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Forgiving others to help improve your health

Forgiving others for past hurts can improve your health, says Fred Luskin, founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects.

Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die, my partner often says. In some ways this isn't far from the truth. As a Stanford Magazine story explains, letting go of past hurts and vengeful feelings caused by others (or even yourself) can benefit your mental and physical health.

Fred Luskin, PhD, has been studying forgiveness and how it affects human health for decades. As he explains in the story by Charity Ferreira, when a past hurt is unresolved, thinking of it triggers stress chemicals that cause physical distress.

"When you remember it often, you are stressing your body on a chronic basis," Luskin says. "That has a physical cost," that multiplies the more you ruminate on it.

Forgiveness is essential in long-term relationships like marriages, families, business relationships and friendships, Luskin says. Here are a few of Luskin's eight tips for fostering forgiveness in relationships with others.

Don't worry, you aren't saying the offense was OK. Forgiveness doesn't condone or give someone a pass for bad behavior.

"You don't make excuses for the behavior," Luskin says. "You just accept it and make peace. That's very different."

Remind yourself why you want this person in your life. This only applies to healthy relationships, Luskin emphasizes. For healthy relationships you wish to stay in, temper the hurt a person caused you by remembering the good things they have done.

Set boundaries. Learn to gently but firmly say, "What you just did is not OK," Luskin says.

Recognize that you are telling yourself a story that can be changed. Consider alternative explanations. If you've been telling yourself your friend, partner, relative or colleague deliberately hurt you, question if that's true. Perhaps they were just doing the best they could at the time.

Make yourself the hero. Forgiveness can empower you. "When you tell yourself, 'The only one who is going to rescue me is me,' that creates a kind of heroic efficacy," Luskin says. "Instead of being limited or afraid, you get a sense of, 'I know I can cope with difficulty.'"

It's important to remember that "people are not replaceable," Luskin says. "Just about every relationship that you've ever been in requires some forgiveness to maintain itself."

Photo by Annie Spratt

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