by Robbie Durand, M.A.,

How would you like to lower your risk of heart disease with a revolutionary new drug? This revolutionary new drug can not be prescribed by your doctor, can’t be found in any health food store, and can be used as many times as you like without a prescription refill. Where can you get this revolutionary new drug that lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease? You can start using it right now because it resides inside of you…Forgiveness. When The Secret video was first released many skeptics commented on where is the proof that Law of Attraction really works? Where are the scientific studies? Forgiveness is the one actual emotional response that the scientific community has proof that it works.

Forgiveness has been linked to a number of health benefits. A 2006 study provided some insight into why forgiveness of others might be related to health. In a study of 425 participants ages 50 to 95 years old, researchers found a forgiving personality was related to less stress, greater well being, better psychological well being, and less depression7. In addition to general health benefits, forgiveness seems to enhance physiological markers of cardiovascular health. Last month according to a new 2007 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, forgiveness can not only improve well being but was related to reduced blood pressure responses. In the study, subjects were asked to recall a painful moment in which they were hurt. One group of subjects was asked to seek thoughts of revenge and retaliation while the other group was asked to think thoughts of love and forgiveness. Interestingly, the group that focused on forgiveness had a quicker blood pressure recovery from stressful thoughts1. Could forgiveness be the next blood pressure lowering drug of the new millennium?

Ho‘oponopono and Forgiveness
Forgiveness, defined as a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral response to interpersonal conflict has been linked to both mental and physical indices of health. Forgiveness has been defined, at least partially, as a reduction in negative affect toward an offender. The victim relinquishes ideas of revenge, and feels less hostile, angry, or upset about the experience. Over the past 5 years, a number of reviews have examined this association the association between forgiveness and health. Not being able to forgive is an emotional stressor on both the mind and body. Research on stress and cardiovascular disease has partly focused on how individual personality characteristics interact with stressors. Acute emotional stress is thought to be particularly salient for the development of stress-related disease processes. Redford Williams, M.D., whom is the director of behavioral research at Duke University Medical Center, professor of psychiatry, and associate professor of medicine has incorporated forgiveness as one feature in their prescription for improving cardiovascular health, and forgiveness has been embedded in multimodal intervention programs for heart disease4.

All of these papers have concluded that forgiveness, measured in a variety of ways, is positively associated with health, particularly the cardiovascular system. Dr. Vitale often mentions the power of invoking Ho‘oponopono, which can be summed up in the 4 phrases that he uses whenever he wants to invoke Ho‘oponopono, which are: “I Love You” “I’m Sorry” “Please Forgive Me” “Thank You.” Forgiveness is a cleansing thought which may be reason why letting go of hostile thoughts is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

“If you have been their in the Mind…I believe you can go there in the body…”

In the movie The Secret, “Dr. Dennis Waitley reported that when Olympic athletes visualized themselves running in their events, the same muscles fired in the exact same sequence as those that fired as if they were actually running the race. Dr. Waitley believed that the mind could not differentiate between when the actual event is actually occurring or if it’s just practice. He believes that if you go there in the mind…you will go there in the body. It seems that not being able to forgive is associated with the exact same response. People who can’t forgive live the exact same stressful physiological response on a daily basis! For example, psychologists examined brain imaging scans to imaginal evocation of forgiveness and unforgiveness in response to hurtful events. Ten young healthy participants (5 females and 5 males) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while they were asked to evoke a series of specific imaginal scenarios that comprised a hurtful event. Then they were randomly instructed to forgive or not. Areas of the brain that are involved in the regulation of emotional responses, moral judgment, perception and modulation of physical and moral pain, reward and decision making processes were examined. Amazingly, the area of the brain involving emotional responses was strongly engaged when subjects granted forgiveness. Another interesting finding was the area of the brain activated with forgiveness is the same area of the brain modulated by pain-killing drugs but also by hypnosis and placebo. The researchers concluded that forgiveness may represent a natural ‘‘self-aid medication mechanism’’ that was selected through evolution for people to overcome distressful situations much before pharmacological agents or therapeutic interventions became available. This also could explain why people who are unable to forgive tend to abuse more alcohol and other drugs.

Forgiveness Reduces Cardiovascular Disease
Several peer reviewed studies have been published which shows forgiveness reduces stress and strain on the heart. So how are these studies performed? Most studies have asked participants to recall a painful moment in their life in which someone deeply hurt them. Meanwhile, researchers are measuring heart rate, blood pressure, ect and other markers of cardiovascular stress. Here is a general screening form for a forgiveness study, “During the interview, you will be asked to recall a time when you were deeply hurt by someone close to you (close friend/partner, relative, romantic partner.) Think of a time now when you were deeply hurt or betrayed by someone close to you. On the following couple of lines, jot down a few words about the incident to remind you during the interview which event you picked to share.” So here are some of the more interesting studies that shows just how powerful forgiveness is:

      • A 2001 research study examined the resting levels of a variety of psychophysiological variables, along with self-report measures of a general tendency to forgive others and oneself, in 68 adult men. Not being able to forgive was associated with poor health habits, such as alcohol and cigarette use. Those scoring higher on forgiveness exhibited several indicators of good health, including lower anxiety, anger and depression, lower markers of cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that subjects recalled experiences of betrayal that were not forgiven emotionally were associated with higher blood pressure, higher heart rate, and greater overall strain on the heart. Interestingly, those subjects were able to forgive had lower resting heart rate, blood pressure, overall strain on the heart1

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  • Huang and Enright reported an investigation of forgiveness including a physiological measure, blood pressure. Based on their developmental model of stages of forgiveness, Chinese participants citing forgiveness as a duty or cultural obligations were compared to those citing forgiveness as love. Results of the study concluded that those who forgave out of obligation-oriented versus moral-love motives cast down their eyes and showed more masking smiles. The authors interpreted those behaviors as signs of hidden anger. These facial patterns are also consistent with the idea that the obligatory forgivers might have been suppressing negative emotion, which we consider to be akin to decisional, rather than emotional forgiveness. In line with this view, the obligatory forgivers had significantly higher blood pressure values than did the moral love forgivers on three of twelve blood pressure comparisons. Obligation forgivers had higher raw systolic blood pressure at the beginning of the interview, and higher raw systolic blood pressure. And diastolic blood pressure one minute into the interview. This study suggests that motivations emphasizing love differ from motivations that emphasize obligation in terms of affective expression and cardiovascular responses5.

Overall, it appears that forgiveness may be cardioprotective. The empirical literature on forgivingness and health is growing. At present, it appears that a variety of mechanisms operate and support the forgivingness-health relationships in different ways at different stages of life.

  1. Seybold, K. S., Hill, P. C., Neumann, J. K., and Chi, D. S. (2001). Physiological and psychological correlates of forgiveness. J. Psychol. Christianity 20: 250–259.
  2. Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., and Jones, W. H. (2003). A change of heart: Cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. J. Behav. Med. 26: 373–393.
  3. Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The unique effects of forgiveness on health: an exploration of pathways. J Behav Med. 2005 Apr;28(2):157-67.
  4. Williams, R., andWilliams,V. (1994). Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Reducing the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health. Times Books/Random House, New York.
  5. Huang, S.-T. T., and Enright, R. D. (2000). Forgiveness and anger-related emotions in Taiwan: Implications for therapy. Psychotherapy 37: 71–79.
  6. Witvliet, C.V., Ludwig, T.E., Vander Laan, K.L., 2001. Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychol. Sci. 12, 117–123.
  7. Lawler-Row, K. A., & Piferi, R. L. (2006). The forgiving personality: Describing a life well lived? Personality and Individual Differences, 41, 1009–1020.

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