Aug. 25, 2022 –  “Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed.” —Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness can show up in stunning ways and in unexpected situations. We expect people who are the victims of violence or trauma to be angry; we don’t expect them to forgive the perpetrator. But it happens: For example, women who have been brutally raped sometimes speak of forgiving the attacker to free themselves from anger and pain. Forgiveness does not mean you condone whatever situation happened. It does not mean you were wrong, and the other person was right, or that you have to pretend nothing happened. You don’t have to become best friends with someone who hurt or abused you.  Living with a sense of betrayal or a feeling that life is unfair can lead to depression, physical health problems, and relationship difficulties. Being unable to forgive yourself for something you have done to another is equally damaging: This lack of self-forgiveness can lead to low self-esteem, isolation, and an inability to feel you deserve a good life. For example, if a family member has bailed you out of credit card debt related to bingeing or paid for you to get treatment, you may blame yourself for the trouble your disorder is putting this family member through and have difficulty forgiving yourself. Or your eating disorder may have contributed to difficulties in your relationship with a friend. Denying yourself forgiveness can trigger binges, increase your negative self-talk, and lower your self-esteem.

On the other hand, forgiveness has a positive effect on health and well-being. College students who are able to forgive themselves and others enjoy better physical health—and self-forgiveness has an even stronger correlation with good health than forgiving others. Individuals who are able to be forgiving—of themselves and others—may also have lower blood pressure and a better ability to recover from the effects of stress on the heart. Forgiveness is, moreover, also associated with less medication use, less alcohol abuse, and fewer physical symptoms.