Forgiveness lessons


Forgiveness lessons
Our two-step plan helps you let go

By Bonnie Schiedel
First published in Chatelaine’s June 2003 issue.
© Rogers Publishing Ltd.

If you’re holding onto a grudge, the only one you’re hurting is yourself. Follow these two steps to put it behind you:

Know why it matters
Think about how you feel when you’re angry and upset: your muscles are clenched, your heart is pounding, your stomach is churning. All the stress you feel when you have not forgiven someone can do a number on both your mental and physical health.

Researchers have found that forgiveness–and being unable to forgive–affect your health in various ways. For example, in the Stanford-Northern Ireland HOPE Project, people from Northern Ireland who had an immediate family member who had been murdered during sectarian violence went through a week of forgiveness training. At the end of the week, symptoms of stress (such as headaches and nausea) and depression all dropped significantly. Energy levels, appetite and sleep quality improved greatly. In a British study, recovering alcoholics who did similar forgiveness training experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression, both during the program and five months later. Another study found that incest survivors who went through extensive forgiveness intervention recovered from depression more fully than those who did not. Plus, their levels of self-esteem increased while levels of anxiety decreased.

Healing your mind can heal your body as well. In their study, researchers from Hope College in Michigan found that when people held a grudge against someone, blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension increased. A similar study revealed that the physical effects remained, even after the subjects stopped thinking about the harmful event or person. Forgiving someone, on the other hand, appears to cause a faster return to resting blood pressure and heart rate and relief of muscle tension. Receiving an apology appears to work in a similar way. Researchers speculate that holding a grudge, and the negative and stressful feelings associated with it, may gradually chip away at your health, particularly your cardiovascular health.

Learn to forgive
Forgiving someone is about as personal as it gets–you were hurt, and only you can figure out how you’re going to heal. Get help along the way, whether it’s from a mental health professional, spiritual adviser or simply the people you love.

Here are some of the forgiveness techniques that Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, suggests in his book Forgive for Good (HarperCollins). They may help you stop the pointless cycle of hurt and anger, and then help you to move forward in a healthy way.

• Change the channel Quit watching endless reruns of “My Mother Was Cold and Distant” in your head. Instead, consciously look for the joy and beauty around you. Take pleasure in playing Frisbee with your kids or in the glow of that incredible sunset.

• Look for forgiveness Read about people who have forgiven others. Practise forgiving just one minute at a time, or forgiving people for small offences, like the guy who cut you off on the way to work this morning. Think of times that you have needed to be forgiven.

• Refocus your emotions When you’re feeling stressed and anxious because of an unresolved hurtful situation, take some time to settle down. Slowly breathe in and push your belly out. Then breathe out and relax your belly. Repeat a couple of times. On your third inhalation, think of someone you love. Keep breathing peacefully. Instead of asking the hurt and angry part of you what to do, tune in to the relaxed and loving part of you and look for answers there.

Forgiveness resources

Want to learn more about forgiveness?

• Surf, and to share your story, chat in the forums and read articles about forgiveness.

• Read books by two leading forgiveness researchers: Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (HarperCollins) by Dr. Fred Luskin and Forgiveness Is a Choice (American Psychological Association) by Robert D. Enright.


  • Know why it matters
  • Learn to forgive
  • Forgiveness resources
  • Talk to others about forgiveness in our Passions forum
  • Psychologist and forgiveness expert Kenneth Hart: May 14, noon to 1 p.m. E.T.