Power of forgiveness in mental health, well-being
As discussed in previous articles mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
We have all probably been wronged or hurt by someone in life at some point. How we respond to this hurt will have an impact on our mental health and well-being.
Our ability to forgive someone who has hurt us can be emotionally liberating and can help preserve our mental well-being.
The impact of unforgiveness on physical and mental health
As human beings we are prone to hurting each other, this hurt can result from:
Careless and insensitive words
Betrayal of trust
Aggressive and abusive behaviour
Neglect and lack of care or concern
We can also find ourselves in situations where we feel we are wrong, when we feel guilty, when we feel we have compromised ourselves. If we cannot forgive ourselves this can also be detrimental to our mental health.
Being unable to forgive someone who has hurt you can result in both physical and mental health effects including:
Increased stress levels
Elevated blood pressure
Increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders
Impaired immunity and increased risk of minor illnesses
Decreased tolerance to pain
Increased risk of anxiety and depression
Loss of hope and greater risk of sadness and despondency
Decreased motivation to maintain existing relationships leading to further social isolation and poor social support
Being unable to forgive oneself can result in:
Feelings of guilt, shame and self-condemnation
Low self-esteem and self confidence
Decreased concentration and focus and productivity at work or school
The mental health benefits of forgiveness
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to let go of feelings of resentment or vengeance towards someone who has hurt you whether they have asked for that forgiveness or not and whether they deserve that forgiveness or not. Forgiveness has many benefits including:
Peace of mind, decreased stress, anxiety and worry
Freedom from over-thinking and rumination about the hurt
Improved physical health
Renewed sense of hope for the future, reduced feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
Renewed ability to connect meaningfully with others and build a strong support system
How do I forgive?
1. Make a decision to forgive: forgiveness is essentially a decision; it rarely happens spontaneously. It is an undeserved gift given to the offender but ultimately it is a gift to ourselves freeing us from the continued pain of the hurt
2. Acknowledge and work though the difficult emotions: avoid bottling up the pain and challenging emotions linked to the hurtful experience. Talk to trusted people about the pain, journal to express these emotions so that they do not cause self-destruction
3. Focus on transformation and growth: we can grow from pain. We grow in our understanding of ourselves and our ability to be resilient in the face of adversity.
We grow in our understanding of other people, we can humanise the offender as we forgive them. We can grow in hope for a better future
Reconciliation and mental health
Reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship after a disappointment, a disagreement or a hurtful experience. Forgiving someone does not mean there must be reconciliation but it may happen.
Is different from forgiveness, but requires forgiveness
Is a process and will take time
• Will require realistic expectations from both parties
Will require humility and a willingness to make amends and rebuild trust
Requires realistically working on what caused the breakdown of the relationship and rebuilding with wisdom
If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling with unforgiveness, please contact your nearest health service provider and get help.
l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist for 12 June 2023
Feedback: Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse +263714987729 (AHFoZ www.ahfoz.org; [email protected])