Many of us carry grudges for things others have done to hurt us. Some of these grudges may be difficult to let go of, like the grudge you hold against your ex who cheated on you with your best friend (against whom, of course, you also hold a grudge). You may have a good reason to be angry with these people, but recent developments in the field of positive psychology suggest that there are benefits of forgiveness that may persuade you to give up grudge-holding for good.

What are these powerful benefits? Research shows that people who forgive have improved mental and physical health. The following is an excerpt from that elucidates the benefits of forgiveness:

“Studies have looked at differences between people who are more or less forgiving. They found that there were less reported incidents of physical illness in those people who were more forgiving. Specifically, people who were deeply hurt by a parent, friend or romantic partner and forgave the betrayer had better blood pressure, healthy muscle tension, better immune response and improved cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous system functioning than others who had not forgiven. Also, research has found that forgiveness results in less psychological pain, reduced stress, and increased self-confidence, compassion, quality of life and hope.”

When thinking “To forgive, or not to forgive?” remember that the path to forgiveness is also the path to a healthier body and a healthier mind. After processing these advantages, I hope you are eager to give forgiveness a try and to forgive that friend or family member you currently resent.

If you are willing to forgive, then you have taken the first step on the ladder to a healthier life; however, being willing to forgive doesn’t mean you know how to do it. You may still be thinking something along the lines of, “I just don’t think I can; what he/she did was horrible and does not deserve to be forgiven.” If so, try adopting psychologist Dr. Frederic Luskin’s definition of forgiveness: “the powerful assertion that bad things will not ruin your today even though they may have spoiled your past.” This definition allows the power to shift from the people and things that hurt you into your own hands. Forgiveness is then an internal process of directly addressing hurt rather than denying it. You choose to forgive for your own sake, not the sake of those you forgive. Here are five clear steps to this kind of forgiveness:

How to forgive:

Recognize your feelings. Sometimes talking and writing help sort them out.
For example, “I feel sad and angry and alone.”

Separate them from other experiences.
For example, “This is not how I felt when my dad chose to attend my brother’s soccer game instead of my dance recital. Then I felt second-best, but now I feel completely alienated from and unloved by the two family members I was closest to.”

Take a deep breath, because this is the hardest part: look at it from the other’s point of view and understand their feelings. No one is perfect.
For example, “Maybe my partner felt I was not giving him/her the attention he/she needed. Maybe my friend felt so lonely that she would take anyone’s company between the sheets.”

Accept that you cannot change the past.
For example, “My best friend and my boyfriend cheated on me together. That betrayal hurt me, but it’s done and there’s no point in letting it continue to hurt me now.”

Take control of your future reactions.
For example, “It felt good to acknowledge and let go of my feelings rather than stuff them down. I can take control of my own happiness and health by continuing to use these steps whenever I get hurt.”

If you would like more information about forgiveness and how to be positive, proactive and balanced, take the Wellness classes up to ED 191W.