We are given the opportunity to forgive people every day – in many little ways. For instance, we can easily forgive someone who forgot to call us back after a missed phone call or who had to cancel a lunch date. However, there are some circumstances in life when forgiveness seems impossible. How can you forgive someone who has caused profound damage to your heart, body, or mind? One of life’s most significant challenges is moving on from the sorrow that a deep wound can cause. But establishing a path towards forgiveness is also the key to protecting your physical and mental health.
We are often presented with situations that cause anger, pain, and sorrow, and the hurt feels significantly worse when the person inflicting the pain is close to us. Whether an innocent mistake or a deliberate betrayal, the breach of a close personal relationship can feel devastating and irreparable. Even if we forgive the actual act in question, trust is difficult to reestablish and rebuild and can cause stress, anxiety, and depression when unforgiveness is allowed to fester.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
Although forgiveness can be challenging and complex, there is no argument among experts that forgiveness is essential for personal well-being. Cultivating the ability to forgive has substantial benefits, including the following:
- Freedom from the burden: You may not even realize just how cumbersome the weight of unforgiveness is until you put it down. Carrying hurt and resentment erodes many aspects of our lives, making us cynical and bitter. The weight of this burden only grows heavier with time and will end up inflicting more self-harm than you realize.
- Physical health is improved: Strange as it may sound, studies have shown that forgiving other people is vital to maintaining optimal physical health- most notably heart health. The ability to forgive and let go of hurt reduces the risk of heart attack, lowers high blood pressure and cholesterol, and even gives us a higher tolerance for physical pain! Deciding to forgive and release anger also results in better sleep, which is essential to physical well-being.
- Mental health also benefits: Those same studies also indicate better mental health is a benefit of forgiveness. People experience less anxiety and depression when they forgive others, and stress levels tend to be lower across the board. The most interesting finding of the research study is that those who cannot forgive are significantly more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Relationships are more genuine: Forgiveness is essential when navigating a confusing and sometimes unforgiving world. The more adept we become at forgiving people in our lives, the more our relationships improve and become more genuine. After all, we all make mistakes, and we hope the people we are closest to will forgive us. Having grace for others’ mistakes will allow them to have grace for yours.
Refusing to forgive keeps us trapped in the past and prohibits us from enjoying our lives today. Many of us regret how we’ve interacted with others and wish we could have done things differently. By understanding that no one is perfect, we can finally forgive ourselves – which may be the most crucial benefit of embracing forgiveness.
Do You Want True Healing in Your Life?
The decision to forgive and move on from hurt and disappointment is the first step toward healing the heart and mind. Healing is impossible without forgiveness first, as resentment and bitterness cause too much emotional and physical damage – whether or not we are aware of the harm we are inflicting on ourselves.
Even if we recognize the benefits of forgiveness, taking the necessary steps to release hurt, trauma and pain can be exceedingly difficult. Seeking the help of a certified mental health counselor is a positive step towards true healing and a more fulfilled life. If you are ready to start your healing journey, click here to take a self-assessment quiz.
Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor and coach.