You're human, and that means at some point in your life, you've been wronged. Whatever the situation, you were faced with two choices: To hold a grudge, or to choose to forgive.|
It's easier said than done, of course. If the offense was unintentional, like your sister borrowing and then losing your favorite necklace, you probably let her off the hook fairly quickly. Offenses that take a little longer to overcome might include overhearing some friends spreading hurtful gossip about you or a co-worker sabotaging your efforts on an important project. And if you endured a devastating transgression—like unfaithfulness in a marriage or a serious family betrayal—forgiveness may seem a long, long way off, if not an impossibility…especially if the offender isn't seeking it.
Or maybe the person you haven't forgiven yet is yourself. If you've fallen off the exercise bandwagon or relapsed into bad eating habits, the first step to getting back on track is giving yourself grace for your missteps.
Have you ever noticed that when you're very angry or hurt, your heart beats faster and you just feel crummy overall? These are physical manifestations of negative emotions. "There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed," says Karen Swartz, M.D., in an article on the Johns Hopkins Hospital website.
Letting go of a long-standing grudge doesn't just lift your spirits—it also improves your physical and mental wellness. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness has the power to reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen your immune system, alleviate symptoms of depression, lower your blood pressure and even improve your heart health. You may find that you sleep better, have more energy and are more motivated to pursue life-enriching goals, like eating better and exercising. Once the burden is lifted from your shoulders, that spinning class, trip to the farmer's market or morning walk around the block may suddenly seem more attainable.
Science backs up these claims: A study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science showed that people who chose to forgive transgressions perceived hills as less steep, and were able to jump higher in a fitness test. This reinforces the idea that our minds are inextricably linked to our bodies.
Read on for all kinds of other unexpected perks that come with burying the hatchet.
Mastering the Art of Forgiveness: 5 Steps
Simply saying the words "I forgive you" won't necessarily release you from deep-seated resentment and hostility. Lisa Bahar, a family therapist who practices Dialectical Behavior Therapy, maintains that forgiveness is a process. "There are steps to forgiveness, which you have to move through before actually experiencing the mental health benefits," she says.
These steps may look a bit different for each of us, but here's a rough road map: