The Importance of Forgiveness to Your
According to a 2016 recent study in the Journal of Health Psychology, forgiveness has a profound effect on our mental health. The act of forgiving others, and of forgiving yourself, can help guard against stress and preserve overall mental health.
Researchers considered the cumulative effects of a lifetime of stress on a person’s overall mental health, and considered how people who tend to be forgiving fared when compared to those who were less so. To do this, the research team surveyed nearly 150 young adults and had them complete questionnaires that were intended to assess their lifetime stress levels, tendency to forgive, and overall mental and physical wellbeing.
Unsurprisingly, the people who had greater exposure to stress over the span of their lifetimes had more mental and physical health troubles. However, the researchers also found that those people who tended to be more forgiving of both themselves and of others essentially severed the link between stress and mental illness.
What is Forgiveness, and How Can It Save Your Mental Health?
Many may think of forgiveness simply as letting go, or moving on from a situation. However, there is more to it than simply letting bygones be bygones. According to Bob Enright, Ph.D., a psychologist who was one of the pioneers in the study of forgiveness, truly forgiving goes a little deeper than the old “forgive and forget” adage. Instead, elements of compassion, understanding, and empathy toward the person responsible for your pain are present when you truly forgive. This goes beyond simply moving on or pushing past feelings, and makes forgiveness a powerful tool for mental health and overall wellness.
Another common definition of forgiveness means that you simply let the transgressor “off the hook” for their action, or even dole out some justice in the name of moving on. This, however, is not the same as justice. Forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation, either. Think about this: a victim of past abuse can achieve a great deal of positivity by forgiving their abuser; however, this absolutely doesn’t mean that the victim should reconcile with the abuser, particularly if the abuser may be dangerous. The victim may still arrive at a place of understanding and empathy when it comes to the abuser, and that feeling of forgiving can positively impact the victim. Forgiveness is something that happens inside the forgiver, and it is there that its affects are truly felt – you don’t always need to communicate that forgiveness to get the benefits.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself
Forgiveness can sever the ties between stress and mental health, and there are other ways in which it can have a positive impact on mental health. Many who have trouble with forgiving others can carry around toxic anger. This is different from healthy anger, which everyone experiences and can be quite therapeutic, but a deep, lasting, almost festering sensation of anger that can have a dire impact on our overall health. Forgiveness also releases this seething anger, allowing muscles to relax, leading to lowered anxiety, increased energy, and a healthier immune system – and you’ll probably feel a lot happier, too.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. – Mahatma Gandhi