Forgiveness therapy

Doctors are recognizing that patients who refuse to forgive often stay sick. Researchers have been like blood hounds since stress became a major factor in the progression of bodily illness. A growing corps of researchers thinks they have discovered the Holy Grail. Forgiveness – a virtue embraced by almost every religious tradition as a balm for the soul — may be medicine for the body, they suggest. In less than a decade, those preaching and studying forgiveness have amassed an impressive slate of findings on its possible health benefits.

They have shown that “forgiveness interventions” — often just a couple of short sessions in which the wounded are guided toward positive feelings for an offender — can improve cardiovascular function, diminish chronic pain, relieve depression and boost quality of life among the very ill.

An AIDS patient who has forgiven the person presumed to have transmitted the virus is more likely to care for him or herself and less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Those more inclined to pardon the transgressions of others have been found to have lower blood pressure, fewer depressive symptoms and, once they hit late middle age, better overall mental and physical health than those who do not forgive easily.

A national (American) survey out of Luther University, Iowa, published in the Journal of Adult Development in 2001, found that forgiveness was rare enough: Only 52% of Americans said they had forgiven others for hurtful acts. But willingness of young respondents to forgive showed no link to health; that propensity began to make a difference as respondents approached middle age. The survey found that those 45 and older who forgave others were more likely to report having better overall mental and physical health than those who did not.  As an energy therapist/hypnotherapist, the statistics are not lost on me. The average age that individuals come looking for solutions is mid-forties.  

Even in sexual abuse cases studies show the same level of benefits. Jennie Noll, an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, spent 10 years studying 55 girls who had been sexually abused. She compared them with girls who had not been abused. The girls who were not abused were asked how they felt about someone who had hurt them in the past. Noll asked both groups about four aspects of forgiveness: a desire for revenge, letting go of anger, a wish to move on with their lives, and a desire for reconciliation with their offender. This study did show that reconciliation with the offender shouldn’t be encouraged but all the other benefits were there.

Noll found that abused girls who had let go of both anger and the desire for revenge had higher self-esteem, less anxiety, fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and better relationships with their mothers. f the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. This isn’t always the case, however.

Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. In other cases, reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, forgiveness is possible — even if reconciliation isn’t.

Collectively, researchers say, these findings suggest that failure to forgive may, over a lifetime, boost a person’s risk for heart disease, mental illness and other ills — and, conversely, that forgiving others may improve health. Like proper nutrition and exercise, forgiveness appears to be a behaviour that a patient can learn, exercise and repeat as needed to prevent disease and preserve health.

“Harbouring these negative emotions, this anger and hatred, creates a state of chronic anxiety,” Dr Michael Barry said.

“Chronic anxiety very predictably produces excess adrenaline and cortisol, which deplete the production of natural killer cells, which is your body’s foot soldier in the fight against cancer.”

Forgiveness therapy is now being looked at as a way to help treat cancer among other chronic disorders.

According to the Mayo Clinic there are very real benefits of forgiving someone or a group of individuals who have wronged you. Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind.

Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

Some people are naturally more forgiving than others. But even if you’re a grudge holder, almost anyone can learn to be more forgiving.

What are the effects of holding a grudge?

If you’re unforgiving, you might:

•             Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience

•             Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present

•             Become depressed or anxious

•             Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs

•             Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others

 Forgiveness can lead to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem

Forgiveness Therapy Program here