“It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, forgiveness. Forgive everybody.”
-Maya Angelou
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We are going to spend a few minutes here talking about the incredible power of forgiveness without sounding like a Hallmark card or your sweet, great aunt Kathy. This is more than just, “let it go, darlin'.” We are going to talk about forgiveness as a method of self-care and a vital element to your well-being and health. 

It’s safe to say that things do not always go our way. People disagree with us, piss us off, do us wrong, hurt our feelings, or worse. Having these experiences and feeling all those emotions is a part of human life. It can be argued that the hardships we endure help us grow, evolve, and become stronger versions of ourselves. 

Growth is essential, but what happens to all the negative emotions that come along with these experiences? They don’t always just dissipate. We may move on from these hard times, but doing the work to process those emotions and truly heal is another thing altogether. 

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Negative emotions associated with holding a grudge will fester in your body and cause all kinds of issues you might not have considered. Ancient Chinese doctors treated emotions as catalysts for illness and disease within the human body. They taught methods for dealing with un-integrated and negative emotions, allowing them to be released for physical and mental healing. 

The chronic stress of holding a grudge can cause high blood pressure, suppressed immune function, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Emotions of anger and resentment can also affect your mental health, potentially leading to depression,  anxiety, and difficulty with relationships. 

As we do for other diseases, we seek treatment to heal, and an important part of that treatment is forgiveness

Forgiveness can have many positive physical effects on the body such as:

Reduced Stress: Forgiveness can help reduce stress levels in your body. Holding onto anger and resentment can increase cortisol levels, which can cause a range of negative health effects, including high blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, and weight gain. Forgiveness can help lower cortisol levels and reduce the physiological effects of stress.

Lowered Blood Pressure: Research suggests that forgiveness may help lower blood pressure. A study conducted in 2014 found that forgiveness interventions led to significant reductions in blood pressure among its participants.

Improved Heart Health: Forgiveness has been linked to improved heart health. Studies have shown that forgiveness can lead to improvements in heart rate variability, which is a measure of the flexibility and responsiveness of the cardiovascular system.
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Enhanced Immune Function: Holding onto negative emotions can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and disease. Forgiveness can help boost immune function by reducing stress and improving overall well-being.

Reduced Pain: Forgiveness can also help reduce physical pain throughout your body. Studies have shown that forgiveness interventions can help reduce pain and inflammation levels in people with chronic pain conditions.

We know that forgiving someone for harm is easier said than done, but when it becomes detrimental to your health, it is not about that person or the egregious act anymore. It is about you and your healing. Choose yourself and seek out a mental health professional who can help you work through your emotions and develop a forgiveness strategy that works for you.

March 22, 2023 — Wendy Parker