Whether you have suffered from a minor slight by a friend or a major trauma by a stranger, learning to forgive those who hurt you can significantly improve your mental and physical health. This same concept also applies to you. Not self-forgiving can have terrible side effects, and ultimately lead to more harm and suffering. Forgiveness is not just about saying the words, but an active process to move forward consciously. Below are some ways self-forgiveness can affect us. But first, a reminder.
The Definition of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an active process used to describe the self-release of personal guilt and shame. Forgiveness means that you accept actions and behaviors that occurred and make an active decision to move forward. Depending on the severity of the harm, forgiveness can be an extremely difficult process. This is most commonly true with ourselves, as it is harder to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others.
Forgiveness is a psychological, social, and biological topic, as it's a true connection to the body and mind. Because of this connection, not self-forgiving can cause serious harm to our minds and our bodies. This means it is very important to forgive yourself in times of grievance so that you can allow your mind and body to heal.
How Forgiveness Effects Us
There are physical and psychological benefits to forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is important to your mental health, personal growth, and self-improvement. Lack of self-forgiveness can have extreme implications such as anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. These conditions can, directly and indirectly, cause harm to your physical well-being.
How Forgiveness Effects Our Physical Health
When you are unforgiving, it means you are holding onto some form of grudge or anger. When anger is carried deeply, and for long periods, it can do a number on us systemically. Being angry means higher blood pressure, tense muscles, more anxiety (fight or flight instincts), less energy, and a weak immune system. Studies have also found that anger and hostility are linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Genuine forgiveness can make a world of differences when it comes to health. Self-forgiveness can bring emotional and physical benefits ranging from lower blood pressure, strengthened immune system, improvement of cholesterol levels and sleep, reduction in physical pain, and a decreased risk of having a heart attack.
Making Self-Forgiveness Part of Your Life
In addition to the health side effects above, people who are less forgiving experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This comes from within, and carrying the weight of their guilt and shame when it is not necessary. Forgiveness is a choice, and you are choosing compassion and empathy for yourself. Recognize that someone else’s wrongdoing, or a poor decision you made, is not a reflection of your worth. Choose to forgive yourself.
Source: John Hopkins (2023) Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It
Source: F. Diane Barth (2019) Forgiving and Not Forgiving Can Both Affect Your Health
Source: Kirsten Weir (2017) Forgiveness Can Improve Mental and Physical Health