Whether it’s a petty argument with your partner or a heated debate with your bestie, chances are you leave the scene of an emotional crime with negative feelings and heightened emotions. And although forgiving people and moving forward is not always easy, it could be the key to health, longevity and happiness.
Feelings of anger, disappointment and hurt are mentally painful, but they also can harm you physically. Negative emotions are interpreted by your body as acute stress and can activate your sympathetic nervous system, sending your body into fight-or-flight mode and resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Fight or flight is useful if you’re outrunning a mugger, but if you stew there for long periods, it can negatively impact your health. According to a study from Emory University, angry, bitter people have higher blood pressure and a greater risk of death from heart disease due to arterial inflammation. Other research links anger and frustration to an increase in cortisol, which can cause rapid weight gain, moodiness, diabetes, metabolic decline and muscle weakness.
Fortunately, the simple act of forgiveness has a rich payoff when it comes to your health. For example, a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that forgiveness was associated with reduced stress and anxiety and better mental health, and the Journal of Behavioral Medicine reported that it can significantly decrease blood pressure. Forgiveness has also been shown to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, improve cholesterol levels, promote better sleep, reduce pain, and boost self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Is it time for you to forgive someone or something? Use these simple steps to release your negative emotions and improve your health and well-being.
ID the hurt. Reflect on the hurtful event in its entirety and in detail and accept that it has happened. It is also important to identify the kind of pain you feel and accept that not every action that causes you suffering is unjust.
Feel the feels. How do you feel when you recall this specific event, and how have your feelings developed over time? It is necessary to acknowledge the reality of how you were affected, so dig deep and be honest with yourself. Go ahead and feel those feelings once more, then prepare to let them go.
Commit to it. Remind yourself that the act of forgiving is for your benefit, not someone else’s, which might make the process easier. The sooner you let go of your anger, the sooner you’ll rally and get healthy.
Exercise empathy. Forgiveness is not just about moving on — it’s also about offering someone else — namely the person who wronged you — something back, such as compassion or empathy. Try to put yourself in his or her shoes and change your perspective to get a clearer view of the situation. We all carry burdens, and recognizing that can help open the door for forgiveness.
Embrace the unconditional. Often, you won’t gain closure from the other person, so your forgiveness can’t be conditional on his or her acknowledgment and/or apology. Still, make a conscious decision to move away from your feelings of bitterness, anger and hate — no strings attached.
Lasting love. Give yourself some kudos for doing the work and relinquishing your hoard of hate. Take it a step further and remember the love you have for others — even the subject of your former ire, by looking past his or her transgressions and seeing the good that person brings to your life instead.
Yes, words do carry weight and can be harmful, but forgiveness supersedes the verbal. It takes willingness, discipline and strength to be forgiving, but it’s worth the effort to be the bigger, healthier person.
This Is Your Brain on Forgiveness
Forgiveness causes actual chemical reactions to occur in your brain. According to research published in Medical Hypotheses, recalling painful memories stimulates the part of the brain called the amygdala, which promotes feelings of fear and triggers the fight-or-flight response. Forgiveness of those painful acts causes your frontal cortex to interrupt that pattern and quell the fear response, resulting in muscle relaxation and calmness.