woman with head down, hands clasped, praying

Why Forgiveness Can be Good for Us

y I’ve been thinking about a song written by Art Garfunkel entitled All I Know with the following lyrics: I bruise you / You bruise me / We both bruise too easily / Too easily to let it show / I love you and that’s all I know.

I began thinking about how much pain there is in the world today and how many people have been wounded by the words and actions of others. What can any of us do to respond to all this pain? One answer is to practice forgiveness.

Defining Forgiveness 

Schiraldi and Kerr in The Anger Management Sourcebook state that, “Forgiving means that we choose to release resentment, hatred, bitterness, desires for revenge for wrongs done to us; it is a way to come to peace with the past. In forgiving, we decide to break our troubling connection to the offender. We realize that no offense is worth the price of destroying our peace. Forgiving is taking the arrows out of our gut, rather than twisting them around inside us. We move away from it beyond the offender and the offense and take full responsibility for our present happiness. We choose to forgive so that we will suffer less and be free to live. Forgiving is a personal choice that does not depend on the offender’s deserving it, asking for it, or expressing remorse–although that certainly can make forgiving easier. Forgiving is about the offended person’s inner strength, rather than the offenders. We voluntarily forgive because we realize that getting even does not heal.” 

Different Types of Forgiveness 

It can be helpful to appreciate that there are different kinds of forgiving. Dr. Everett L. Worthington, author of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, suggests that, “Instead of treating forgiveness as an all-or-none action, think of it as different processes. Dr. Worthington’s research has led him to conclude that “There are two broad types of forgiveness: decisional and emotional. Decisional forgiveness is accomplished rationally or by will, and is aimed at controlling future behavior, not motives or emotions. It may make a person feel calmer and may eventually lead to emotional forgiveness. It often gives new meaning to a situation, changes in behavior and may improve interactions by de-escalating or promoting reconciliation. Basically decisional forgiveness is the intellectual choice to forgive. 

Emotional forgiveness, on the other hand, reduces unforgiving emotions and is aimed at changing the emotional climate. Emotional forgiveness inevitably triggers changes in motives, thoughts and other associations. It may give new meaning to the situation making the person feel less negative emotionally and sometimes more positive, it may improve interactions and promote reconciliation, and may reduce the injustice gap. “

Some of the Benefits of Forgiving 

Dr. Fred Luskin in Forgive for Good states that one of the most important benefits of forgiveness is when we discover that we no longer need to be victims of the past. “When we forgive, we become calm enough to say confidently that we were wrong. With the calmness forgiveness brings, we can chart the best course for our lives. Forgiveness is the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of the story…. no one’s past is to be a prison sentence. We cannot change the past; we must find a way to resolve painful memories. Forgiveness provides the key to acknowledge the past and move on. When we can forgive we have less to be afraid of.” 

 Dr. Luskin says that a benefit from forgiveness occurs through the process of being able to be more loving and caring towards important people in our lives. “If we rent too much space to what went wrong, where is the space to appreciate the good in our lives? If we focus our attention on past defeats, how can we give our full loving attention to our significant others, friends, or coworkers? If we remain bitter over passed parenting cruelties, who suffers–our parents or our current friends and loved ones?” 

What are the benefits of forgiving someone? 

Forgiveness offers numerous benefits, including:  

  • Lowering blood pressure  
  • Stress reduction  
  • Less hostility  
  • Better anger management skills  
  • Lower heart rate  
  • Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse  
  • Fewer depression symptoms  
  • Fewer anxiety symptoms  
  • Reduction in chronic pain  
  • More friendships  
  • Healthier relationships  
  • Greater religious or spiritual well-being  
  • Improved psychological well-being  

In the article on the web “Forgiveness is Good For Your Health” we learn the following: “In the 1970s, burn surgeon Dr. Dabney Ewin discovered a trick. He began noticing that burn patients coming into his emergency room brought another kind of heat: the fire of their anger toward themselves or whoever caused the accident. Ewin soon found that when he encouraged his patients to let go of their anger and devote their energies toward healing, patients got better faster.

While Ewin’s experiments in the healing powers of forgiveness were anecdotal, numerous studies have found a relationship between the act of forgiveness and improved mental and physical health. Forgiveness for past trauma lowers stress levels, increases emotional wellbeing, and even decreases patients’ heart stress and blood pressure. In fact, one study found that failure to embrace unconditional forgiveness is correlated with mortality. Translation: forgiveness can be life-saving.”

It can be helpful to appreciate that you can forgive in your mind and heart without having to forgive the person, in person. Certainly there are times when sharing that forgiveness with them is important. However when you forgive in your own mind and in your own heart, you can be freed from some of the anger, resentment and other strong emotions that often are relational roadblocks.

In a world of so much anger, hatred, and vengeful feelings, we have the power to choose to forgive.  Maybe that could bring a lot less bruising.  Instead of “I bruise you, you bruise me” we could sing, “I forgive you, you forgive me.”

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Have you ever struggled with deep-seated resentment, anger or even vengeful feelings because of real or perceived injustices? Is it possible that those feelings have actually been poisonous to you?
  2. Can you see the potential benefits of forgiving the person you are so angry at? What would it involve for you to forgive that person? How might that help you?