Is Forgiving-and-Forgetting Good for You?

girls-conflictHave you ever felt that things were just not right, that you were not at peace? Have you ever realized that perhaps a conflict with a friend or acquaintance had caused some ongoing hurt, and you had not yet done anything to repair that relationship? Or worse, you experienced a slow burning anger that wouldn’t die out because you were not ready to forgive the other person? If this sounds like you then read on—because this is important to your health!

It always uplifts me to see research in the clinical realm that teaches what we find in the Bible. And there are lots of studies like that! It is especially powerful when studies allow us to look at an issue from two sides and get the same answer. For example, anger is bad for us while forgiveness is good for us. Several recent studies provide the data for this relationship.

Last year, a study in the Journal of Psychology found in a large (n=363) study of undergraduate students that there are indirect health benefits connected to both forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others.1 Yet another study found that forgetting the offensive event in question was more likely if the transgressor was forgiven.2 Thus, even though the study dealt with an imagined event, forgiving someone allowed the participants to move beyond dwelling on events and forget the pain and hurt caused by others.

I’d argue that it is at least possible that forgetting an offensive event is related to the indirect health benefits uncovered in the first study. More studies in this area would be needed to see if that is true. It’s also equally possible that ongoing anger and bitterness when the event is not forgotten (because there was no forgiveness) causes health problems like strokes and heart attacks. For example, earlier this year, a meta-analysis (a large review that integrates the results of multiple studies) found that, despite differences in methods and variables, nine studies all found a higher rate of adverse cardiovascular events (as in heart attack or stroke) within the two hours following an outburst of anger.3 However, more work is needed here, too.

In summary, forgiveness seems to correlate with our health and wellness, which may be because it allows us to more easily forget transgressions so as not to dwell on them and, thus, become angry or upset again. The Bible’s message on forgiveness and anger is clear, however. Here are just a couple of examples:

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

So once again, we see a strong relationship between what the Bible teaches and what we find in science. Isn’t it amazing that what we have learned in the past year was already communicated to us thousands of years ago?

For more examples of how a life of faith can benefit your health, check out these previous articles.

Endnotes

  1. Jon R. Webb et al., “Forgiveness and Health: Assessing the Mediating Effect of Health Behavior, Social Support, and Interpersonal Functioning,” Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied 147, no. 5 (2013): 391.
  2. Saima Noreen, Raynette N. Bierman, and Malcolm D. MacLeod, “Forgiving You Is Hard, but Forgetting Seems Easy: Can Forgiveness Facilitate Forgetting?,” Psychological Science 25 (July 2014): 1295–302.
  3. Elizabeth Mostofsky, Elizabeth Anne Penner, and Murray A Mittleman, “Outbursts of Anger as a Trigger of Acute Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” European Heart Journal 35 (June 1, 2014): 1404–10.

****

By Dr. James Patterson

Dr. James C. Patterson II received his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1996, and currently serves as Chief of Mental Health at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, LA. He is also a member of the Shreveport Chapter of RTB.

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