Feeling hurt and betrayed is absolutely valid–part of the healing process is allowing yourself to feel these things. However, after a point, retaining these emotions is going to do you more harm than good. This isn’t about the person who has wronged you, rather this is about your own mental health and well-being. Read on to learn about the surprising benefits that forgiveness can have on your brain that you might not have even considered.
Physical Benefits of Forgiveness:
Better blood flow
One study published in 2009 by Psychology Today, found that patients who had just undergone coronary surgery that received forgiveness therapy demonstrated improved blood flow to their hearts than patients who received only standard medical treatment.
Fewer coronary problems
Another study conducted by Charlotte Witvliev and Sonjia Lyubomirsky, revealed that people who forgive more easily had significantly fewer coronary heart problems than those who hold onto grudges.
Mental impairments from not forgiving:
Numerous studies focusing on the links between forgiveness and state of mind of participants have been conducted, including groundbreaking research published in 2009 by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience and Science Magazine, showing the negative effects that holding onto past hurts can have on the human brain including:
- Despair: Holding onto anger and grudges has been shown to correlate to depression and anxiety. These very real mental problems can require extensive counseling and sometimes even medication.
- Inhibiting cognitive capacity: Thinking about a long-held grudge will trigger your brain to release stress response chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine. These chemicals are part of the body’s fight or flight response and make it more difficult to think rationally – limiting your ability to problem-solve and possibly stunt your creativity.
- Poor recall: These fight or flight chemicals have other negative aspects. By rehashing a situation over and over again, constantly flooding the brain with cortisol, you can actually atrophy your brain. The hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, is particularly susceptible to this, which can lead to diminished memory recall.
- Increased sensitivity: When you dwell on the same thought, you make a pathway in your brain that makes it easier for the brain to access the thought and feeling. This perpetuates a vicious cycle; not forgiving someone actually makes you more susceptible to being hurt in the future and to feel the pain more acutely .
Mental Benefits of Forgiveness:
Separate studies involving MRI scanners utilized by scientists Dr. Tom Farrow and Dr. Pieto Pietrini showed that when the brain achieves forgiveness, the frontal cortex is activated. The cortex is the more recently evolved part of the human brain and the studies pointed to this activation to extend the following benefits:
- More rational and empathetic thinking: The frontal cortex is able to process complex emotions of both yourself and others. This allows you to see things from other points of view making it easier to see multiple options and strategies.
- Integrity: The frontal cortex is also the morality center of the brain. In a way, forgiveness is an irrational reaction because someone has wronged you, but this part of the brain allows you to be the bigger person.
- Natural painkiller: Forgiveness probably evolved in humans as a way to overcome pain and alleviate suffering, since the frontal cortex evolved after the amygdala (which is where the fight or flight impulse comes from). This forgiveness is the body’s way of trying to heal itself
- Better outlook: People who are able to forgive produce more dopamine, the chemical associated with mood elevation in the brain. Forgiveness can improve your mood and make you more optimistic over the long run.