Any negative emotions that are harbored create chemicals in the brain and body that harm health. An offense against oneself, against another, by another toward oneself or toward another are all potent vehicles to create these emotions. Typical harmful emotions include bitterness, contempt, shame, fear, anger, blame, hatred, resentment, retaliation, sorrow, regret, jealousy, self-pity, helplessness, depression, apathy, loneliness, fear, rejection, etc…
Forgiveness has tremendous potential to correct these harmful emotions. Forgiveness is the choice to withhold condemnation and offer grace instead. It can be to another or to oneself.
Forgiveness to another is often assumed to be contingent on confession or at least remorse. When a wrong has come between two people, it’s not necessary for the forgiver to withhold forgiveness until the offender shows remorse, but it is necessary for reconciliation. If the forgiver chooses to withhold condemnation and offer grace there is a release and a freedom that occurs in the person who is choosing forgiveness, even if the one who has done wrong has no remorse. This choice of forgiveness does not eliminate the offense or mean that it is forgotten. But it does mean that the forgiver has chosen not to condemn. Others in authority, depending on the nature of the offense, may choose to pass judgment. But the one offended can find much peace in choosing forgiveness.
Should the one who is harmed confront or speak with the one who harmed? I would say it depends on the situation and the nature of the problem. I think sometimes it helps greatly for the one offended to speak so that the offender can personally hear the testimony of the one offended. Sometimes the offender simply doesn’t know that they did something wrong. Sometimes they seriously misjudge the nature of their actions. Sometimes the offended misjudges the motives of the offender. Other times, the one who did wrong needs to hear from the other so they can have an opportunity for conviction and understand the results of their actions. When there is an authority disparity or it would be dangerous for the one harmed, it may be best if the two parties did not speak one on one, at least not privately.
Forgiveness when fully understood is deep and may take time to fully live out. But it is worth the time and effort, since forgiveness can bring a number of emotions to heal the mind, body, and relationships. I believe there are cases where forgiveness has improved high blood pressure, corrected obesity, alleviated autoimmune disease, and even fought cancer, among a number of other diseases.
Is there a medical condition in your body that is brewing that could be alleviated by forgiveness? If so, consider going after it. It usually is a work in progress and may take time to “let go”, but the effort is worth it. Perhaps your brain and body long for healing. So why not begin today?
If you would like to learn more about forgiveness, consider picking up a book like, Forgive to Life: How Forgiveness Can Save Your Life by Dr. Dick Tibbits.
To Your Best Health,
Greg Steinke, MD, MPH