We all know that life requires a little give and take — but that’s easier said than done. Forgiveness, in particular, is something many people struggle with. And while most of us will claim that we’ve forgiven people in our lives, we hold onto a tinge of frustration or anger within us.
In fact, a study by the Fetzer Institute reports that 62% of people agree that they need more forgiveness in their personal lives and 83% believe we need to be a more forgiving community.
Despite the growing need — and want — for forgiveness, it can be hard to follow through. But what if you were told that forgiveness would not only ease your stress and keep your emotions at bay but also improve your health? Yup, it’s true — and these health experts have a lot to say about it.
Let’s get physical
Sweaty palms, hot flashes, red cheeks, racing thoughts — these are all normal characteristics during a heated, confrontational moment. And let’s face it, most moments in which we’re either seeking forgiveness or forgiving others aren’t all rainbows and butterflies. The act of forgiveness can cause increased levels of stress and anxiety. “When we forgive someone for a perceived transgression, we move beyond the feeling of being attacked,” says Mitchell Creasey, Executive Coach. “As we return to a feeling of safety, our adrenal glands, responsible for triggering our fight or flight response, stop secreting stress hormones that push blood into our arms and legs, and they return it to our viscera where healthy cellular function and growth can continue.” In short, forgiveness prevents stress from taking over our bodies.
The benefits of forgiveness aren’t always immediate, and like most things, it’s crucial that forgiveness is a consistent act in one’s life — and not just a hallmark moment. “Those who practice forgiveness regularly tend to report lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, less physical illness, less medication use for illness and somatic symptoms, less fatigue and better quality of sleep,” explains Jim Seibold, Ph.D.
Let’s get emotional
It goes without saying that forgiving is an act of emotion. Oh, and a sense of reason. “Forgiveness can lead to a greater sense of self-confidence, competence and a good sense of personal boundaries,” says Seibold. Beyond that, Seibold also says that those who forgive tend to feel decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, increased optimism and an enhanced sense of well-being. By forgiving others, you’re getting rid of the baggage — the heavy worries and concerns that are weighing you down. This, in turn, enables you to live a fuller, more positive life.
Genuine forgiveness enables personal growth. It’s not easy to forgive people, especially in difficult situations. So, if you push yourself to be authentic with your forgiveness, then you are simultaneously being a more compassionate and empathetic person. See? Forgiveness isn’t all about your wants and needs. “In turn, we are able to have better relationships with others because forgiveness allows us to work toward compassion for the other person, identifying that we are all human and make mistakes,” says Alisa Kamis-Brinda, LCSW, LCADC.
Let’s start forgiving
We’ve all heard it: Let’s forgive and forget. Many experts, including Seibold, don’t agree that this is physically possible. In fact, forgetting a situation actually does more harm than good. “People need to have some memory of past hurts and experiences in order to grow from them,” says Seibold. If you truly forgive someone — we’re not talking about a passive “it’s okay” remark — then there should be no need to forget a situation. Forgiveness indicates that you’ve crossed that bridge and moved on, either with or without that person. “With forgiveness, it is possible to remember an event without dwelling on it. We can have a memory of an event and still experience restoration of a relationship,” says Seibold.