Mind & Body

Forgiveness Can Virtually Eliminate the Negative Health Effects of Stress

"Forgive and forget" is an oft-spoken piece of advice. Who's got the time and energy to hold a grudge, anyway? It's a simple phrase, but don't let its succinctness fool you. Forgiving goes way deeper than just shaking off an ex-boyfriend who did you wrong. Having a forgiving personality can bring you real, physical health benefits. Don't forget it.

Don't Forget to Forgive

Though it's not always easy, forgiveness is always possible. Don't believe us? Well then, here's a quote from Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who publicly forgave Nazis: "My forgiveness ... has nothing to do with the perpetrator, has nothing to do with any religion, it is my act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment," Kor told NPR. "I had no power over my life up to the time that I discovered that I could forgive, and I still do not understand why people think it's wrong." There you have it. It doesn't get much more forgiving than that, folks.

The "self-healing" that forgiveness afforded Kor is quite literal. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, being forgiving to yourself and others can protect against stress and the toll it takes on your health. Forgiveness is like a shield, both mentally and physically. The researchers in the study found that if people were very forgiving of themselves and others, that alone completely eliminated the connection between stress and mental illness.

"It's almost entirely erased — it's statistically zero," study author Loren Toussaint, an associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Iowa, told TIME. "If you don't have forgiving tendencies, you feel the raw effects of stress in an unmitigated way. You don't have a buffer against that stress."

Is It Too Late Now To Say Sorry?

As we mentioned before, forgiveness sure ain't easy. Toussaint, for one, totally believes that forgiveness can be learned. According to his previous research, saying a little prayer or brief meditation on forgiveness can help you get to that stress-free state of forgiveness. And, as with most everything, it may take some practice.

Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, offers some more tips on how to slowly but surely develop a more forgiving outlook:

Reflect on the hurtful events, and really think about how the anger and hurt it caused you has affected you since. A real eye-opener.

Empathize with the one who hurt you. Try to see where your horrible ex-boyfriend was coming from when he wronged you. We're not saying he was right, of course, but give the situation some context.

Forgive completely. This may be hard, but forgiving someone even if they never apologized is critical here. Remember Eva, the Holocaust survivor? Let your forgiveness come from a place that understands no one is perfect, not a place that just wants to end the beef for the sake of it.

Ditch expectations. Your ex-boyfriend may not ever apologize, so don't expect it. You don't need to wait for him — or anyone — in order to clear your own head of anger and hurt.

Forgive yourself. If someone wrongs you, know that it is not a reflection of your self-worth, Swartz concludes. Just do you, because you rock. That includes forgiving yourself.

Nelson Mandela and the Science of Forgiveness

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Written By Joanie Faletto November 13, 2017