Forgiveness and Your Health

From Unconditional Forgiveness

Do you want to reduce your stress and improve your health, with forgiveness?

Healing stuck emotional issues, especially resentments, is a key to health and vitality. Holding on to negative emotions is destructive, no matter how “right” we think we are on a certain point. If we do not completely process and release a hurt or resentment, we carry it around in our physical selves. We carry it in our energy fields, or in our muscles, joints, organs, and immune systems. We know this to be true, intuitively: if we are full of old issues it feels almost the same as being forty pounds overweight. We are tired. We get sick. We lose our joy. We live only half the lives we could be living.

“Your issues are in your tissues.” Today this common sense truth is being tested and proven in scientific and medical research. In the last dozen years, thousands of new studies have emerged to explore the relationship between emotional toxicity and physical disease, as well as the relationship between the practice of forgiveness and the measurable reduction of physical stress. (See Appendix D, “Current Research on Forgiveness and Health.”

People identified to be in toxic stress conditions who were taught to forgive:

  • Lowered their blood pressure
  • Improved their immune system response
  • Reduced their anxiety and depression
  • Improved the quality of their sleep
  • Improved their self-esteem and sense of empowerment
  • Reduced their stress
  • Reduced their dysfunctional patterns of behavior
  • Improved the quality of their personal and professional relationships
  • Increased their energy levels
  • Improved their sense of social integration and belonging
  • Increased their peace of mind in daily life
  • Increased their experience of peace in the dying process

People are starting to understand that the ability to forgive is, in fact, an important health habit and probably the next important public health issue. In the same way that we now understand that we should quit smoking, eat fruits and vegetables, drink water, and exercise, we are beginning to understand that hate and anger states are toxic to us, and that we need to learn how to deal with them. My own experience in twenty-five years of practicing and teaching a potent method of forgiveness has shown me time and again that the happy byproduct of emotional healing is often the resolution of a physical health problem as well, a problem that was rooted in this chronic stress pattern in the body.

Appendix E

Current Research on Forgiveness and Health

Glenn Affleck, Howard Tennen, Sydney Croog, and Sol Levine, “Casual Attribution, Perceived Benefits, and Morbidity after a Heart Attack: An 8-Year Study,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, no. 1 (1987): 29–35.

Norah C. Feeny, Lori A. Zoellner, and Edna B. Foa, “Anger, Dissociation and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Female Assault Victims,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 13, no. 1 (2000): 89–100.

S. R. Freedman and R. D. Enright, “Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal with Incest Survivors,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, no. 5 (1996): 983–92.

Alex H. S. Harris and Carl E. Thoresen, “Forgiveness, Unforgiveness, Health, and Disease,” in Handbook of Forgiveness, ed. Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (New York: Routledge, 2005).

Kathleen A. Lawler, Jarred W. Younger, Rachel L. Piferi, Eric Billington, Rebecca Jobe, Kim. Edmundson, and Warren H. Jones, “A Change of Heart: Cardiovascular Correlates of Forgiveness in Response to Interpersonal Conflict,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26, no. 5 (2003): 373–93.

Kathleen A. Lawler, Jarred W. Younger, Rachel L. Piferi, Rebecca L. Jobe, Kimberly A. Edmondson, and Warren H. Jones, “The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 28, no. 2 (2005): 157–67.

James Murray, Anke Ehlers, and Richard A. Mayou, “Dissociation and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Two Prospective Studies of Road Traffic Accident Survivors,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180 (2002): 363–68.

Robert M. Sapolsky, “The Physiology and Pathophysiology of Unhappiness,” in Handbook of Forgiveness, ed. Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (New York: Routledge, 2005).

Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, 3rd ed. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004).

Howard Tennen and Glenn Affleck, “Blaming Others for Threatening Events,” Psychological Bulletin, 108, no. 2 (1990): 209–32.

Loren Toussaint and John L. Webb, “Theoretical and Empirical Connections between Forgiveness, Mental Health, and Well-Being,” in Handbook of Forgiveness, ed. Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (New York: Routledge, 2005).

Bessel A. Van der Kolk, “Adolescent Vulnerability to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 48, no. 4 (1985): 365–70.

Martina A. Waltman, “The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Forgiveness Education in Male Patients with Coronary Artery Disease,” Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 63, no. 8-B (2003): 3971.

C. V. O. Wilvliet, K. A. Phipps, M. E. Feldman, and J. C. Beckham, “Posttraumatic Mental and Physical Health Correlates of Forgiveness and Religious Coping in Military Veterans,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17, no. 3 (2004): 269–73.