Research is Confirming the Value of Forgiveness

by Sandy McGregor

I get a shiver of excitement each time I see something that scientifically validates ideas that I have believed and been putting forward for quite a while now.

Everyone knows by now that I am a “prove-it-to-me” type of person – thus my excitement at more proof! Remember, 25 years ago when my son Andrew used techniques to save his leg from amputation, using these same techniques today has been scientifically validated and is now called psycho-neuro-immunology.

I have believed for some time that forgiveness is a prime component of happiness and can in fact lead to happiness. Now there is some compelling research, a book Dare to Forgive by Dr Edward M. Hallowell, a Harvard psychiatrist and two articles on the subject that I have seen recently, which show that the lack of forgiveness can have serious health consequences.

In other words, to put it positively – Forgiveness leads to a plethora of both mental and physiological advantages. Surely happiness is the result!

Dare to Forgive
In his book Dr Hallowell, who has thoroughly researched the subject, states that learning to forgive is a process …… not a moment. Furthermore learning to forgive is as important as learning to say please and thank you.

Imagine that! ……. you do forgiveness every day just as you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!
Dr Hallowell says research has shown that anger, worry, stress and tension lead to high blood pressure, a lowered immune system, colds, headaches, effects your sex life and all of this puts pressure on your heart.

Forgiveness has a direct bearing on all of these negatives – improving all of them. He likens learning to forgive as a way of healing these negative emotions, and being of the same importance as for example somebody exercising and modifying their diet to control blood pressure.

Anger affects lung function
Dr Rosalind Wright, an assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, did a study, the results of which were published on 31st of August 2006 (online edition of Thorax).

In an article about Dr Wright’s work which Amanda Gardner wrote for Health Day Reporter, she said
Hostility and anger have been strongly linked with many other health problems in older adults, including heart disease and asthma. These emotions also appear to have an impact on chronic airway obstruction, suggesting that they could also effect the lungs.

To see if there was a link between anger and hostility and a way the lungs work, Wright and her colleagues examined 670 men aged 45 to 86.
Levels of hostility, measured at the beginning of the study in 1986, averaged 18.5 points on a standard scale, with values ranging from 7 to 37 points. Lung function appeared to decline as anger numbers rose, and vice-versa.

Over the next eight years, the researchers re-calculated the men’s lung function three different times. Men who scored poorly in lung function at the beginning of the study were worse at each subsequent measurement, they said.
The above appears to be proof that carrying hostility and anger affects our own lungs.

So why do it? There is a ready-made remedy, which is forgiveness and self forgiveness. I have said so many times that forgiveness is personal, no one else needs to know, and thus forgiveness is for the forgiver and not the forgiven.

Let it go.
Let it go it was an article by Kelly Baker published in the Sunday Telegraph on 15th of July 2007. It’s worth a read and you can Google it.

Besides quoting Hallowell and a Sydney psychotherapist, Susannah Paterson, who extols the virtues of letting go and forgiveness, Kelly Baker writes -
Susannah Paterson says: “In our Western, capitalist society there’s so much pressure to just move on and forget” she explains. “Whether our bad experience is major or just something small, many of us are in an enormous hurry to let go. We want to get better and get back to normal, but grief is a process and it takes time to move through it.

Many people suffer great trauma and grief and in the end all of us will experience some grief. Why? Because, unfortunately suffering is part of life. That’s something we can all think about from time to time. If we did we might find we were better able to cope when tragedy stuck.

I often say with trauma or loss or dealing with any negative experience, from ill-health to divorce, it is the negative emotions and the negative self talk that are harmful – and there is a lot of solid research to show this. When negative self talk gets a hold and becomes a habit this leads to depression. 60,000 times a day we talk to ourselves and when negative self talk becomes a habit we become unaware of it. Awareness of our thoughts is a great key – then we can do something about it.

So, harbouring bitterness, anger, resentment, guilt, judgments and more doesn’t help anyone. If another person is involved or has contributed to any of the above then these emotions harboured within yourself don’t have any effect on the other person. However they do have a detrimental physiological effect on you. Your health suffers and by being bitter and angry you affect others around you.

I have friends who after a trauma, particularly the death of a loved one, have ended their long marriage purely because one partner wanted to move on and the other was stuck – leading to more unhappiness as divorce is always a challenge.

Resentment and hatred experienced on a daily basis is self poisoning. The caustic anger generated will damage one’s health and relationships. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves – it is a most practical tool.

Forgiveness of others and of yourself truly can lead to happiness. Without forgiveness, sometimes true happiness can be quite elusive! In closing let me say one thing about “forgive and forget”. You cannot forget because the way memory works means that with any emotional event it is indelibly imprinted in your memory. You can dull the pain with forgiveness and smile at the memory – particularly recalling the good things.

So, know that there are good scientific and spiritual reasons to forgive. Forgiveness never condones an event, however it truly leads to happiness

All the best,
Sandy MacGregor

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