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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.

Comments (4)

  • KSFP 14 Jan, 2008

    There is a really great book called "How Can I Forgive You: the courage to forgive, the freedom not to" by Dr. Janis Abrams Spring. (She also wrote "After The Affair") I read these books after I found out about my husband's 4.5 year affair with someone who was supposed to have been a friend. It took a lot of work to get through these books but it was worth it. My husband and I have been able to save our marriage. I haven't forgiven the woman but I'm at peace with this.

  • Poodle2008 14 Jan, 2008

    Forgiveness is not a free pass. They know what they have done and some are proud of the hurt they have inflicted on other people. This year I feel so good because I allowed myself to forgive (of course not in person because she would not apolize for what she has done) my SD who I found out was behind most of the problems. I felt that a weight has been lifted. I can go forward free of the anger, but she still harbors it. Live is good.

  • KSFP 14 Jan, 2008

    There is a really great book called "How Can I Forgive You: the courage to forgive, the freedom not to" by Dr. Janis Abrams Spring. (She also wrote "After The Affair") I read these books after I found out about my husband's 4.5 year affair with someone who was supposed to have been a friend. It took a lot of work to get through these books but it was worth it. My husband and I have been able to save our marriage. I haven't forgiven the woman but I'm at peace with this.

  • Bee13 14 Jan, 2008

    An inability to forgive does indeed take a huge emotional toll. "Let it go and move on" are such easy words to say, but not so easy to do. I will make certain to watch this show. Maybe it will change my opinion that some things are just too big to forgive. I am more of a mind that forgiveness excuses the persons behavior and gives them some sort of free pass. Perhaps you can make me see the situation differently.