Scientific research has indicated that forgiving past wrongs can be helpful for a variety of health problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and chronic pain. When we focus on forgiving, our blood pressure drops and our heart rate slows down. Our mood improves. Forgiveness can alter the state of our health.

The following perspectives are based in part on the work of Enright and Luskin

  • Forgiveness is a transformation. The key is to release suffering and increase inner peace and understanding.
  • Forgiveness is NOT forgetting. In fact, you have to remember and acknowledge negative emotions and events before forgiveness can occur.
  • Forgiveness is NOT pardoning, excusing, or saying that something will be treated as acceptable behavior in the future.
  • Forgiveness is, first and foremost, done for the person doing the forgiving.
  • Forgiveness is a path to freedom. It frees you from the control of the person who caused the harm. They lose their power to cause you to feel negative emotions.
  • Forgiveness can break old patterns that might otherwise interfere when you try to create new relationships.
  • Forgiveness can take a lot of time and hard work.
  • Forgiveness need not require ‘making up’ with the person who caused the harm. It is an internal process. It is primarily for you. The goal is to help you heal, to help you grow.


The concept of forgiveness should come naturally to us. Why? Because we are unique and fallible human beings. Because we make mistakes. We see the world differently. Our preferences, foibles, personalities, and needs differ. Our religions, cultures, and world views differ.

These differences, combined with the daily frustrations, hurts, and injustices we witness and experience throughout our lives, can cause us pain and even inflict deep wounds in our hearts and psyches. For those wounds, forgiveness can be a powerful, self-administered salve. In fact, research has revealed that forgiveness can contribute to our health, happiness, and peace of mind.

For some of us, forgiveness isn’t something we think much about. For others, it is a central life practice. For many, it is misunderstood. When you think of forgiveness, what is the first thing that arises? A thought? A feeling? A memory? What does forgiveness mean to you? Whatever you think of when you think of forgiveness, it is a starting point for coming to a common understanding of this timeless and powerful practice.

That is where we will begin. If forgiveness is a hard concept for you to grasp, you aren’t alone. It’s not an easy practice or process, especially if you’re just starting out. The first time forgiveness crosses your mind or lips is just one moment in the process to untangle yourself from the pain and repercussions of experiencing a hurt, transgression, or injustice.

You may be afraid that forgiving an offense will diminish the affront itself. It won’t. Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is not accepting or justifying the offense. It is not pardoning, excusing, condoning, or even reconciling. And you don’t necessarily have to understand the offender or the offense to forgive.

Forgiveness is a conscious, willful choice to turn away from the pain, hurt, resentment, and wish for revenge that arises from a betrayal, offense, injustice, or deep hurt. Forgiveness involves a willingness to see the transgression and transgressor in a larger context and to replace negative feelings with compassion and tolerance.

Robert Enright, PhD, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, points out that by forgiving “we are acknowledging that the offense was unfair and will always continue to be unfair.

Second, we have a moral right to anger; it is fair to cling to our view that people do not have a right to hurt us. We have a right to respect. Third, forgiveness requires giving up something to which we have a right namely our anger or resentment.

Forgiveness is an opportunity for transformation, both individually and collectively. It not only helps relieve mental and emotional anguish, but it offers the possibility for change, redemption, restoration of hope, and even love to blossom from pain and suffering. It can stop a cycle of hurt and create opportunities where there seemed to be none.

Most of all, it has the potential to heal and open our hearts to love again and more fully, strengthening and building our capacity for compassion and understanding. For each person, there is a unique history and set of reasons why we choose to forgive or not to forgive.

If you’ve experienced someone forgiving you, you likely have an idea why this practice is important. If you’ve forgiven someone who hurt you and you have felt the tension within you begin to ease, you may understand the significance of forgiveness. But there is more As long as we remain imperfect beings, there will be a need to forgive ourselves and others.

According to Heidi, Gavin often invoked the saying, “Holding a grudge is like taking poison and waiting for someone to die.”  The practice of forgiveness holds hope for transforming not only our individual health and well-being, but also the health of our relationships, schools, workplaces, communities, and beyond.

While researchers continue to explore why and how forgiveness works in our lives, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, having witnessed the power of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process, believes simply “there is no future without forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is more difficult for some of us than others. Psychologists who have studied people’s tendency to forgive note that there are personality traits such as being empathic and emotionally engaged with others that predispose some people to forgiveness.

Our genetic makeup, our upbringing, and our personality, all contribute to our proclivity to forgive. Regardless of our starting point, however, we each can learn the steps to forgiveness or how to forgive, and reap the benefits of better physical and emotional health and well-being.

When it comes to reacting to devastating events in our lives, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves. Dark feelings may arise in response to hurt or betrayal, which is perfectly normal. Holding on to or feeding these feelings is what causes us to remain stuck in a pattern of pain and anger.

Forgiveness is one of the first steps to our healing as we try to move on with our lives after a painful or traumatic event. It’s also important to understand that recovering from the pain you experienced takes time. Neither emotional recovery nor forgiveness can be rushed.

Sometimes we feel the need to take the high road and put on a strong front, only to find later that the hurt is still there; we just built a moat around it. Instead, the fortification we constructed keeps the hurt inside and, ironically, prevents us from being able to receive support.

Karabelo Moncho

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