Forgiveness is linked to better mental and physical health

Research has shown a powerful connection between forgiving others and our own wellbeing.

A growing body of research on forgiveness is finding that people who forgive are more likely than the general population to have fewer episodes of depression, lower blood pressure, fewer stress-related health issues, better immune system function and lower rates of heart disease.

Fred Luskin, Ph.D., is a practicing psychologist, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, and a senior consultant in health promotion at Stanford University. He is also the author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, in which he offers a nine step forgiveness method that helps people move from being a victim, to a life of health and wellbeing. They are:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell someone you trust about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or excusing their action. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that comes from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or 10 years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset, practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have in expectations about how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your 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 love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress, and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self-confidence. Michigan State University Extension says that practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as improved physical health and a positive attitude.

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