Strategies for Forgiveness

The Martha Stewart Show, February/March 2008

An inability to forgive can take a negative toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health. A study authored by Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet at Hope College in Missouri, found that when people focused on hurtful memories or grudges, their blood pressure surged and brow muscles tensed. Thoughts of forgiveness, however, prompted a greater sense of control and comparatively lower stress responses. You won't "teach someone else a lesson" or fix a situation. The only person a grudge hurts is you.

Simple Strategies for Forgiveness
1. Admit It Hurts
Denial will get you nowhere fast. Strategy: Write out what happened and what you learned from it, and make it part of your past, not your present.

2. Forgive Sans Strings
An apology is nice, but is not required in order to forgive; depending on one from the offender can cause more stress. A study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion suggests that those who expect an apology before forgiving experience more psychological stress than those who don't. Strategy: Start small. Forgiveness comes with practice, so start with the person who cuts you off in traffic or holds up the line at the bank. Instead of fuming, practice wishing that person well.

3. See the Best
Forgiveness is a choice to see things differently. Strategy: Next time you're hurt, shift your attention to the person behind the act. He's more than one thing he said -- and you're more than a victim of it.

4. Forgive Yourself
Without the ability to do this, you'll find it hard to practice it toward others. If holding a grudge is bad, then being both blamer and blamee is a double whammy. Strategy: Go easy. Next time you lose your cell phone or forget a birthday, don't beat yourself up. Let it go and move on.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Terri Trespicio, senior editor at Body+Soul for sharing the health benefits of forgiveness.

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