Copyright © 1997 Sam Allred


It's natural to want revenge, but there's a lot of research pointing to the negative effects of hostility. Forgiveness releases the offender from prolonged anger, rage, and stress that have been linked to physiological problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer and psychosomatic illnesses.

In the movies, revenge is applauded. Most of us love those moments of revenge ó the satisfaction of watching the bad guy get his punishment. But if revenge is sweet, psychologists say that forgiveness is much sweeter.

Obsession about getting even, revenge, and irritability, make you much more likely to have heart disease Ö they increase your risk of stress-related disorders. They raise your blood pressure. Wanting to hurt somebody is like pouring Drano into your insides, or hadnít you already noticed.

Forgiveness is a gift that you can give anyone - the dead, the dangerous - at any time, without strings. And such a gift may be the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. Reconciliation, however, is not always possible or even desirable.

Unforgiveness, which often occurs as a result of having been hurt, humiliated, angered, or having suffered fear or loss, feelings of guilt, or envy, can have profound effects on the way your body functions.

Physically the body responds as it does to stress. Blood flow to joint surfaces is decreased, making it more difficult for the blood to remove wastes from tissues and to reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells. Normal processes of repair and recovery from injury or arthritis are impaired. Headaches are probable. Chronic pain may be worsened. Blood flow to the heart is reduced, digestion is impaired, and breathing is restricted. Immune system functions are reduced, increasing vulnerability to infections and perhaps malignancy and injuries. Accidents through inattention are more likely.

Forgiveness is easier to accept than give, suggest the results of a University of Michigan study. Some 75 per cent of adults questioned in a phone survey said they were confident that God had forgiven them for past wrongdoings, but only 52 per cent of participants said they had been able to forgive other people who had harmed them. Some 54 per cent of women reported a willingness to let bygones be bygones, compared with 49 per cent of men. †

There is also a correlation between age and the ability to forgive. Older participants were more likely to report they had forgiven others.

Again, forgiveness pays dividends in better psychological and physical health. Participants over 45 years of age who had forgiven other people for past wrongs also reported fewer psychological problems, such as feeling hopeless, anxious, worthless, or restless. Participants over the age of 65 who had forgiven others were in better health than those in the same age group who had not forgiven others. †

To not be fretting or smouldering about a situation and how to deal with those feelings takes a lot of "pressure" off the mind and liberates both mind and body. Certainly it can be interesting and educational to observe people who canít control their inability to forgive, as they fall apart over their inability to forgive.

Growing older usually makes forgiveness much easier, but in most cases, it will require work to achieve -- it really is worth the effort. Forgiveness is a decision.

posted March 5, 2005

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