Is forgiveness good for your health?
Doctors prove forgiving your ex is good for your heart – in more ways than one.
In a nutshell, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.
The Mayo Clinic writes that “forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”
As the saying goes, holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And while forgiveness may be the last thing on your mind in the early stages of divorce, its rewards are undeniable.
Dr. Mark S. Rye, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at Skidmore College, advises that although forgiveness might help others, the benefits begin with you. “When deciding whether or not you wish to forgive, it is worth considering the growing body of scientific literature showing how hostility and forgiveness relate to your physical health, mental health, parenting style and children's adjustment to divorce," he says.
Is forgiveness good for your health?
Divorce coach Deborah Moskovitch writes that while hostility relates to chronic health problems like coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, forgiveness is associated with physiological distress. The same can be said for the effects of depression.
A recent study out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand suggests that expressing emotions about a traumatic experience by journaling can expedite both mental and physical healing.
The Mayo Clinic goes on to say that forgiveness can lead to:
- Healthier relationships
- Greater spiritual and psychological well being
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
The head of the East Carolina University psychology department, Kathleen Lawler-Row, has completed extensive studies on the effects of both hostility and forgiveness on the body’s systems. In a 2005 study, she found that sleep quality—which has a proven effect on a number of bodily systems—was also linked to forgiveness versus revenge.
She found that both those with generally forgiving personalities and those who had truly forgiven had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates than their more high-strung counterparts. Those with opposing attitudes exhibited what Lawler describes as "acute, stress-induced, cardiovascular reactivity," including spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. They also had a more difficult time recovering, physically, from the stress of retelling the story of the wrong done to them. Lawler points out that similar cardiovascular activity has been linked to both hypertension and coronary heart disease.
A group of New York University researchers studying cardiac patients found that higher levels of forgiveness were associated with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and perceived stress, as well as lower levels of cholesterol.
Letting go of the grudge.
When you’ve made the decision to begin forgiving your ex, author Karen Salmonsohn suggests, “Develop a ‘student not victim’ mentality. Vow not only to disentangle yourself from emotionally harmful situations, but also to consciously avoid similar situations in the future.”
The Mayo Clinic echoes this sentiment, saying that stepping out of the role of victim and releasing the control your ex and the situation have had in your life. This requires reflecting on the past situation, how you’ve acted and actively choosing to forgive your betrayer.
Remember that forgiveness does not mean condoning what your ex did or denying his or her responsibility – it means you have taken back the power and have chosen peace.