, Forgiveness.
peace and love,
Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. (1996). Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 983-992.
Hebl, J. H., & Enright, R. (1993). Forgiveness as a psychotherapeutic goal with elderly females. Psychotherapy, 30, 658-667.
Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., et al. (2003). A change of heart: Cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26, 373-393.
Maltby, J., Day, L., & Barber, L. (2005). Forgiveness and happiness. The differing contexts of forgiveness using the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 1-13.
Owen, A. D., Hayward, R. D., & Toussaint, L. (2011). Forgiveness and immune functioning in people living with HIV-AIDS. Paper presented at the 32nd annual meeting of the Society for Behavioral Medicine. Washington, DC.
Reed, G. L., & Enright, R. D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929.
Toussaint, L., & Cheadle, A. C. D. (2009). Unforgiveness and the broken heart: Unforgiveness tendencies, problems due to unforgiveness, and 12-month prevalence of cardiovascular health conditions. In M. T. Evans & E.D. Walker (Eds.), Religion and Psychology. New York: Nova Publishers.
Toussaint, L, Owen, A.D., & Cheadle, A. (2012). Forgive to live: Forgiveness, health, and longevity. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35(4), 375-386.
Toussaint, L., Williams, D. R., Musick, M. A., & Everson, S. A. (2001). Forgiveness and health: Age differences in a U.S. probability sample. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 249-257.
Toussaint, L., & Williams, D. R. (2003). Physiological correlates of forgiveness: Findings from a Racially and socioeconomically diverse sample of community residents. Presented at A Campaign for Forgiveness Research Conference, Atlanta, GA.
Wilson, T., Milosevic, A., Carroll, M., Hart, K., & Hibbard, S. (2008). Physical health status in relation to self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness in healthy college students. Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 798-803.