Forgiveness and Your Mental Health

The idea of forgiveness has long been understood to be good for the soul.

However, there is a growing body of evidence that states that forgiveness predicts mental and physical well-being.  In fact, forgiveness correlates with better mental and physical health.

Did you know that there are three types of forgiveness?

They include forgiveness of others, self, and situations (including God). The studies indicate that each type produces unique health outcomes.

For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on forgiving others.

At first blush, forgiving another person sounds simple, but is it?  

Dr. Robert Enright, a foremost researcher of the impact of forgiveness therapy, defines forgiving others as:

“A freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion and kindness toward that person.”

This process is complex and sometimes arduous, but the benefits are substantial. Here are what some of the experts are saying about the outcomes of deep forgiveness:

  • Enright’s findings show that an inability to forgive correlates with increased levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  Techniques to guide a person into deep forgiveness have been shown to reduce anxiety, anger, hostility, and to lift overall mood.
  • In 2004, E.L Worthington and M. Scherer were involved in a study that found forgiveness to be an emotional coping strategy that could reduce health risks and promote health resilience. Forgiveness therapy is a growing offering in hospitals.
  • K.S. Seybold was a part of a study in 2001 that found that the blood chemistry levels of the chronically-unforgiving mirror those of people under stress. Unforgiveness influences the nervous system and long-term health measurements like elevated blood pressure, organ damage and cardiovascular disease. Also noted in the study, unforgiveness is linked with fluctuations in endocrine and immune systems, which can lead to poor physical and mental outcomes over time.

The bottom line is that when people forgive, their thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and health become more positive. Deciding to forgive is a good first step. But, deeper forgiveness will have a greater positive impact on your mental and physical health. Often, the support of a professional therapist is necessary to support and guide you through this process.

Written by: Sheri Schulze, LPC