In many religions and traditions, forgiveness is considered one of humanitys greatest virtues. But if morality is not a strong force in your life, there are many reasons to practice forgiveness beyond it simply being the right thing to do. Releasing past hurts and grudges can profoundly boost your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
It is important to understand what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not ignoring or stuffing down bad feelings, nor does it mean that you condone a harmful action. You would not keep yourself in an unsafe situation to practice forgiveness, nor would you pretend that everything is fine. Forgiveness has little to do with the other person, and does not mean that you must reconcile with someone who hurt you.
Rather, forgiveness is choosing to let go of your anger, resentment, or desire for revenge. It is choosing acceptance, understanding, and compassion, for everyone involved in the situation. It means setting yourself free from all people and past events so you can live fully in the present moment.
Several studies on forgiveness found that holding a grudge stresses your body as much as a dangerous event. It activates the nervous systems flight-or-fight response, stimulates the release of stress hormones like cortisol, raises blood pressure, increases muscular tension, Holding resentment also inhibits productive processes like creativity, fertility, immunity, and relaxation.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, relaxes the nervous system, reduces production of stress hormones, and increases our ability to cope with everyday stressors when they arise.
Supports Heart Health
On an energetic level, forgiveness frees our hearts. This allows us to experience love and compassion more easily. At the same time, opening our hearts and feeling compassion inspires forgiveness.
But forgiveness offers practical benefits for our physical hearts, as well. Forgiveness lowers blood pressure. It also inspires a slower heart rate and steadier pulse. It can lower cholesterol levels and improve HDL to LDL cholesterol ratios. For those who have already suffered a cardiac incident, forgiveness can improve recovery and reduce the likelihood of a repeat occurrence.
Studies comparing mortality rates indicate that people who practice forgiveness tend to live longer than those who hold grudges. The reduction in stress levels and improved heart health play a big part in that increased longevity. But forgiveness also directly supports the immune system. People who practice forgiveness generally report experiencing fewer illnesses than those who do not.
A study of people with HIV discovered that those who practiced forgiveness experienced increased production of antibodies and higher percentages of the captain immune system cells that tell other cells to kill invaders.
Lessen Chronic Pain
People with chronic pain who work with forgiveness practices report experiencing less pain. In one study, a meditation focusing on turning anger into compassion was more effective than conventional treatments for reducing chronic back pain.
Improve Mental Health
Countless studies have shown that people who practice forgiveness tend to experience less anxiety. It is also an effective tool for healing from depression. Forgiveness activates many of the same brain chemicals as anti-depressants, and can improve mood and perspective without the potentially harmful side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
People who hold grudges are more prone to insomnia. People who practice forgiveness tend to sleep longer and feel more rested when they wake. They are also more likely to make healthy eating choices, and have a generally more positive outlook on life and healthier sense of self.
Forgiveness increases our sense of empowerment. People who remain stuck in un-forgiveness are basically giving away their power and making it so that the person who hurt them is now responsible for how they feel for the rest of their lives. People who forgive recognize that they are responsible for their own happiness and emotional experience. They know that they cannot change what happened or influence other peoples behavior, but they can choose how they perceive and respond to life experiences.
Forgiveness is a deeply personal practice that requires willingness and patience. It begins with honestly acknowledging the pain, anger, and any other emotions you might be experiencing because of someones words or actions. Then the choice must be made to be compassionate towards the other person. As previously stated, this does not make what the person did okay or make it disappear, but it frees you from resentment. At some point, in your own timing, it is helpful to say I forgive you, but not necessarily to the other person.
Forgiveness creates more space in your mind and heart. It can transform anger into compassion and pain into power. With time and patience, you might even discover that the experience that hurt you helps you develop more empathy for all people.