It’s true that forgiveness is a good virtue, but apart from that, it’s a liberating feeling that reduces the risk of stress-related illnesses. Researchers at Luther College in Iowa, led by psych professor Loren Toussaint, found that mental illness linked to stress dropped among young adults who forgave others and even themselves.
“It’s almost entirely erased — it’s statistically zero,” Toussaint said in a magazine interview. While forgiveness isn’t a manufactured drug, the professor asserted that it can “100 percent be learned.”
Making You Feel Better About Yourself
How do you actually learn to forgive? Social science has a lot to say about making you feel good about yourself, and forgiveness may easily be dismissed as one of those rainbow-painting ways to do that. Also, the lines between forgiving and tolerating stress-inducing behavior are not very clear. How do you draw the line between letting bad behavior pass and actually forgiving it?
The answer lies in how much better you feel about yourself and the other party, at least according to consultant and church leader Ron Edmonson. Edmonson outlined a 5-point test to determine forgiveness.
“Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Again, you’ve likely been on positive terms with this person or in a close enough relationship for them to injure you to this extreme. Is there anything good you can come up with about them, which is even remotely good? If not, have you really forgiven them?” reads one of the points. To a Christian, this makes sense, of course. And, science seems to agree.
The Psychology of Forgiveness
Many confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. While it may lead to that, it doesn’t always come to that. What forgiveness ultimately amounts to is a feeling of understanding, and a study published by the Mayo Clinic backs this up. It emphasizes, however, that it doesn’t undermine the responsibility of the other person towards you. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.”
The research further emphasizes the role of decision-making in forgiveness, saying that it starts with choosing to “let go of feelings of resentment and anger.” Simply put, it’s being accountable to one’s feelings, while holding the other party responsible for what they have done. It’s acknowledging what happened and accepting it for what it is. In effect, it’s making one feel better about one’s self by choosing to feel better about the situation.
Toussaint may have enough reason to place his hopes on an at that can “100 percent be learned”. The question is, will you choose to?