Might Forgiving Others Be Dangerous to Our Health?
In his thought-provoking book, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, Dr. John Sarno says that a condition he calls “goodism” can lead to even greater anger and rage and to more back pain than a person had prior to engaging in “goodism.” Goodism is the striving to be good to such an extent that one cannot possibly live up to the self-imposed expectation. It leads to stress which can, if repressed, hurt a person physically.
So, then, how does this relate to practicing forgiveness? Forgiveness is concerned with being good. In fact, to forgive is to exercise a moral virtue of love and mercy, both signs of goodness. Thus, might the practice of forgiveness actually lead to more anger, to more rage, to more unpleasant physical symptoms than to the reverse of this, especially when we are unable to live up to these requirements to love someone who has not loved us?
Yes…..if we go about forgiving in the wrong way.
If we are forced to forgive (I must do so to be good) and if we strive for perfection in forgiving (I must be perfectly loving), then we are not going about forgiveness correctly. We need to choose to forgive, be drawn to it, and go about it with gentleness and patience. We need to take small steps: do no harm before I feel compassion; see the other as more than the offense before feeling love; striving for civility at first rather than love. We need to exercise humility, not grandstanding “goodism,” as we start on the path to forgiveness.
If people are forgiving and develop more back pain or more anger or more anxiety, then these forgivers (or the clinician who is helping) should examine whether they are doing this out of grim obligation or to show people how perfect they are. The forgivers should adjust how they are approaching forgiveness and go about the process with more gentleness and patience, one small step at a time.
Genuine forgiveness is not “goodism.” Forgiveness, genuinely understood and practiced, is not dangerous to our health.
Robert Enright and Jacqueline Song