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Psychology of Forgiveness

Author: Qinghao Ma

Editors: Junyu Zheng, Emily Yu

Artist: Leo Li

Every day, people face misunderstandings and conflicts that can lead to feelings of anger and hurt. These emotions, if held onto, can cause long-term consequences such as sadness, bitterness, sorrowness, and other negative emotions. However, forgiveness—an intentional decision to release unwanted feelings of resentment and anger—offers an opportunity to cleanse those negative feelings and promote personal peace and emotional healing. 

Forgiveness is not only about being kind; it also benefits one’s mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, forgiving those who have hurt us can lead to decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Despite how it’s typically believed that forgiveness only makes the offended person feel better, forgiveness also involves releasing resentment and vengeance from yourself. Therefore, forgiveness is sometimes more about healing the forgiver than excusing the offender. Overall, forgiving others is generally proven to make you happier. As stated by Psychology Today, forgiveness reduces negative emotions such as anger and hostility, while promoting positive emotions like happiness and inner peace. When we forgive, we leave the bitter feelings of our past behind. Letting go allows us to experience more joy and satisfaction since we have gotten rid of our past grudges, leading to better outcomes for our mental health. 

Being trapped in a cycle of emotional pain and anger is difficult to move forward with. By opening ourselves up for healing and renewal, we can break free from the cycles of negativity. A popular example of the positive impact of forgiveness would be its ability to restore relationships. Forgiving someone can lead to more robust and compassionate relationships. It allows for a more positive environment where open communication and trust can be seen. This improves existing relationships and sets a healthy pattern for future interactions. Individuals can focus on building mutual understanding and empathy by letting go of grudges and resentment. Additionally, forgiveness often promotes emotional healing, reducing stress and creating a sense of inner peace for both people involved.

The benefits of forgiveness extend beyond psychological health, as it also significantly impacts physical health. Research from Harvard Health Publishing indicates that forgiveness leads to lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, better immune function, and improved sleep quality. These health improvements are important, as chronic stress and anger can deteriorate the body's systems, leading to a variety of health issues over time.

Despite all the benefits of forgiveness, forgiving someone can be challenging, especially when someone has been hurt deeply. People may be reluctant to forgive due to their pride and ego, the fear of being hurt again, or even a lack of remorse. However, several strategies can help aid this process. First, reflecting on the reasons behind our actions can lead to more understanding and empathy, paving the way for forgiveness. Second, seeing the situation from the other person's perspective can help reduce personal tensions and increase awareness. Finally, expressing feelings through direct conversation or writing, such as journaling, composing unsent letters, or writing notes to yourself, can also be helpful. Sometimes, deciding to forgive is the most critical step, as that decision is the first one necessary to move away from the pain and to push forward for a new start.

Forgiveness allows someone to strengthen personal relationships and promote emotional and physical health. As challenging as it sounds, especially when deeply hurt, the benefits of forgiveness are still profound and contribute to a better quality of life. Incorporating forgiveness into our lives will lead to a healthier and happier existence. As a society, forgiveness will not only improve our individual lives but also lead to a more compassionate and understanding atmosphere.

 

Citations:

“Forgiveness.” American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/forgiveness.

Accessed 30 April 2024.

“Forgiveness.” Psychology Tools,

April 2024.

“Forgiveness.” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/forgiveness.

Accessed 30 April 2024.

Luskin, Fred. “What is Forgiveness? | Greater Good.” Greater Good Science Center, 19 August

April 2024.

“The power of forgiveness.” Harvard Health, 12 February 2021,

30 April 2024.

Souders, Beata, and Jo Nash. “What is Forgiveness? (+9 Science-Based Benefits).” Positive

Psychology, 4 July 2019, https://positivepsychology.com/forgiveness-benefits/. Accessed

30 April 2024.

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