As we traverse the often rough and rocky road of life we encounter many people who come and go over the years. Some of these people enrich our lives, bringing fun, friendship, solace and even love. Others seem absolutely intent on ruining our lives one snarky comment and passive-aggressive put down at a time. While appreciating the positive and learning to tolerate the negative is a natural part of life, the deepest cuts come when those we’ve come to love to betray us.
From the cheating spouse to the friend who only ever calls when they need a favor to the sibling who lied about us to our parents when we were kids there are many ways in which the ones we love can hurt and damage us. When this happens, we tend to respond in a range of ways, but they’re most often emotionally led. Sometimes we get angry, sometimes we break down and cry, other times we feel numb and bewildered. While there’s no right way or wrong way to deal with betrayal from loved ones there’s one unifying factor. We are faced with the choice of carrying our bitterness and resentment around with us or to let it go.
Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. But aside from the emotional feeling of closure that we’re afforded when we forgive someone, there are also numerous health benefits. Whether you’re moving beyond your feelings for the sake of a collaborative divorce or letting your kid off the hook for a hurtful comment, forgiveness is an integral part of the healing process. Here are some reasons why you owe it to yourself (if nobody else) to master the art of forgiveness…
Health Benefits of Forgiveness: Forgiveness Helps You Live Longer
Letting go of negative emotions and learning to forgive doesn’t just improve our quality of life, it helps you live longer. Whether it’s with a therapist or on your own, working through your issues to the point of forgiveness relieves stress and depression which can have detrimental effects on your health and shorten your lifespan, according to a 2011 study by the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
It Literally Heals Your Heart
A broken heart may be an apt metaphor for the dissolution of a marriage or a feud between blood relatives, but the truth is that forgiveness is actually good for heart health. When we’ve been hurt by someone we love our reptilian brain kicks in and we go into a neolithic “fight or flight mode”. This elevates our heart rate and blood pressure which can have damaging long-term effects. Forgiveness eases these tensions.
Health Benefits of Forgiveness: It Prevents Damaging Behaviors
When we don’t forgive someone, we tend to act out of anger and sadness which can lead us to make reckless decisions. Heavy drinking, illicit drug use, ill-advised sexual activity or even becoming a couch potato are potentially harmful behaviors that occur when we self-medicate and avoid facing our issues.
Forgiveness has been Linked to Immune System Benefits
Finally, there’s a compelling argument that forgiveness can boost immune function and help our bodies recover more quickly from illness or injury. A 2011 study by the Duke Medical Center showed that those who had practiced genuine forgiveness had higher CD4 cell percentages which signify improved immune function.
So go forth and forgive, it benefits your health!