Forgiveness and Your Health: A Story
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Can forgiveness impact your health? To answer that, let’s understand the effects unforgiveness can have on our health. In a quest to understand the forgiveness-health connection, scientists define forgiveness as both the mental and emotional experience of replacing negative feelings with positive feelings toward the offender. Unforgiveness is, well, the opposite: harboring anger, resentment and hate toward the offender according to a 2016 study on the National Library of Medicine website. Let’s take a look at Jane’s life to better understand:
Jane Doe’s story
Jane had a big secret that her best friend swore not to tell. You guessed it, the friend let it slip. Was Jane angry? Definitely. At first, she vowed never to talk to the friend again. She felt stressed, sad and anxious. She began to lose sleep at night and noticed she was getting sick more often.
Forgiving Jane brought this up with a therapist, who helped her ruminate less and cultivate some empathy for the friend. Their friendship changed, and although she did not pardon her friend’s actions, Forgiving Jane no longer felt angry. Her anxiety diminished, she slept better, and she remained healthy.
Unforgiving Jane, however, lay awake at night ruminating and let anger build. She began to make bitter remarks to shared friends that harmed their friendship. Her mental health worsened, and she slipped into depression. She found a helpful therapist, but never told them about the anger she felt toward her old friend. The stress from her resentment became normal. As she aged, doctors could not figure out why her blood pressure remained at an elevated state. The heart disease to which she was genetically predisposed kicked in early, and so on.
These hypothetical anecdotes reflect the growing body of research teaching us how stress detrimentally impacts our health. Unforgiving Jane lived with feelings like anger and resentment that are characteristic of unforgiveness and cause chronic stress. Chronic stress releases high levels of cortisol, which is linked to several health problems such as cardiovascular disease, depression, a weakened immune system, and cognitive functioning according to a study on Scientific Research.
But don’t worry, an antidote exists: forgiveness. Research shows a direct correlation between feelings of forgiveness and lower levels of stress. So, let’s go back to our original question: Can forgiveness impact your health? Yes.
According to a John Hopkins Medicine study from 2022, health benefits of forgiveness include:
- Increased mental health
- Stronger immune system
- Lower stress levels
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Improved sleep
- Lower risk of diabetes
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