Finding Forgiveness: What It Is & How You Can Achieve It

The 18th-century poet Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” but many people have trouble breaking through to forgiveness. Because forgiveness is a conscious decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of retribution, it can be both an incredible cathartic decision, but also one that is emotionally challenging to overcome. But by embracing forgiveness, you can not only gain many health and wellness benefits, but also encompass feelings of peace, hope, gratitude, and joy.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the conscious decision to let go of a perceived offense and subsequent anger. That doesn’t mean the act that offended you disappears or that you forget what happened; forgiveness is the process of lessening anger’s hold on you and helping you focus on more positive parts of your life. In its purest form, forgiveness may even help you develop feelings of understanding, compassion, and empathy for the person who wronged you. You can forgive the person without excusing the offense, letting you get on with your life.


What are the Effects of Holding a Grudge?

  • If you refuse or are otherwise unable to achieve forgiveness, you may:
  • Carry anger and bitterness into new experiences and relationships
  • Become untrusting of other people
  • Become so obsessed with the offense that you can’t be mindful in the present
  • Get depressed, anxious or otherwise unwell emotionally or physically
  • Struggle to understand the meaning or purpose behind your suffering
  • Lose valuable connections with loved ones, friends, and other people

What are the Benefits of Forgiving Someone?

First, it’s important to consider the many health benefits of forgiveness. Numerous studies have shown that practicing forgiveness can provide across-the-board physiological benefits and even change symptoms like blood pressure. Here are just a few of the benefits you might expect from practicing forgiveness.


Less Stress, Anxiety, and Hostility: One of the benefits of forgiveness is a lower amount of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released by the body during times of stress. By letting go and practicing forgiveness, you’ll find that you have lower physiological stress responses.

A Healthier Heart: Forgiveness is good for the heart—studies have shown that people who tend to hang on to grudges have higher heart rates, while people who consider themselves more compassionate and empathetic tend to have lower heart rates.

Lower Levels of Pain: A study done by Duke University Medical Center researchers showed that patients with lower back pain who were more likely to forgive perceived sleights reported lower levels of pain, demonstrating a relationship between forgiveness and symptoms associated with persistent pain.

Less Depression: People who tend to hold a grudge hold onto such anger and bitterness that they often become depressed or anxious. By practicing forgiveness, you can train your mind to release those negative emotions and achieve greater spiritual and psychological well-being.

Better Sleep: A study reported in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine demonstrated that forgiveness is associated with many different health issues, including medications taken, sleep quality, and fatigue. The health benefits of forgiveness are associated with its ability to reduce negative feelings including tension, anger, depression, and fatigue.

How do I Reach a State of Forgiveness?

Forgiveness involves changing your attitude towards an experience, which often means changing your thoughts. To begin the process of change, you might consider the value and benefits of forgiveness and its necessity at this point of your life. You may also pause to reflect more deeply on the situation, its origins, and your own part in the exchange. When you’re ready, choose to actively forgive the person who offended you.


As you consciously release your grudges, you may find a feeling of being lighter because you’re not carrying so much anger and resentment. Your hurt doesn’t have to define your existence, and you may even find a comforting level of compassion and understanding.

Working Towards a Deeper Sense of Forgiveness

Achieving forgiveness is challenging, especially if the person who hurt you doesn’t admit wrongdoing, isn’t communicative, or has died. Use relaxation techniques and tools to help work towards forgiveness if you find yourself stuck. You might write in a journal to consider the situation from the other person’s point of view, or reflect on times you’ve hurt others and those who have forgiven you. Praying or using guided medication can help you to consciously relax and release the physical tension around your suffering.


The Takeaway

True forgiveness really is a divine act but it’s easier said than done. It can be difficult to forgive, especially if someone wronged you in a way that disrupted your values. It’s also important to realize that forgiveness is a process and even small wrongs may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.

Last updated: 02.07.2018

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

Get 4 free 8-minute workouts

We monitor comments. See guidelines