Forgiveness & the Heart

Is there anyone who has not wronged another at some point? Who amongst us has not wanted to be forgiven? Most people have suffered some wrongdoing by others. Why should one forgive? The answer from a health perspective seems to be that when we forgive, our cardiovascular functioning improves as well as achieving inner peace.

A study by Dr Ross May and colleagues from Tallahassee, Florida, published in 2014 in the American Journal of Cardiology, investigated anger and forgiveness on a number of cardiovascular parameters. The study involved 308 young adult healthy females. They were divided into 3 groups. A different aspect of cardiovascular functioning was investigated in each group: effect of the autonomic nervous system on the cardiovascular system, rate of blood outflow from the heart & blood pressure fluctuations.

The participants’ traits of anger and forgiveness were measured by questionnaires. To clarify what is meant by trait (as opposed to state): an anger trait is a disposition or tendency in our personality to express or experience angry feelings. Anger trait was measured by a sub scale from an anger questionnaire (State-Trait anger Expression Inventory-2). Forgiveness trait was measured by a forgiveness rating scale (4–item Tendency to Forgive Scale).

There is a recognized association between anger and increased cardiovascular risk both in healthy people and cardiac patients. The authors investigated the cardioprotective properties provided by trait forgiveness as an antidote to the cardiotoxic influence of anger and hostility.

Forgiveness was associated with decreased sympathovagal tone. Anger was associated with cardiovascular autonomic deregulation including decreased barorelfex sensitivity. Increase in forgiveness was associated with decreased ventricular work and decreased myocardial oxygen consumption. Anger was associated with increased ventricular work and aortic blood pressure. They suggest that trait forgiveness appears to serve as a protective factor against future cardiovascular disease and that the cardioprotective effect size of forgiveness is similar to the effect size of beta blockers! The authors conclude that interventions aimed at increasing forgiveness and decreasing anger may be clinically relevant.

Emotions and our mental state influences the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the day to day functions of our bodies that does not require conscious control e.g cardiovascular function, respiratory function, digestion etc. Emotions such as forgiveness, if cultivated can result in not only physical health improvement but also mental health improvement.

How does one forgive? The Tipping method (Radical Forgiveness Coaching) comprises a 5 step process that seems help people to forgive either others or themselves and achieve inner peace and wellbeing.

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