Why forgiving is healthy

Suppressed feelings, such as anger, hate or grudges, can make you unwell in the long term, as they affect both your physical and mental health. The most effective remedy against this is forgiveness. It does our body good, and gives us inner peace.

30.03.2022 Laetitia Hardegger 3 minutes

Saying a careless remark to a friend, an argument in a relationship: an unresolved conflict can go deeper than we often realise. We constantly think about the person and the thing they’ve done that we can’t forgive. Our body is in a permanent state of alert. This can have a negative effect on our health, which is why it’s worth doing something about it.

Studies show that the act of forgiving can have a positive effect on our body:

  • The risk of a heart attack is reduced.
  • Cholesterol levels drop.
  • Sleep is improved.
  • Stress, anxiety and depression decrease.
  • Tension is relieved.

Forgiveness is self-healing

Forgiveness isn’t easy for everyone: some find it hard to forgive a forgotten birthday, whereas others can forgive someone for a serious crime. Helsana health expert, Julia Pieh, explains: 

Forgiveness isn’t about the other person, it’s about yourself. When you find your inner peace again, you are free.

Pieh compares it to a big spring clean: “Once you’ve tidied the house and cleaned all the rooms, it’s time for something new. There’s space for something beautiful again. And it’s not something we do for our neighbours, but for ourselves.”

You can learn to forgive

Forgiveness doesn’t happen at the push of a button, but Pieh stresses that forgiveness is a process that can be learned. We just need a bit of patience and practice: “We often think that we have forgiven someone, and then the issue comes back to haunt us weeks later. Then you need look at it again – ideally from another perspective.” 

The US psychologist Robert Enright developed a model for the path to forgiveness. He recommends following these four steps:

1. Conscious reflection

In order to forgive, it helps to consciously reflect on events and to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. What led to me feeling offended? Why did they act in this way? What’s their story?

We all get caught up in past experiences and beliefs that repeatedly challenge us. For example, if a dad didn’t go to his daughter’s school play back in the day, she might be prone to feeling hurt if her partner doesn’t come to an important event in the present.

2. Decide to forgive

Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. The other person doesn’t have to earn our forgiveness – we do it for ourselves. This perspective helps us to decide to forgive. It’s astonishing how freeing this step can be for our bodies; the knot in your stomach disappears and your heart feels lighter.

3. Understanding

Accepting that what has happened cannot be changed, and avoiding reactions such as withdrawal, attack and wanting revenge is an important learning process. The art of forgiveness is developing an understanding, without excusing the act. 

4. Acceptance

The knowledge of how good it feels to let go of painful feelings and negative thoughts is healing for the soul and body. You find space for positive feelings such as empathy, compassion, gentleness and generosity again.

When it’s hard to forgive

There are certain things that are extremely difficult to forgive. In such cases, the inner process can last a lifetime – sometimes even this isn’t enough time. But in many cases, forgiveness is possible. A study from Yale University shows that people are made to forgive one another. The attitude that something is “unforgivable” often stems from the assumption that by forgiving, we accept the hurt or humiliation. This is not true: forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean that you agree with the behaviour of the other person.

Train your inner strength with the Helsana Coach app

How do you stay happy and healthy in testing times? Do you want to become more resilient? In eight steps, the “Resilience and strength in times of crisis and stress” programme will help you to do so.

Forgiveness won’t make a wrong a right. It can still be considered as unreasonable, unfair or malicious. By forgiving, however, we decide to stop letting our lives be negatively affected by this act. “Forgiveness is often not an easy path to go down, but it’s worth making the journey,” says Pieh. “No one can tell you when the time is. It’s something you feel yourself. Only those who let go of the old can make way for the new.”

Forgiveness is worth it

Do yourself some good, and forgive as often as possible. The act of forgiving reduces negative stress. And beautiful relationships, in turn, have a positive effect on our mental and physical health.

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