The Power of Forgiveness

by Naomi Drew M.A.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

- Nelson Mandela

When you forgive somebody . . . you're spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others' presence.

- Fredrick Buechner

Forgiveness is one of the most critical elements of peace. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, pardoning, or condoning an egregious act. What it does mean is to let go of the anger, resentment, and stress we feel about the person who hurt or wronged us. Forgiveness is a choice, and when we forgive we free ourselves from the effects of the stress and and anger we would otherwise carry around. When we hold onto anger and resentment, we can actually compromise our immune systems and become more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease. This is not just a theory -- it's a fact that's been confirmed by research.

Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, one of the foremost experts on forgiveness, says there are three critical things we need to know about forgiveness:

  • We each have the power to manage our reactions to anger and hurt. There are specific things we can do to let go of the negative feelings that grab hold of us when we've been hurt or wronged. You'll learn what they are below.
  • Our lives improve in a variety of ways when we forgive. Studies have shown that when people choose to forgive, there is an increase in hopefulness, well-being, self-confidence, and physical health.
  • People who habitually hold onto anger have more heart attacks. Conversely, when we learn how to forgive, our risk of heart attacks goes down.

Even if you've found it hard to forgive, Dr. Luskin says it is still possible to learn how. In his words: Forgiveness lies dormant in all of us.

The following strategy will help you free yourself from the harmful effects of resentment and set the groundwork for forgiveness.

  1. Close your eyes, and for about 20 seconds, picture the person who hurt or angered you. Let all your grievances come up. Notice what happens in your body -- acceleration of heartbeat, shallow breathing, tension, etc.
  2. Now let go of this image and take some slow, deep abdominal breaths. Focus on your abdomen, and imagine the breath going down into it as you inhale. Expand your abdomen on each inhalation, and deflate your abdomen as you exhale. Take about five breaths and keep your focus on your abdomen. If your mind goes back to the person who hurt you or to anything else, bring the focus back to the rhythm of your breath and the movement of your abdominal muscles as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Bring into your mind an image of someone you love very much, or a place of peace and beauty. Allow yourself to be flooded with the positive feelings this image elicits. Now bring those feelings down to the area around your heart. Allow the good feelings to penetrate your heart and soothe you.
  4. Lastly, keep breathing the soothing feelings into your heart. Now visualize the person you are angry at one more time. Allow the good feelings to form a protective shield around your heart. The purpose of doing this step is to break the pattern of stress reactions that normally occur in your mind and body when you think of the person who wronged you.

According to Dr. Luskin, doing this exercise the next 25 times you think of the person who hurt you, you will transform your mental and physical reactions. This person will no longer have power to hurt you because you will have reprogrammed your reactions. Once this happens, letting go of resentment and starting to forgive become possible.


Roz, the mother of four grown children shared a wonderful story about the impact of forgiveness on the life of a friend. This friend had told Roz that his much-loved daughter had chosen to marry someone he not approve of. As a result he made the decision to severe the relationship he had with his daughter. Doing this caused deep heartache for both of them.

When this man told Roz about the heartache he experienced every day as the result of this decision she said, "You took a detour down the wrong road. You can take another road back, one that will repair the relationship."

Heeding this wise counsel, the man decided to put his grievances aside, forgive his daughter and make amends with her. The huge weight of holding onto anger and withholding love was lifted. The relief in both father and daughter was palpable. No longer was this man consumed by the heartache he had assumed. Forgiving, not only gave him back his daughter, it gave him back his life.

Often we make decisions in anger and then hold steadfast to them, even if those decisions don't serve us. The father in this story was on the road to sacrificing his relationship with the person he treasured most in life, all for the sake of being right. How fruitless this would have been. What deep suffering they both would have endured at the loss of their relationship. By mending fences, this man learn the most important lesson of all: When we choose to forgive, everyone wins.

We are now seeing global ramifications of the power of forgiveness. The Truth and Reconciliation Council in South Africa has enabled that country to begin the process of healing its shattered soul. The result -- more equitable government, a dramatic decrease in conflict, and an improved economy. Diplomatic relationships South Africa has with other countries have also flourished in the process. When we forgive, everyone wins -- even in the international arena.

Is there someone who wronged you at work or at home? Considering taking a new path -- the path of forgiveness.

NOTE: Check out Forgive for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin,

Copyright, Naomi Drew, 2006



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