Learning to Forgive

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
— Paul Boese

There is a saying, “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get hurt or die.”  Forgiveness is the act of letting go of the burden that you carry from another person who has hurt you.  Holding on to resentment keeps our cortisol high, which can make us sick. Forgiveness is letting go of the resentment.  The good news is that you don’t need the other person’s participation to let go of the pain you are feeling.  Nor does forgiveness condone the poor behavior or imply that what the other person did was justified or acceptable.  Forgiveness is the act of moving on.

Forgiveness Can Enhance Your Health

Forgiveness is freely making a choice to give up negative emotions of revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person and move toward positive feelings of generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person. (Enright, et al., 1998) It includes more than letting go of the negative feelings.

When people don't change their response in some way, unforgiveness can take its toll on physical, mental, relational, and even spiritual health. (Witvlie et. al., 2001). A study conducted by psychologist Loren Toussaint showed that the physical benefits of forgiveness seem to increase with age. People over 45 years of age who had forgiven others reported greater satisfaction with their lives and reported fewer symptoms of nervousness, restlessness, and sadness. (Toussaint, et al., 2001)

Mindfulness and Forgiveness

The more people ruminate about an offense, the more difficulty they appear to have in forgiving.  Also, attempts to suppress those negative reoccurring thoughts is associated with higher levels of avoidance and other non-constructive thoughts such as revenge. On the other hand, people who become less ruminative and do not try to avoid the underlying emotions are more likely to be able to begin the forgiveness process. (McCullough, 2000). As we come more aware of thoughts and can gain control over our attention, we can initiate the journey of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a Trainable Skill

According to a leading researcher in forgiveness, Dr. Fred Lushkin, forgiveness is both a choice and a trainable skill.  (Luskin, 2004) Just like other positive emotions such as hope, compassion, and appreciation, forgiveness is a natural part of what it means to be human. With practice, forgiveness can be both an act and a way of being. Through your mindfulness practice, you will be more open to receiving and giving the profound benefits of forgiveness.



Enright, R., Freedom, S., & Rique, J. (1998) The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness. In R. Enright & J. North (Eds) C, Exploring Forgiveness, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Luskin, Fred, (2001) Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. Harper San Francisco

Toussaint, Loren, Williams, David R. Musick, Marc A. Everson, Susan A. ( 2001) Forgiveness and Health: Age Differences in a U. S. Probability Sample, Journal of Adult Development, 8(4 ) 249-257.

Witvliet, Van Oyen, Charlotte; Ludwig, Thomas E. and Vander Laan, Kelly L. (2001). Granting Forgiveness or Harboring Grudges; Implications for Emotion, Physiology, and Health. Psychological Science, 12(1), 117-123.


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