Thursday, December 15, 2011

Forgive to live longer

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes)

Unforgiveness harms not the offender, but ourselves. It gives control of our lives to the person who has wronged us. Resentment builds a wall that hinders future progress and unforgiveness even negatively affects our physical health.

In a study published on 6/25/11, researchers at Harvard, Duke and Luther College reported analysis of multiple types of forgiveness as predictors of mortality and health mechanisms on longevity. A representative sample of 1,232 adults in the United States ages 66 and older were used to assess forgiveness and health. Statistically significant predictors of mortality risk were found to be unconditional forgiveness by God and conditional forgiveness for others. After controlling for other variables, only conditional forgiveness of others remained a significant predictor of mortality. Association between these conditions led to finding of a statistically significant indirect effect involving physical health. The results of these findings are that conditional forgiveness is associated with mortality risk across the board and this has a significant influence on one’s physical health. [1]

In this study, forgiveness was defined as a “freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person.” It is important to note that forgiveness is not seen as condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation with the other party.

Researcher Loren Toussaint has been studying forgiveness for a number of years and, combining his own research with that of others, is convinced that mental and physical health are negatively affected by unforgiveness. When mentally rehearsing a past injustice committed against us, stress hormones are released, raising the heart rate and leading toward possible development of a variety of disorders from major depression to cardiovascular disease. Toussaint has determined that one’s conclusions regarding the perceived wrongs can become chronic stressors. [2]

Other studies have found similar conclusions. Researchers in New York studied data collected from a national survey of 1,629 participants that supported a hypothesized model connecting religiosity, forgiveness and health. Religiosity was found to be related to greater forgiveness, which, in turn, was associated with reduced hostility. Better subjective health was the result of reduced hostility. [3] Australian Psychology Professors Alfred Allan and Dianne McKillop have noted there is extensive evidence that traumatic events can lead to a prolonged hyperarousal and state of negative affect that are deleterious to health. Those who continue to feel aggrieved and refuse to forgive those they blame for the harm suffer the harmful health effects. However, the authors state there is evidence to show forgiveness, with expressions of responsibility and regret can improve recovery and health of patients following an adverse event. [4]

Justifiable resentment is a “cancer on the soul. The bitterness is within you, not in the person who hurt you. Your anger may give you the illusion of power, but it actually robs you of power, drains off your potential, and poisons all your relationships” notes Steven Arterburn. By carrying unforgiveness we “risk remaining behind a wall that will hold you in a bitter and wasted life focused on the past, rather than enjoying the present and moving into a brighter future”. [5]

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

[1] Loren L. Toussaint, Amy D. Owen and Alyssa Cheadle, “Forgive to live: Forgiveness, Health and Longevity“, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, DOI: 10.1007/s10865-011-9362-4.
[2] Ryan Blitstein, “Forgive and Get Healty”,, posted 5 Oct 2009, accessed 11 Dec 2011,
[3] Laura J. Lutjen, Nava R. Silton and Kevin J. Flannelly, “Religion, Forgiveness, Hostility and Health: A Structural Equation Analysis”, Journal of Religion and Health, DOI: 10.1007/s10943-011-9511-7.
[4] Alfred Allan and Dianne McKillop, “The health implications of apologizing after an adverse event”, Int. Journal for Quality in Health Care, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp. 126-131.
[5] Steven Arterburn, Walking into Walls, (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011), 54-55.