“Forgiveness frees the soul, takes away fear. That's why it's a powerful weapon, ”Nelson Mandela said. He wasn't wrong. The benefits of forgiveness are enormous. Science has shown that forgiveness is good for health, even if it is not always easy to let go of resentment, especially when the wound is recent or is particularly deep and touches our most sensitive parts.
The cost of holding a grudge
Prolonged resentment, repressed anger and unresolved conflicts can end up affecting our health, not only emotionally but physically as well. Being hurt, disappointed and with a desire for revenge implies a huge psychological burden that affects us not only emotionally, but also physically.
Chronic anger, for example, activates fight or flight mode, which generates changes in the hormone level and nervous system that end up altering our heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. These changes, maintained over time, something common when we feel resentment towards someone, increase the risk of developing various diseases. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a liberating agent.
A study conducted at the University of Alabama looked at the health benefits of forgiveness. Eighty-one adults reported a time when they felt particularly hurt or betrayed - some forgiving and others not. Then they were evaluated from the physical symptoms to the drugs used and the emotions aroused by the memory. It was found that people who had forgiven showed reduced responsiveness and tended to enjoy better health.
These researchers believe that the benefits of forgiveness are due, in large part, to the fact that it mitigates negative emotions and stress, in a way that acts as a protective factor for health. In fact, people who hold a grudge are also more likely to experience severe depression and post-traumatic stress. Conversely, those who forgive more easily tend to feel more satisfied with their life and experience less depression, anxiety, stress, anger and hostility. Forgiveness has also been found to relieve the anguish of keeping an open wound.
A study developed at Luther College in the United States found that forgiveness can act as a protective factor against the damage caused by stress. These psychologists have found that people who forgive more easily could cope better with highly stressful life events and these generate less distress, so the impact on health is less.
In another study, these same psychologists followed a group of people for five weeks to analyze changes in their forgiveness levels in daily life. They found that as they forgave everyday offenses more, their stress levels decreased. In turn, stress reduction caused fewer psychological problems and reduced physical discomfort.
What does forgiveness really entail?
The act of forgiving someone does not involve forgetting what they have done or giving up justice, but only allowing the desire for revenge to dissipate, coupled with the willingness to give up resentment towards the person who has hurt us.
Therefore, forgiveness arises from an offense perceived as intentional by the victim, who initially reacts with an attitude of revenge. But it is followed by a process of reflection, which can also take the form of cognitive rumination, through which the first emotional reaction vanishes to give way to an intentional act of giving up revenge.
Forgiveness is an active process where we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings, regardless of whether the person who hurt us deserves it or not. Forgiveness is not an outward-facing act, rather it is a self-liberating decision. Interestingly, when we release anger, resentment, and hostility, we can begin to feel empathy and even compassion for the person who hurt us.
Therefore, opening ourselves to forgiveness is not only a wise choice, it can also help us protect and preserve our well-being. Our body benefits when we experience the positive emotions and feelings of relief and lightness that characterize forgiveness.
To take advantage of the benefits of forgiveness and that this is not experienced as an obligation, each person must respect their own rhythm of emotional healing. Enright's model of forgiveness therapy, for example, is based on a 20-step system that allows us to progress through four of them: discover the negative feelings we have about the offense, decide to forgive, work to understand who we are. has offended and discover empathy and compassion for that person.
This model not only helps us to forgive but also allows us to see the person against whom we hold a grudge or desire for revenge as another wounded human being, rather than stereotyping them and defining them solely for their offensive actions. This will help us to let go of the grudge to free ourselves from the offense.