Forgiveness: Cutting Off a Piece of Yourself?

The accumulation of stress in the body leads to many diseases. Its sources can include the experience of harm and holding a grudge against someone. Entering the process of forgiveness has a positive effect on our general physical and mental states, although it is associated with a loss of what is close to us.

Kate felt bitter. She was preparing a project in which she used the ideas of her good friend Tom – with his consent, of course. However, she forgot to tag him in the invitation posted on social media. When Tom drew her attention to this, she quickly corrected her mistake. Suddenly, she lost contact with him. After a few days, he finally replied to her message: He was resentful and did not accept the apology. The grudge he decided to bear caused Kate and Tom’s good cooperation to come to end, despite her hand being held out to him.

Very often, almost every day, we are exposed to various kinds of harm and hurt from the people who surround us. The closer someone is to us, the more painful and upsetting it can be. 

When dealing with harm, we have three options: 

  • Working something off – an offensive attitude in which anger is the dominant emotion; on this path, we set ourselves up to take revenge on the one who harmed us, which leads to the inevitable break-up of the relationship;
  • Repression – a defensive attitude, associated with apathy and bitterness, because we repress evil and difficult emotions; this path leads to the hypocritical claim that everything is fine;
  • Confrontation and forgiveness – after confronting one’s feelings and sorting them out, they lead to a “pardoning” of the wrongdoer, giving up revenge and forgiveness. This path brings peace.

Forgiveness is a Process

Forgiveness is a process, at the end of which peace awaits us. However, there is no naivety here which may suggest that we will rebuild a deep and trusting relationship with everyone who has hurt us. Forgiveness does not necessarily imply forgetting the wrongs and justifying the other person; much more often, it demands rectifying the evil. It all depends on the magnitude of the harm we have experienced. 

Psychologists describe in different ways the stages of the process of forgiveness. It will vary from person to person and from what they have experienced. It is a way of transforming difficult emotions: anger, grief, resentment and sadness into so-called positive ones: understanding, peace and acceptance.  

Despite various psychological descriptions, the following stages of forgiveness can be distinguished:

  1. Distancing – rest from a painful experience or a difficult situation to look at it from a different perspective.
  2. Resignation – the decision not to take revenge or vengeance. It focuses on the rejection of punishing – both yourself and the other party.
  3. Forgetting guilt – putting aside painful memories, not returning to grudges and harm; this is the stage of treating emotions.
  4. Forgiveness – forgetting of another person’s guilt, the reassurance of oneself in a decision to refrain from revenge and a deeper and deeper purification of emotions combined with relief and freedom.
  5. Reconciliation – not every process of forgiveness includes this stage, which consists of confronting the wrongdoer and expressing one’s emotions and words of forgiveness towards them.

Cutting Off One’s Leg

“The higher the level of awareness (knowledge and understanding of harm, and also its psychosocial and spiritual conditioning) and the greater the scope of freedom in relation to the wrongdoer, the fuller forgiveness, as well as the readiness to reconcile. The effects of such an act of forgiveness are regaining freedom, freeing oneself from burdensome unpleasant emotions, feeling of higher self-worth and increasing respect for people, including those who fail to build good relationships and are the perpetrators of other people’s misfortunes and pain” –  this is how Dr. hab. Romuald Jaworski from the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University writes about the act and process of forgiveness.

Midjourney / chatGPT

The author of fantasy-philosophical novels Sergei Lukyanenko, from one of the books in the Night Watch series, describes a situation, in which the main character forgives his bitter enemy. All his desire to fight and take revenge, which gave him energy, disappears in the very act of understanding of his opponent. 

Every forgiveness is the loss of a piece of yourself. What is first born after the experience of harm: anger, desire for revenge and resentment seem to be closer to man. Forgiveness becomes a conscious act of rejecting a natural (at least it seems) desire to retaliate in favor of a difficult process of understanding, overworking emotions, and pardoning wrongs. This is similar to amputation: Sometimes there is a need to cut off a leg to save a whole body.

Paula Stolarz, the author of the article Przebaczenie, które leczy (“Forgiveness which heals”), states: “Achieving emotional forgiveness changes a person from the harmed one into the independent participant in his or her unique line of life.” It sounds excessively lofty, but forgiveness also has a very positive effect on the physical health of a person.

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Forgiveness, Unforgiveness, and Stomach Ulcers

Evolution has equipped man with a threat response system. When an enemy, who evokes emotions of fear and anger, appears on the horizon, adrenaline begins to act, spurring fight or flight. It affects the blood supply into the brain, heart, lungs and muscles. The organs least necessary for survival – such as the stomach or intestines – become less important. For the primitive man, it was not a problem: He escaped or won, the adrenaline fell and the body returned to normal. Today, stressful factors make fear and anger appear in us much more often and persist for a longer time, negatively affecting the work of the body.

Constant stimulation of the body has negative effects: hypertension, ulcers, abdominal pain, and dermatological problems. According to Lewis Silverman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, stress and the associated feelings of anger and guilt that are not worked through lie at the bottom of every illness. Therefore, reaching the end of the process of forgiveness can free patients from malaise.

This observation is confirmed by Matthew C. Whited of East Carolina University, Amanda L. Wheat and Kevin T. Larkin of West Virginia University and their research, which proves that charitable people, who show a greater tendency to forgive, are characterized by reduced body arousal. Moreover, Carl Thorensen and his colleagues at Stanford University conducted a multi-year study of 259 volunteers. They were treated with a method of reconciliation therapy. As a result, they had a better mood, and fewer signs of stress, such as muscle pain, back pain or dizziness. A decrease in cortisol levels was observed in their blood. They were also much more optimistic.

Predisposed to Forgive

It sounds so easy: Forgive, change your attitude, and be healthy. It is not without reason, however, that forgiveness is compared to amputation. It could be more pleasant and challenging. Interestingly, some researchers say that humans are genetically conditioned to forgive.

Yet in 2000, there were no methodologically correct studies on forgiveness and its impact on health. The change came about thanks to positive psychology, which has been created in recent decades thanks to Martin Seligman. Thanks to his work and involvement, the study of happiness began. In 1999, a conference on forgiveness was held and a Campaign for Forgiveness Research was launched. In the United States, several research centers are working on this topic.

One of the scientists from the University of Miami – Michael McCullough claims that nature has equipped us with the instinct to forgive. The research of geneticist Lyndon Eaves supports this hypothesis. He studied twins and found that they are genetically more similar in terms of forgiveness than non-twin siblings. 

Not only are we, therefore, capable of forgiveness, but we can do so to the advantage of the whole organism, not just for relationships with others. Sometimes one has to get rid of something and cut something off from, for example, pride, revenge and a sense of superiority. It is, however, worth the effort.

Translation: Marcin Brański

Published by

Dariusz Dudek


Editor and copywriter who majored in theology. Interested in self-development and psychology. Always on the lookout for new amazing ideas.

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