Holding a Grudge Can Break Your Heart, Literally - The Act of Forgiveness and its Physiological Benefits

By Rebecca Lewis on August 24, 2012

When was the last time you’ve forgiven someone who hurts you so bad? Forgiving gives you peace of mind and strengthens your relationship with other people. Yes you know it. Still want more reasons? Well, it also lowers your blood pressure, gives you quality sleep, and most of all – increases your lifespan.

You hear it right. Practising the act of forgiveness does have physiological benefits too. This is the finding of Kathleen Lawler-Row, a psychologist at the East Carolina University. In 2005, she studied the impact of forgiveness and hostility in health and wellbeing. She found out that forgiving helps a person sleep well at night while holding on to resentment is more likely to lead to insomnia.

Forgiving linked to lower blood pressure

Prior this, Lawler-Row has also compared the physiological responses of people to various types of forgiveness. She looked into the effects of forgiveness as a ‘trait’, and forgiveness as a reaction to a particular situation. Her study revealed that people who forgive experienced lowering of blood pressure and heart rate. Also, those who are by nature forgiving had lower blood pressure than their more agitated counterparts. On the other hand, those with no forgiving personalities and those who were not really serious about forgiving, according to Lawler-Row, have acute, stress-induced cardiovascular activities.

Part of her experiment was to ask participants to recall experiences where they have been betrayed by their parents or partners. She observed that those who had difficult time physically recovering from the stress of recalling and telling their story retained high pressure rates even during the recovery period while those in the forgiving group had quickly normalized blood pressure.

These cardiovascular activities are known risk factors for coronary heart disease and hypertension.

Other benefits of forgiving

Lawler-Row was not the only scientist who studied the physical effects of forgiveness. Just recently, in a study by the University of California in San Diego, and published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Sciences, it was found that people who forgave exhibited fewer spikes in blood pressure.

Another research carried out by Duke University established the correlation between better immune system and forgiveness among patients who are HIV-positive. In another study, they also found that cardiac patients who had forgiving personalities have lower levels of anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. They also had lower levels of bad cholesterol.

Warning – before you forgive

To fully experience the ‘rewards’ of forgiving, people should do it straight from the heart and not just because they want to appear nice to others. This was the finding of the researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University when they studied how the motives affect the result of forgiving. They observed that those who truly forgave experienced more physical and psychological benefits than others.

Forgiving someone is indeed a difficult process especially if that person was the one whom you trusted so much. But sometimes, it’s the only way to let go of the grudge... that happens to be slowly killing our hearts.

 

Sources of this article:

The unique effects of forgiveness on health: an exploration of pathways.

A change of heart: cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict.

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