For centuries nearly all religious traditions have taught the importance of forgiveness. Now social science research identifies the many emotional and health benefits to practicing forgiveness. Fred Luskin, Ph.D. has studied forgiveness as the cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. This ongoing research confirms that being a forgiving person is beneficial to both emotional and physical health. Acts of forgiveness can lower blood pressure and heart rate; and reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive generally have better relationships with others, feel happier and score higher on measures of psychological well-being. Those who forgive are more hopeful and have higher self-esteem than those who hold onto the anger and hurt when emotionally betrayed or injured.
Dr. Luskin describes the act of forgiveness as involving two steps: grieving and letting go. The grieving includes feeling the anger, hurt and trauma and then allowing the feelings to be in placed into the past. Not moving on – hanging on to resentment and rage – is harmful to the person stuck in the pain – not the person who committed the offense. Forgiving requires us to let go – of our anger, of our desire to punish or get even, of the need for an apology, and of the need for our harmer to change.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing or condoning abuse. And forgiveness doesn’t mean a sudden case of amnesia. It’s about feeling the full spectrum of emotions – grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. A core element of forgiveness is an acknowledgement that a person who harmed still has the capacity for good. It’s feeling the grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. It’s about responding out of gentleness rather than rage.
Dr. Luskin explains that when you think about a wrong someone did to you, your fight-or-flight system is aroused. “Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure goes up, you feel hurt and mad.” True forgiveness is the only remedy for these painful experiences. Luskin goes on: “This is very simple stuff. Simple but not easy.”
There can be many reasons why forgiveness is so hard. There may be a reluctance to let go of anger and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to forgive someone when there is still anger. The very human desire to get revenge is powerful and setting that aside can be a struggle. Forgiveness is also hard if there has not been an apology asking for forgiveness. Finally, when there is a wrong is can be hard to see or believe there is any good in the person who caused a deep hurt. However, if we are honest in our consideration and assessment, it is possible to see good in everyone.
Psychologist Robert Enright, states: “The decision to forgive touches you to your very core, to who you are as a human being. It involves your sense of self-esteem, our personal worth of the person who’s hurt you and your relationship with that person and the larger world.” Simply put: forgiveness is complex and it is the healthy choice!
Forgiveness is really the kindest thing you can do you for yourself when you have been hurt by another. The Aramaic word for “forgive” means literally to “untie.” The fastest way to be free of the pain and all the negativity is to forgive. Forgiveness permits the ability to move away from the pain. When deeply hurt, the act of forgiveness is hard, but living with resentment is even harder.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.”