Why Forgiveness Is Important in Your Life
Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash
Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 6/8/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
Have you ever held a grudge? Felt the burden of resentment that slowly eats away at your happiness? Are you struggling to forgive someone because what they did was simply not justifiable?
Yes, forgiveness is a struggle for many of us. Forgiveness is also a virtue that’s prescribed by many religious and spiritual entities.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
— Mark Twain
Meaning of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is defined as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
Forgiveness, however, does not mean forgetting, condoning, or excusing the violation. When we forgive someone, we feel the benefits more than the external person because the weight of the grudge is mostly held by the beholder than the recipient.
Forgiveness for Yourself
When we talk about forgiveness, most of the time, we are referring to forgiveness to others. But it is even more important to forgive yourself for your mistakes, so you can let the shame and guilt go.
When forgiveness of self is not practiced, you may turn to self-harm without even knowing you’re doing so. You may lack self-love and struggle with self-esteem because there’s a deep dislike for the self, a result of not fully accepting yourself, including your “mistakes.”
Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation vs. Repentance
There is an inherent overlap in forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is when both parties come together to acknowledge the mistake and take ownership of the role they played.
On the other hand, forgiveness doesn’t need both parties. You can forgive another on your own. It entails understanding the situation and letting go of hard feelings.
Repentance has a close affinity with Christianity and applies when you make a mistake or harm another. To repent is to truly regret what was done. Some believe there is no space for true forgiveness unless there is repentance from the other party.
What Forgiveness Looks Like
Forgiveness can look like the following scenarios:
- You decide to forgive your spouse for asking for a divorce and move on with your life.
- You forgive a co-worker who backstabbed you and empathize with their insecurities.
- You work with a therapist on your healing and forgive your parents for the trauma they unknowingly caused.
Why Forgiveness Is Important
1. Overall Health
Chronic anger towards yourself or an external condition or person can consistently keep you in the fight-or-flight mode, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, while adversely affecting your immune system.
There are many health benefits to forgiveness. Studies show that forgiveness can lower the risk of heart attack and diabetes, improve cholesterol levels, decrease pain, and lower blood pressure.
2. Surgery Outcomes
Dr. Dabney Ewin, a burn surgeon, has observed how anger — a frequent feeling coupled with resentment — prolongs the healing of ER patients with burns. He concluded that anger could impede healing by preventing patients from relaxing and focusing on getting better. This can apply to surgical wounds during the postoperative period too.
3. Mental Health
Researchers have observed a clear connection between forgiveness and mental health. Forgiveness therapy can lower stress levels and depressive thought patterns. People who hold on to grudges are also more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the American Psychological Association, lower mortality rates have been observed in people who forgive others easily. This is also evident in the physical and mental health benefits of forgiveness discussed above.
5. Life Satisfaction
Forgiveness is linked to healthier relationships with others as well as with yourself. Healthy connections and strong bonds are indicators of life satisfaction.
Studies also found that positive forgiveness is critical for life satisfaction among older adults, while reduction of unforgiveness is important for the contentment of people aged 31–40.
It is fair to say that your health depends on forgiveness, even when forgiveness seems impossible due to various circumstances. Forgiveness is a part of conscientiousness, the characteristic of wanting to perform your duties well and thoroughly.
It is also important to remember what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not moving your boundaries irrationally, staying in unhealthy relationships, or tolerating less than what you deserve.