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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Forgiveness

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 23rd 2007

Have you ever had the experience of a friend or family member saying or doing something that was insulting to you? Did you give a bigger gift to your brother at his wedding than he gave to you at your wedding? Did your husband or wife forget to purchase a gift or even a greeting card for your birthday? Did someone who you believed was a good friend fail to invite you to their wedding shower, bachelor party or wedding? If you have experienced these or other examples of what you believe were acts of disrespect or personal injury you understand what it is like to feel frustration, anger and deep resentment at another person for what they have done to you.

There are instances where the felt personal injuries suffered at the hands of a friend or relative are so painful that a permanent breach is created in the relationship. There are brothers and sisters who no longer speak to one another because one or each of them feels not only misunderstood but treated unfairly by the other. However, long after the final breach in the relationship has occurred and there is a total absence of communication, feelings of anger and resentment continue to simmer for many years.

Some psychological researchers have recently delved into a new area that referred to as "the psychology of forgiveness." Two of the several writers in the area of forgiveness are Worthington, who discusses the importance of giving up thoughts and feelings about retaliation, and McCullogh, who also discusses the importance of reducing revenge motivation. These and other psychologists are not discussing forgiveness from a religious or philosophical point of view but from the perspective of mental and physical health. From that view point they have a lot in common with the cognitive-behavioral and the dialectical-behavioral writers. Their point is that forgiveness can reduce stress and prevent the damaging effects of anger on the human cardio vascular system.

One experiment demonstrated that subjects who continued to harbor resentment about a situation experienced a rise in blood pressure when they discussed the incident, compared to other subjects who forgave the offending person and did not experience any rise in blood pressure when the issue was remembered and discussed.

Very often, feelings of resentment towards another person are accompanied by feelings of self-pity and helplessness accompanied by thoughts of vengefully "getting even" with the offender. These types of thoughts and feelings reinforce depression and enhance the corrosive effects of anger and stress on the immune and cardio vascular systems. In a study recently released by the University College of London showed that those who feel or believe they were treated unfairly in some way are at increased risk of a heart attack.

Of course, the question is: is it possible to forgive? It seems unlikely that it is possible to forget. Are there circumstances where some so egregious was done that forgiveness is impossible or can all insulting acts be forgiven??

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

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