It’s fairly common knowledge that forgiveness is good for you. It can help you get unstuck and move on with your life. Forgiveness is great for being a happier person – in fact, it is essential.
But as it turns out, forgiveness is also great for reducing stress and anxiety levels, as well as for boosting mental health.
Stress, mental health, and forgiveness
As a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 2016 found, having a forgiving personality protects our mental and physical health. Forgiveness acts like a shield that can defend us from stress. The authors of the study observed that being forgiving of yourself and others completely erase the link between mental illness and stress. This was further confirmed in another study which found that when forgiveness levels in participants went up, their stress levels went down, which in turn improved their mental health.
Really good benefits won’t you say?
Forgiveness acts like a shield that can defend us from stress
Loren Toussaint, the author of the 2016 study from Luther College, Iowa, had this to say about forgiveness and its impact on stress “If you don’t have forgiving tendencies, you feel the raw effects of stress in an unmitigated way. You don’t have a buffer against that stress.”
Being forgiving all the time isn’t going to be very easy, but it can be learned. According to Toussaint, with practice, saying a little prayer or brief meditation can put you in a stress-free state of forgiveness.
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How to be more forgiving – Five tips
Being forgiving isn’t always easy, but it is a skill that can be developed. Here are five tips to start developing your ability to be more forgiving:
- Empathize with the other person: Put yourself in the shoes of the person who hurt you. As Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychologist said, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” Empathy can help you process what happened better, which in turn can help you to be more forgiving. Empathy is not just about understanding what happened, it is also about practicing kindness – which is also great for processing hurtful memories. This is not going to be easy (especially in the beginning) but with practice, you will be better able to see things from the other person’s perspective, which can be very helpful in terms of forgiving what happened (and move on).
- Reflect on what happened, and how it is affecting you: Think about the events and memories that are really hurtful – reflect on how you felt, and how anger affected you since. This exercise can help you become more aware of the instances and how they affected (or still affect) you. Usually holding onto anger and hurt only causes more hurt, and becoming aware of this can be really helpful for developing your ability to forgive, and move on. Mindfulness can be very useful for this.
- Let go of your expectations: Often the people who wrong us don’t offer any apology, and that can make the event only more painful. But here is the thing – for far too many reasons, an apology might never come. Maybe the other person doesn’t realise what s/he has done, or they don’t want to apologise, or maybe it is some other reason or no reason whatsoever. Holding on to the hurt just because the other person does not offer an apology does not help you, it only holds you back. A better option is to not have any such expectations. If you have been wronged, you don’t need to wait for the other person’s apology to feel better again. You can forgive without needing an apology, as forgiveness is more for you than for the other person. So let go of such expectations, and forgive – that is the best way you can get on with your life.
- Forgive deeply: Forgiving someone who has wronged you isn’t usually easy – in fact, it can be extremely hard sometimes. But even if it is hard, forgive the person/s that hurt you (even if s/he never apologised, as mentioned above). Let that forgiveness come from understanding that no one is perfect. If you are angry about the thing that you are trying to (or need to) forgive, learning how to how to manage your anger can be very helpful. The longer you hold on to a painful memory, the longer it hurts you. So the sooner you can forgive, the sooner you can start on creating a better life for yourself, and becoming happier.
- Forgive yourself: Forgiveness is not just for other people – often the hurt and grief we keep inside and carry with us has to do more with not being able to forgive ourselves than it has to do with forgiving other people. So you should work on not just forgiving others, but also on forgiving yourself. If someone wrongs you, for example, realise that it has nothing to do with you, and most certainly is not a reflection of your self-worth. Do not blame yourself for things. Do not blame yourself for something that might not have gone well. What’s happened has happened, and what will be will be. Do the best you can, because that really is all you can do. When things don’t work out, learn from them, but do not use them to judge your self-worth.
If you struggle with stress or anxiety, try to be more forgiving. It will have a big impact on reducing your stress levels. But not just that, forgiveness will also have a massive impact on your happiness levels.
Remember that study mentioned earlier? When forgiveness levels are up, stress levels are down. So do it to improve your mental health, to manage your stress and anxiety levels, and also to become a happier person.
Learn how to forgive.
What are your thoughts about forgiveness? Do you have anything to share?
Post your suggestions, thoughts, and tips in the comments below.
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