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The Healing Power of Forgiveness

The act of forgiveness can help to reverse a number of negative health conditions—suppressed immunity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression, gastrointestinal issues, and more.

By Gillian Bethel, PhD

Psychological wounds can run deep. At age 11, Geoff was sexually abused by his martial arts instructor, whom he had idolized. Depression immediately set in. He decided he could no longer trust anyone, even those he loved. He also felt he couldn’t tell his parents about it, so he repressed the whole experience. It followed him into adulthood anyway. As an adult, fear, anger, and lack of trust manifested themselves in pathological jealousy with women and extreme violence with men. After almost killing a man in a fight, he knew he needed to turn his life around.

Geoff studied some psychology and learned about forgiveness, which prompted him to dig back into his past and forgive his abuser. This helped, but his trauma wasn’t fully resolved until the day he saw his abuser in a café. In a moment, he felt like he was 11 again and re-experienced all the

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  1. Geoff Thompson, The Forgiveness Project Stories,

  2. Tracy Asamoah MD, “How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Health?” Good Rx Health, March 12, 2020,

  3. Charlotte Witvliet, “Granting Forgiveness or Harboring Grudges: Implications for Emotion, Physiology, and Health,” March 2001, Greater Good Berkeley,

  4. Everett Worthington, “The Science of Forgiveness,” John Templeton Foundation, April 2020,

  5. See for example Fred Luskin, “Dr. Fred Luskin Talks About The Power Of Forgiveness,” Apr 30, 2018, Bay Area Focus,

  6. The Life, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,”

  7. Gayle Kirschenbaum, The Forgiveness Project Stories,

  8. Robert Enright, “Is Forgiveness Related to Physical Health?” Psychology Today, April 11, 2019,

Image credits

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About the author

Gillian Bethel, PhD, has taught stress management at lifestyle centers and is the author of From Stress to Joy.