Everybody feels negative emotions once in a while, but these emotions have a stronger effect on your health than you may realize. Every time you think about regrets, experience resentment or replay bad memories in your head, your body suffers just as much as your mind. That’s why harboring negative emotions can lead to devastating long-term disease.
But there is one simple solution: forgiveness. Trouble is, our culture seems to perceive forgiveness as a sign of weakness, submission, or both. This makes it harder to actually do the work to forgive people who’ve done you harm.
Clearing Negative Energy: Why It’s Worth It
According to The Greater Good Science Center, “psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (1).
It’s important to stress that forgiveness is a process, not an event. That’s why there’s such a big difference between decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness.
Some researchers have described the distinction as such: “Decisional forgiveness is a behavioral intention to resist an unforgiving stance and to respond differently toward a transgressor. Emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative unforgiving emotions with positive other-oriented emotions. Emotional forgiveness involves psychophysiological changes, and it has more direct health and well-being consequences.” (2).
As such, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that a forgiving personality was related to better subjective well-being and psychological well-being (3).
Plus, forgiveness has heart-protective properties. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that anger and other negative emotions had cardiotoxic effects, while forgiveness has a more cardioprotective profile.
The researchers concluded: “These findings suggest that interventions aimed at decreasing anger while increasing forgiveness may be clinically relevant.” (5).