I have read your views that to forgive for my own sake is honorable because it centers on self-care. I, though, have a different reason for forgiving. I want to forgive so that I am acting in a consistent way with my faith. God asks us to forgive and I want to honor that. Forgiving enriches my life and those around me. Do you think self-care is more important than my views on this?
No, I do not think that forgiving for the sake of self-care is more important than your reason for forgiving. In general (but certainly not always), I tend to find this: At first, people are highly motivated to forgive to get rid of the suffering of emotional pain. Eventually, people develop other reasons to keep forgiving and to forgive other people for offenses. One such new development is exactly what you are saying, to forgive to be consistent with one’s strongly held beliefs from faith. So, these two reasons for forgiving are not mutually exclusive. The one (the reason from faith) often emerges once the inner wounds begin to heal.
What do you think is the highest reason to forgive? For example, is the morally highest reason to forgive to preserve my own emotional health in self-care? Is it to help the other person to live a better life?
Those are very good reasons to forgive. I would say one of the highest reasons to forgive is this: to exercise goodness, particularly love, as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to your offer of forgiving and whether or not you show immediate psychological improvement. In other words, to offer love regardless of the consequences seems to me to be a special reason to forgive.
Is it selfish to forgive? After all, I do it to feel better. I do it for me.
There is a difference between what forgiveness is and why we do it. To forgive, by definition, is to be good to those who are not good to you. This is not a focus on the self, but on the other. If your motivation is to feel better, this is reasonable, especially if you are experiencing inner discomfort because of ongoing resentment. Thus, what forgiveness is and your current motivation can differ. One (the forgiving) is centered on the other. Your motivation is centered on your own healing. Neither of these is selfish. As a final point, not all motivations to forgive are centered on self-healing. For example, a person might be motivated to forgive for the sake of the one who offended.
Is wanting to forgive for your own health selfish? Is it effective?
Suppose you hurt your knee while running. Further suppose that you want to make an appointment at Sports Medicine to address the issue. Is this selfish? There is a large difference between being selfish (absorbed with yourself at the expense of others) and engaging in self-care (attending to your needs without neglecting others’ needs). Forgiving is good self-care. Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in heart health for cardiac patients:
Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009). The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.
Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms:
Lee, Y-R & Enright, R.D. (2014) A forgiveness intervention for women with fibromyalgia who were abused in childhood: A pilot study. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 203-217. doi: 10.1037/scp0000025.
A recent meta-analysis showed a statistically significant correlation between degree of forgiveness and a host of different physical issues:
Lee, Y.R. & Enright, R.D. (2019): A meta-analysis of the association between forgiveness of others and physical health. Psychology & Health, 34, 626-643.
So, yes, forgiving does seem advantageous for one’s physical health.
For additional information, see Forgiveness for Individuals.
Self-Care for Your Mental Health
Editor’s Note: The significant benefits of forgiveness are of little use to you if you aren’t around to embrace them. That’s where self-care comes in. Here are some basic tips from Brad Krause–self-care guru, writer and life coach–on taking better care of yourself.
Self-care encompasses all the actions you do every day to keep yourself in good health, such as exercise, eating well, and brushing your teeth. However, it also includes the smaller, overlooked things you can do to help with your mental health. These are not always obvious to us, so it is useful to reevaluate our habits and routines to gear them toward a happier, less stressful life.
Take Time to Relax
This is perhaps the most important act of self-care you can do for your mental well-being. Set some time aside every day for unwinding but be mindful of what you choose to do. For many people, relaxing means binging a TV show, playing a video game, or browsing the web, which does not allow us to truly unwind.
This is why taking just 15-20 minutes to sit in absolute silence and focus on your breathing can be extremely beneficial for your well-being. If you can, create a dedicated space in your home for this, away from distractions and other people. Make it as comfortable and soothing as possible and make sure no one can interrupt you during your mindfulness practice. More information at: How to Design the Perfect Meditation Room.
Get Enough Sleep
For years, doctors have seen insomnia as a symptom of many mental health disorders, but according to Harvard Health, it could be the other way around. A lack of sleep can lead to mental health issues, and yet many of us continue to neglect our sleep habits.
Take the time you need to wake up and subtract eight hours. That is the time you should be getting into bed. From that point, all electronics should be banned because they can make sleeping difficult. For an extra touch, use a relaxing pillow mist or aromatherapy oil to lull you to sleep.
Learn to Say “No”
If you are a classic people-pleaser, consider whether your eagerness to help others is affecting your mental health. Being generous, helpful, and unselfish is a wonderful thing, but not to the detriment of your well-being.
Before saying “yes” to any request, consider the following:
- Do I want to do this?
- Do I have the time and energy to do this?
- Is this person taking advantage of me by asking this?
- Could this person easily solve the problem themselves?
- Is this a one-off favor?
Depending on your answers, you may have to say “no.” Be firm but polite and do not let other people guilt you into changing your mind. A friend who tries to do this is not a good friend.
Let Go of Emotional Baggage
If you are holding onto past grudges, let them go. Leading thinkers throughout history have espoused the value of forgiveness in their lives, and for good reason, as Dr. Peter Breggin outlines in “How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life.” Studies have shown that forgiveness can have a positive impact on our physical and emotional health (see “Why Forgive?”), as well as helping us get into a more positive mind space.
According to Time Health, negativity bias is a phenomenon in which we tend to be drawn to news that will upset us. When you combine it with the decline of print media, it’s no wonder our Twitter and Facebook feeds seem overrun with terrible, anxiety-inducing news. At the same time, we tend to compare ourselves to the highly curated lives we see on sites like Instagram, which leaves us feeling terrible.
In this day and age, it can seem impossible to fully get offline, so just aim to consciously reduce your consumption of news and social media. When you catch yourself scrolling mindlessly through a feed, force yourself to stop and go do anything else.
Many of these bad habits have become ingrained in our daily lives and in the way we interact with the world. It takes some introspection to identify these negative patterns, and a lot of hard work to change them. However, the effort is well worth it.
Commit to taking better care of your mental and emotional well-being, work on forgiving anyone who has ever harmed you, and you will find yourself happier and more open to exciting new opportunities.
More self-care articles from Brad Krause:
- What is Self-Care?
- This is Why Self-Care is So Important
- The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Self-Care
- Taking Care of YOU: Why It’s OK to Focus on Self-Care
- Self-Care Strategies for Cancer Patients
About Brad Krause:
After four years in the corporate world working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, Brad Krause demonstrated the ultimate act of self-care by leaving his draining, unfulfilling job behind. He now spends full-time helping others as a self-care guru, writer and life coach (SelfCare.info). He sums up his vision by saying, “We all have the potential to be the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, but it comes down to prioritizing our own wellness through self-care. And that’s what I’m here to help people discover!”
You can contact Brad at Brad@selfcaring.info.