The Power of Forgiveness

English poet Alexander Pope famously wrote, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” And for many spiritual people, the notion of forgiveness is a central tenet of their faith, a selfless act bestowed upon someone who has wronged them just as they have been forgiven themselves. But learning how to truly forgive is not just altruistic: It can actually improve your overall health.

LEAN-fistWe all know being angry feels awful. And doctors are finding specific physical effects related to harboring anger:

  • tense, tightened muscles leading to headaches or an increase in chronic pain
  • restricted blood flow to joints, making it more difficult for the blood to supply oxygen and nutrients to the cells
  • even proper digestion is compromised

According to the Mayo Clinic, when you let go of a grudge or anger and forgive, you can experience health benefits like lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a lower risk of substance abuse and lower anxiety and stress levels as well as a heightened sense of well being. Participants in a recent study at Stanford University called the Forgiveness Project reported not just a positive emotional release following forgiveness, but that they felt better physically too. Lean-Forgiveness_pullout2

That all sounds great. But if forgiveness was easy, everyone would be doing it. So how do you forgive? It starts with the decision to do so. It is a commitment. It helps to think about how it will benefit you to move out of the role of victim and into a place where you are empowered to control your own emotions and reactions, instead of letting your thoughts about the person who hurt you control them. It also helps to change your perspective, taking the focus off of yourself and accepting that other people are not perfect (and that you aren’t either).

Once you have stopped dwelling on the negative and can move forward, you may want to tell the person you’ve forgiven that you have forgiven them. This does not guarantee reconciliation, nor does it mean you completely forget the hurt that was caused. It is just one step further in the process of letting go and living better.