Forgiveness is generally regarded as a virtue, and most people consider it a command. But we rarely consider forgiveness as an act of personal health. In this article, I introduce a new series on forgiveness, and show how science has found forgiveness to be important to our health and well-being.
Wounds are Deep Hurts that Need to be Healed
The fact is that we do wrong to others. All human beings occasionally – or often – act out of selfishness or fear, and inevitably hurt someone else. We have therefore also all been wronged by someone – either occasionally, or often. The hurt that results always varies and is unique; it is difficult to define, and requires healing. Sometimes these hurts result in wounds – hurts that are deep and that continue to affect our lives. Wounds are hurts that become a part of our lives – and unfortunately they also become a part of who we are. Wounds require an intentional effort in order to heal, and counseling is one way for them to be healed.
Forgiveness is Not Unique to Christianity
The concept of forgiveness is not unique to Christianity. In fact, it is ubiquitous to the human condition. As relational beings, people have always come to realize at some point in their lives that wrong-doing cannot be stopped – and that we cannot stop in ourselves. The only alternative to forgiveness is war or denial. When wise people have realized that they must forgive, and when they have forgiven, they have discovered that it is a path to healing.
Scientific Research into Forgiveness
Positive Psychology has been quick to adopt forgiveness as one of its main tenets, and as one of the ways it measures wellness. This is because forgiveness is so powerfully associated with wellness and human thriving. People who practice forgiveness have been found to enjoy considerable health and wellness benefits. The field of Positive Psychology has consistently found that a moment of forgiveness can be a potent agent of healing for patients. Yet scientific research cannot define what it means for a person to hold resentment (unforgiveness) in their heart. Conversely, research cannot fully explain why releasing someone in forgiveness also releases the forgiver – it is an intangible matter of the soul. Nevertheless, science has spent a great deal of time and effort studying the idea of forgiveness and its effects. And the results are nothing short of exciting.
Scientific studies have linked to forgiveness to overall life satisfaction, hope, and self-esteem. Those who forgive have been found to suffer less depression and anxiety, less mental illness, and they experience fewer negative effects (such as the outward showing of emotion). However, the aspect of forgiveness that has really caused a stir in the field of psychology is its positive impact on interpersonal relationships. This is something that is greatly emphasized as psychology professionals continually seek to improve human well-being. Forgiveness has also been associated with marital longevity, together with a positive effect on relationship satisfaction and relationship commitment. Most importantly, studies have been able to establish that forgiveness is a critical factor in repairing relationships following a transgression. This may sound like something obvious, or possibly something that you have been taught, especially in a Christian context. But it is worth noting that scientific research is empirically confirming such an important concept. Forgiveness really does heal and give life to relationships.
What Does it Mean to Forgive?
But what exactly does it mean to forgive? And what do you do if the person who has transgressed against you does not apologize, or even denies that they did anything wrong? What is transgression? How do you know if you have fully forgiven someone? Does forgiveness imply that you condone the transgressor’s actions – is it just a limp capitulation? And how should you act toward someone you have forgiven?
In this short series on forgiveness, I will dedicate several articles to explaining what forgiveness is, what it is not, and what the Bible says to about forgiveness. I will also provide ideas and exercises that can help you to practice forgiveness in order to tap into this powerful phenomenon in your own life.
Christian Counseling to Tap into the Power of Forgiveness
If you would like to engage in counseling from a strengths-based perspective, please contact me to inquire about setting up an initial session to explore how Christian counseling might fit into your journey and assist you in the matter of forgiveness. As a Christian counselor, it is my pleasure to join with clients and help them to see the ways they have already overcome in life, and how God has uniquely shaped them both to do great things and to experience joy and goodness in their lives and relationships.
“Hug,” courtesy of Petras Gagilas, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Couple,” courtesy of T.J. Lentz, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)