Why Forgive?

While people forgive for a host of reasons, forgiveness is the right thing to do physically, spiritually and socially.

Physically, forgiveness creates a higher quality of life, a healthier body, and a more positive attitude. Dr. Enright has scientifically proven these and other therapeutic benefits of forgiveness through his experimental studies (with Randomized Experimental and Control Groups). In every one of Dr. Enright’s studies, those in the experimental group showed better emotional health (reduced anger, anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD symptoms with increased hopefulness about the future, self-esteem, and/or willingness to forgive) than those in the control group. For more information, check out the long list of journal articles related to Dr. Enright’s research projects.
According to the respected health website WebMD.com, if you can bring yourself to forgive, you are likely to enjoy lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and a drop in the stress hormones circulating in your blood. Back pain, stomach problems, and headaches may disappear. And you’ll reduce the anger, bitterness, resentment, depression, and other negative emotions that accompany the failure to forgive.

While refusing to forgive may not directly cause disease, according to WebMD, the negative impact of holding on to painful memories and past wounds can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness including cancer.

In fact, forgiveness therapy is now an integral part of treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

“It’s important to treat emotional wounds or disorders because they really can hinder someone’s reactions to the treatments — even someone’s willingness to pursue treatment,” said Dr. Steven Standiford, chief of surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Watch a short video about the amazing power forgiveness has had on one woman’s life and her battle with cancer. “If I hadn’t learned to forgive,” Jayne Valseca says, “I may not even be alive today.” Watch the video here.

According to Duke University, Univ. of Tennessee, and Stanford University, “Holding onto hurts, grudges, annoyances, pet peeves or old wounds hurts the body, especially when the memories are triggered by current life events.” They confirmed a physiological link between negative emotional states like revengeful thinking and actions and how it produces stress on the body. They found that stress from revenge or hateful thoughts also lowers the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness and asserts that, “People who are able to forgive can actually modify their heart rate, lower their blood pressure, decrease physical pain and even relieve their depression.” Read the story in Psychology Today. Harvard Women’s Health Watch also reported findings on how forgiveness instead of hate or holding on to grudges can benefit your mental and physical health. Read What Does Forgiveness Have to Do With Depression?

Spiritually, forgiveness affirms what our faith usually requires of us and, therefore, helps us live a life of integrity.
Forgiveness has a common theme across Hebrew, Confucian, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu writings. Many people forgive because their God asks them to do so. They forgive as an act of love toward God. They forgive because they know that it is a morally good thing to do.

Socially, forgiveness reduces anger and resentment and often leads to an improvement in personal relationships with family, friends and community. Forgiveness has a way of cutting through our anger, disappointment and resentment to give everyone involved a fresh start. As you forgive, you are set free from the prison of resentment. Forgiving liberates us. Only forgiveness liberates us from a painful past to a brand-new future. At the same time, those around us benefit because we are less likely to carry our anger into other situations. We are less likely to displace our anger onto those who don’t deserve such treatment.

“Forgiveness has no downside,” according to Dr. Peter Breggin. A renewal of our capacity to forgive can only improve our inner life and empower us in every activity we undertake. Think about Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. It is no coincidence that each of these spiritual and political leaders advocated forgiveness. Each found in forgiveness an empowering attitude toward their personal lives as well as toward their political work in the world.”

Peter R. Breggin, M.D. is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and the author of more than 20 books and dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles, many in the field of psychopharmacology. Read his insightful blog “How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life” in the Jan. 2, 2013 Huffington Post.