Forgiveness is a Choice.
It's Impact on Health is  Profound!

Forgiveness!  Why would there be a page on how to respond to a wrong in a website about making "healthy-choices-for-life"?  The answer is simply that forgiving someone is a choice and it is one that has a tremendous impact on health.

Movies, television, popular fiction, and news stories seem to constantly entertain us with revenge plots, especially violent revenge. 

We are brainwashed to believe that getting even with someone who we think has wronged us is a proper response.  Lawyers would certainly agree since their idea of getting even is to sue someone.  Is it any surprise that the United States is viewed as the land of the lawsuit?

The alternative, according to most religions, is absolution, or meeting a wrong with love.  Just what is this idea of wiping the slate clean and Why is it so hard?

One good place to start would be a vintage 2008 film and website concerning The Power of Forgiveness. It delves into many aspects of forgiveness and even has a self-administered quiz to assess how forgiving a person you are. Spending some time surfing this site is time well spent.

In that same spirit, from the remarkable book, Think No Evil, by Jonas Beiler, we find two very good insights into choosing love, acceptance, and absolution in place of getting even, bringing suit or holding a grudge.

The first is that "forgiveness is a decision to release yourself from anger, resentment, hate, or the urge for revenge despite the injury you suffered."  The second is that, "forgiving is letting go of hope for a different past".

The first deals with the situation where someone has wronged us and how we choose to deal with it.  The second is where something we have done has caused serious harm, maybe even death, to someone.

Wishing for a different past is playing the "what if" game. 

Think about driving and your cell phone rings.  You answer it and while engrossed in the conversation, a kid runs into the street chasing a ball.  You don't react fast enough and you hit her.  Maybe the accident was unavoidable and the outcome would have been the same even if you weren't talking on the phone.

The first person you have to forgive is yourself, but then starts the grief driven "what ifs" and "if onlys".  What if I left an hour earlier or later, if only I hadn't answered the phone, if only the kid had looked before running into the street, What if I had been driving a little slower, and on and on.

As a lead in to the next paragraphs, let us not forget, ..." and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us".  Sound familiar.  I hope it does otherwise look up Matthew 6:9-13.

Ultimate Acceptance

To a large extent, our reaction to being wronged is dependent on how we were nurtured and loved (or not). 

The Beiler book shown at the left deals with the shooting of ten young girls in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting...and Beyond

A deranged man who had lost his own daughter at birth decided to seek revenge for his loss by killing the young girls who happened to be in the school house that fateful morning in October 2006.  After tying up ten girls and shooting them, the distraught man committed suicide. 

The Amish do not believe in revenge, they replace wrongs with love and acceptance; even for the most heinous of crimes like the murder of their daughters.  It is much, much more than a religious belief, which it is, but also it is their way of healing and quenching evil impulses.

Absolution is taught to their children, it is ingrained in their history and culture.  It is who they are.  The manifestation of their belief was to forgive the shooter, embrace his family, show that they had no animosity for the family, no blame, no lawsuits and no hatred; just pure love.  Read the book!

The Healthy Side of Absolution

Extending a hand to your offender offers a big payoff.  The headline says "Forgiveness is a Choice.  It's Impact on Health is Profound".  Just how does hatred, anger, depression and violence versus love and acceptance affect our health? 

There are dozens of articles and websites dealing with the benefits of forgiving; all you have to do to find them is Google "forgiveness and health".  Since health is the focus here, there seems to a consensus among most of the experts that the physiology of forgiving includes:

  • keeping blood pressure in a normal range
  • improving the performance of the immune system
  • reduction in depression
  • more productive sleep
  • greater self-esteem
  • feelings of being in control
  • more rewarding relationships
  • stress reduction by avoiding negative emotions
  • promoting constructive behavior
  • How Hate and Anger Harms Us

    Recall Jonas Bieler's quote that forgiving is ridding ourselves of anger, hate and resentment.

    All these negative emotions have one thing in common; they trigger a stress reaction.

    As was covered in our page on stress and health, all of the negative baggage mentioned above cause the release of strong corticosteroid hormones, cortisol in particular, into the blood stream.  Cortisol is the stress hormone and results in higher blood pressure, reduced immune response, increased blood sugar and heightened alertness. 

    This is a natural reaction to stress or a threat; it is called the "fight or flight" response.  It is not supposed to be chronic, that is, ongoing.  Once the threat is gone and the stress is relieved, cortisol is cleared from the system and it is reset for the next threat. 

    Carrying around a load of hate, having a desire for revenge, and feeling hurt and depressed as an ongoing condition keeps all those stress hormones active in our body and over time, results in scarred arteries and arterial plaque buildup.  The result is ultimately high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.

    We have all heard the phrase "forgive and forget" but the sad truth is that the "forgetting" part is almost impossible.  In the Jonas Bieler book above, it was beautifully stated that "we forgive because we cannot forget".

    The Clinical Proof

    The good news is that there is a health benefit to choosing to pardon someone for a wrong but the better news is that it is not just someone's opinion or feel-good conclusion. 

    The health benefits of forgiving and extending love instead of animosity has been proven in several landmark clinical trials of which four are mentioned below:

  • a study of 13,000 people that showed anger-prone individuals are three times more likey to have heart attacks and bypass surgery than less anger-prone people
  • from New Zealand, a reported study of 200 cases showing that 60% of chronic pain patients showed a strong inability to forgive
  • a seven year study of 2,100 men that showed those who could overcome anger suffered half as many strokes as those harboring chronic anger.
  • a 25-year study by a psychologist at the University of Tennessee that showed that nonforgivers were more likely to suffer higher rates of illness and symptoms, take more medications, and make more doctors visits than those who learn and practice forgiving.
  • A search of medical literature will disclose many more such examples of the health benefits of extending love and understanding in place of anger and getting even.

    It is well known that violence begets violence, hatred begets more hatred, depression is contagious and all of it tends to result in a miserable, hopeless existence.  Couple that with the fact that absolution and love have measurable health benefits, why not choose wisely and extend love instead of anger; everyone benefits, especially you.

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