Learning to forgive has been proven, not only to increase one’s sense of well-being but to improve one’s physical health and reduce the risk of developing a life-threatening or chronic disease.
Though Western medicine has long shunned the idea that one’s state of mind and emotions influence one’s physical health, the evidence continues to mount proving this to be the case. In recent years, study after study has proven that negative emotions, in particular, can have a devastating impact on our health by causing chronic stress and anxiety. Not only that, but such emotions can also make it much, much harder to heal from a life-threatening disease or physical injury. A series of recent studies has shown that releasing negative emotions, particularly anger and resentment, by practicing forgiveness not only keeps us healthy but also helps us to heal. In contrast, holding onto those same negative emotions have been found to literally increase the growth rate of cancer by weakening the immune system.
Studies dating back to as early as the 1980s were the first to confirm the deleterious effects of refusing to forgive on a patient’s health. A 1987 study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, was the first to find that holding onto blame, anger, and hostility impaired one’s physical health. Nearly a decade later, another study found that such negative emotions increased one’s risk of coronary heart disease and premature death. This was then confirmed by a 2001 study that found that re-experiencing traumatic negative emotions and a failure to forgive translated into an erratic, increased heart rate among other physiological changes.
Now, more recent studies have proven the harm that failing to forgive can cause while also illustrating the ultimately positive effect forgiveness exerts on our physical health in addition to improving one’s quality of life. A 2014 study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, found that forgiveness improved blood pressure and cardiovagal tone regulation in young female patients while holding onto anger led to adverse cardiovascular outcomes. A more recent study assessed 78 HIV patients undergoing treatment for their feelings, thoughts and perspective on forgiveness. The participants who felt like they truly forgave had significantly higher percentages of CD4 immune cells in their blood than those who did not. Another study, also from 2014, examined the effect of so-called “forgiveness therapy” and its effect on cancer patients. Of the 83 patients who participated in the study, those who practiced forgiveness therapy showed a greater capacity for acceptance, self-forgiveness, self-improvement, and optimism.
Dr. Steven Standiford, Chief of Surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, is a staunch supporter of forgiveness therapy as refusing to forgive, in his experience, makes and keeps people sick. “It’s important to treat emotional wounds or disorders because they really can hinder someone’s reactions to the treatments, even someone’s willingness to pursue treatment,” Standiford told CBN News. “Harboring these negative emotions, this anger and hatred, creates a state of chronic anxiety.” Indeed, chronic anxiety and stress are proven to harm the body by producing excessive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, which can lead to chronic, difficult-to-cure conditions like adrenal fatigue while also depleting the production of natural “cancer-killing” cells in the immune system.
Considering the now-substantial scientific proof to support the connection between cancer and negative emotions, it is no small wonder that 61% of cancer patients express deep-seated forgiveness issues, more than half of them severe. Cancerous tumors take years upon years to develop before they can be detected conventionally and our emotional state has a clear influence on how far and how aggressively it develops. Ancient medicinal traditions, particularly the well-developed and long-standing Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine systems, have long recognized the power of thought, intention, and emotions in the treatment of illnesses as well as their onset. Hopefully, these recent studies are a sign that Western medicine is finally catching on.