Forgiveness and Healing: Why You Can't Have One Without the Other
According to Harvard Medical School, not forgiving someone can impact both physical and mental
health. It can feel as if the person has gone through a major traumatic event. Forgiveness, on the other
hand, can lead to lowered blood pressure and a healthier heart.
Studies have shown forgiveness encourages decreased anxiety and depression and increases the ability
to improve your relationships. Forgiveness and healing have both an emotional and physical bond. They are
connected deep within you and it’s impossible to have one without the other.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness has been defined as a conscious decision to release negative feelings and emotions toward
someone who has harmed you (just as if you were releasing balloons into the open sky).
This does not mean you must continue to tolerate the person who harmed you. It doesn’t even mean
they deserve to be forgiven. Forgiveness simply means you are choosing to let go of the negativity you
have been holding on to when you think of that person. Sometimes forgiveness can also mean letting go of negative feelings towards yourself.
Forgiving yourself may be harder than forgiving others. Everyone has wronged another person, whether
intentional or not. Too often, people feel they do not deserve to be forgiven for these actions. However, just the opposite is true. Just as you offer others forgiveness, you are also worthy of your own forgiveness.
The Journal of Positive Psychology reported on studies that showed when a person was
unable to forgive themselves, they had an increase in depressive symptoms. They also had more anxiety
and a weaker immune system. When you forgive yourself, you can begin to heal in all areas of your life: mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
How Your Mind and Body Benefit From Forgiveness
Learning to forgive has benefits that are far greater than we may think. Grudges are like toxins within
our emotions. When you learn to eliminate these toxins, your body begins to heal and return to
homeostasis (it’s natural state of balance).
Forgiving and healing are gifts we give to ourselves in the forms of internal peace and stability. From the
moment you begin the process of forgiving, your body starts healing. Forgiveness triggers healing
Forgiveness can also lead to higher self-esteem. It can allow you to have a greater spiritual connection. Being able to forgive helps you practice compassion.
Forgiveness is freeing. Yes, it frees the one who hurt you. But most importantly, forgiveness gives you
freedom from feeling negative emotion and being triggered, and from being a victim. It gives you the courage to move forward with your life, without a heavy weight on your shoulders.
Forgiveness Improves Your Mental Health
According to the American Psychological Association, when you forgive, your mental health improves.
Studies have shown that as forgiveness rises, stress levels go down. Forgiveness is also linked to fewer
symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There’s a movement in positive psychology that utilizes forgiveness as a tool to help people heal and
grow. It is recognized that forgiveness no longer just belongs in the religious field, but it can benefit
anyone, with any beliefs.
Your mental health can suffer when you hang on to grudges and ill feelings towards someone else. You
begin to feel tense and overwhelmed. Over time, you will notice that not forgiving others can also impact your physical health.
Forgiveness Improves Your Physical Health
It’s true: When you forgive, you release tension from your body. Tension that can cause physical ailments.
Forgiveness leads to lowered blood pressure and less stress. Because there is a connection between
blood pressure, stress and heart disease, you are reducing your risk for health problems down the road by practicing forgiveness right now.
Mental health problems can often lead to physical aches and pains. Depression, for example, is an illness
that leads to negative physical responses. Not being able to forgive creates symptoms of depression and
anxiety and therefore, leading to physical concerns.
When we refuse to forgive, our brains remain in a state of alertness that can lead to negative health
effects. You tend to stay focused on the pain you feel, creating stress and setting you up for further pain
Symptoms such as ulcers, backaches and migraines have all been associated with not choosing to forgive
When you can let go and forgive the person who hurt you, sleep improves. During sleep, the brain heals
the ailments within your body. There is a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. When oxytocin is
present, the feeling of fear is overcome.Forgiveness allows your brain to produce more oxytocin. Meaning, you have less fear of betrayal and more ability to move on from a hurtful situation.
The Process of Healing Through Forgiveness
Because forgiveness is a skill you can learn and hone, there are action steps you can take to help you in
the process. Forgiveness is a cognitive and emotional process that allows you to heal by releasing
adverse thoughts and feelings that in turn, allow your physical being to heal.
One of the first steps is to identify the emotions associated with your hurt. Recognize how the emotions
are affecting you physically. Before you react to your emotions, remember you have a choice as to how
you respond. It can be positive or negative. Many recommend you avoid responding to the event until you are calm.
Find a physical way to release your emotions, whether through journaling, meditation, yoga or more
Eventually you may decide to confront the person who harmed you. This should be done in an
appropriate manner, with the intent to forgive and move on.
This may be easier to do if you take the time to read and learn from enlightening books such as Non-
Violent Communication. It’s written by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Non-
In his book, Dr. Rosenberg teaches you how to respond to negative actions by using our inner
compassion. Rather than reacting by lashing out or becoming defensive, you can learn to seek the true
intent and reasoning behind the action.
Through his model, you can learn to react to a negative situation with your heart instead of reacting out
of irrational emotions. This can be quite powerful in your transformation. It can assist you in the process
of forgiveness, allowing healing to take place.
Where to Start Your Journey
Forgiveness and healing do not take place overnight. It is a process that involves effort and practice. You
may not get it right every time and that is okay. Eventually you will begin to recognize you are holding
on to negative emotions for a much shorter time and allowing yourself to move on from negative events
Decide to forgive and remember it is a process that may involve a period of grieving. Forgive yourself
and then let it go. Pray for strength and understand everyone has shortcomings, even the one who
Recognizing every person is fallible can help you show leniency and take the right steps towards true
forgiveness. This will lead to whole healing of your mind, body and soul.
To further your transformation, implement activities such as meditation or keep a written diary. Meet
with a counselor or find ways to continue your education on forgiveness with literature or courses.
Healing is not only possible, it is imminent when you are able to forgive.