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The Power of Forgiveness in Recovery

image of heart made up of the word forgive

Updated on

Grace is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
-Mark Twain

Recovery from addictive disease is marred by feelings of resentment, hurt and un-forgiveness. Un-forgiveness is the inability to reconcile unresolved feelings of anger and hurt for past wounds. Un-forgiveness can impair physical health and cause immeasurable emotional damage to individuals and relationships. On the other hand, forgiveness offers the possibility of healing when emotional and spiritual wounds seem irreconcilable. Forgiveness, like nothing else restores the possibility of emotional and spiritual health, intimacy, and the creation of new and gratifying relationships. In his book Forgiveness Is A Choice Dr. Robert D. Enright, writes. “Forgiveness is a matter of a willed change of heart, the successful result of an active endeavor…”

A nationwide Gallup poll showed that 94 percent of American’s believe that is important to forgive others – However the same survey also showed that less than half (48%) said that they actually had tried to forgive those who offended them. It would seem that although most agree that forgiveness is a good idea–knowing when, who and how to forgive remains elusive.

Research on Forgiveness

Several controlled studies have shown that forgiveness training can be effective in improving health and reducing hurt and stress. Psychologist Michael McCullough, PhD, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has investigated the physiological aspects of forgiveness on overall health. During the study subjects were asked to think about someone who had hurt them significantly and to reflect on that person in both

forgiving and unforgiving ways while their heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, and facial patterns were monitored. During unforgiving reflection, subjects had higher heart rates, higher blood pressure, increased sweating, and increased frowning.

In addition, increased forgiveness can be a tool for enhancing existing interpersonal relationships. Assessing the impact of forgiveness on marriage, investigator Peter Larson, Ph.D. found a significant correlation between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. According to the study results, one third of marriage satisfaction is related to the ability to forgive and be forgiven. As forgiveness ability increased, Dr. Larson found that marriage partners reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue These results are powerful and suggest that mental health professionals and marriage counselors should be helping people develop the skill of forgiveness.

The Stanford Forgiveness Project has taken on the challenge of assessing the impact of forgiveness training. In a recent investigation, 259 participants with unresolved interpersonal hurt participated in 4 and half months of educational training groups. The study revealed that young adults who felt hurt or offended made substantial improvements in reducing anger and blame and increased their willingness, and their confidence to forgive others in offensive situations. As a result of the training 70% of

the participants reported a decrease in feelings of hurt; 13% reduction in long- term experience of anger; 27% reduction in physical symptoms of stress (back ache, dizziness, sleeplessness, headache, stomach upset, etc.); 15% decrease in emotional experience of stress; 34% increase in forgiveness for person that hurt them.

Spiritual Aspects of Forgiveness

“What results from the act of forgiveness is grace, which
cannot be described in psychological language”

Lewis B. Smedes author of Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve writes. “Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He (Jesus) began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.”

It is forgiveness that restores relationships ravaged by addiction.

In the final analysis, forgiveness is not a psychological or emotional issue. It is an act of volition based on the tacit understanding that even at out best, the human condition is self-centered and largely self-serving. What results from the act of forgiveness is grace, which cannot be described in psychological language. Grace is the realization that in spite of all of our mistakes, sins, brokenness and bad choices, forgiveness and redemption are possible. Perhaps the best way to describe grace is that it is the opposite of shame and resentment. Forgiveness, like nothing else produces equal amounts of grace and healing for both the wounded and the aggressor.


  • Dr. Drew Edwards
    Dr. Drew Edwards

    Clinical Consultant and Medical Educator

    Dr. Drew Edwards is a nationally recognized expert in Addictive Disease and Behavioral Medicine. You can learn more about him by visiting his website.

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