Letting Go of Grudges Helps Your Health
Forgiving those who've wronged you isn't always easy, but holding a grudge is hard on your health. Not only does it increase stress (which can lead to canker sores, gum disease and even teeth-grinding), but it can manifest into serious ailments like depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease.
The good news: Researchers who have studied everyone from friends with simple grudges to cheated spouses and rape victims say forgiveness may not be as tough as you think.
Loren Toussaint, an associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, has three suggestions to help you cultivate an attitude of forgiveness:
1. Put yourself in the other person's shoes
Empathizing with your critical mother-in-law or a backstabbing co-worker may be the last thing you want to do, but the process can generate humility, says Toussaint. "It really makes you identify with the offense they committed, and doing that often makes you realize very quickly, ‘I'm capable of this too.'" What's more, a study at Case Western Reserve University found that while men tend to be more vengeful than women, both sexes become more forgiving when they see themselves as being capable of committing the same offense.
2. Make a gratitude list
To put painful memories in perspective, Toussaint suggests writing down everything for which you're grateful. "By the time you have maybe 20 things on this list, you begin to realize there are lots of things that are good in your life and that this just happens to be one particular thing that's difficult to deal with." Keep the list on hand and remind yourself often, until it becomes second nature to remember that these things outweigh the one offense.
3. Forgive yourself
Being angry at yourself for your own bad behavior can often impede your ability to forgive others, says Toussaint. "Forgiveness of oneself is simply having compassion for oneself," explains the expert. "Understand that you're not a perfect person and that we all make mistakes." Only with self-forgiveness will you be able to let go and allow yourself to do better in the future.
Gabrielle Gayagoy is a lifestyle editor and book reviewer in New York City. She has written for national publications, including Shape, Self, Seventeen, Women’s Health, Weight Watchers and VIVmag, the first all-digital luxury magazine for women.
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