The Science of Woo: Forgiveness

Today – Easter – is a perfect day to feature Forgiveness in my series on the topic of “The Science of Woo.” There are ideas that transcend religion and are found in all religions, and the idea of Forgiveness is one of those ideas. I am never surprised when those ideas are found by modern science to be beneficial. It seems I am not alone and understanding of the clinical effectiveness of forgiveness is shared by my colleagues. In the 90’s, there were 58 studies on Forgiveness and by 2005, there were 950. 1 

In this post, we’ll be discussing the practical, utilitarian, and evidencebased reasons why forgiveness is a principle with which persons in recovery should operate. While I want persons “in recovery” to cultivate a forgiveness tool, I encourage my readers to understand that Forgiveness is a beneficial internal state for all persons. 

Let’s review the basics of addiction as a brain disease. When the neurochemistry of a brain is unwell in a specific way, the propensity towards neurotransmitters reacting with an exaggerated response to psychoactive substances provides the foundation on which a substance use disorder develops. As the chemistry of the brain continues to be compromised, the structure of the brain is informed by faulty chemistry and the structure then becomes unwell also. It’s the brain’s chemistry and structure that create the neural pathways which in turn determine cognition, behavior, and lived experience. The interaction of a faulty brain chemistry and psychoactive substances that exacerbate the faulty chemistry trigger – or “turn on” or “flip the switch” of the epigenetics which facilitates the development of addiction. The disease of substance abuse – addiction – is in the brain. (The symptoms, however, are in homes, relationships, bank accounts, health, credit scores, businesses, and workplaces.) 

Recovery, then, begins in the brain.  

Recovery, then, needs to include habits, behaviors, and tools that change brain chemistry and reverse the negative synergy described above. It can be an uncomfortable, and sometimes unbelievable, leap from the science of addiction to the science of the habits, behaviors, and tools that create lasting change for those seeking relief from a substance use disorder. 

Today, I am making the case that forgiveness is a scientifically powerful tool. In my introduction to the series, I described presenting these ideas in the categories of Internal StatesHabitsActivities, and Guiding Principles. Forgiveness is being featured as an Internal State. 

I wrote an earlier blog entry on a similar topic. There you can read about my own personal experience with the topic, some data on forgiveness and health, and about some tools to facilitate forgiveness. 

Below are 6 of the many supports for Forgiveness as a brain-changer and up-leveler of life. 

  1. The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University featured an excellent journal article by Katheryn Rhoads Meek. This article is Christian and seems appropriate support on Easter. 
  2. Berkley has something to say about Forgiveness.:Forgiveness isn’t just practiced by saints or martyrs, nor does it benefit only its recipients. Instead, studies are finding connections between forgiveness and physical, mental, and spiritual health.” 
  3. The University of Stanford Forgiveness project found that “found that the act of forgiving someone can raise your optimism and mood, while not forgiving and holding resentment is correlated with anxiety, hostility, depression, and major psychiatric disorders, as well as physical health problems.” 
  4. Forgiveness is shown to generalize – that means people who cultivate the inner state of forgiveness forgive beyond the original offense but develop empathy and forgiveness to other persons, situations, and memories.
  5. Forgiveness helps with health concerns 
  • Mental health 
  • Cardio vascular health 
  • Negative stress effects 
  • Headaches 
  • Digestive issues 3 

6. Johns Hopkins University agrees with the health benefits.  

  • Immune response 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Reduce pain 
  • Sleep issues

Successful, long term recovery from substance abuse means curating internal states, activities, habits, and a decision making filter that matches the aggressiveness of the disease. A recovering person needs a tool box which includes tools shown to impact (brain) health positively. It’s my hope that throughout this series, high functioning alcoholics and high functioning addicts and their families can learn and grow comfortable with the less seemingly quantifiable suggestions and eventually embrace the science behind the woo: forgiveness works and should be part of a recovery and wellness plan. 

If you are wondering if you are a High Functioning Alcoholic or High Functioning Addict in Katy, Texas, please go to my site at joanneketch.com and take the quiz. 

  1. https://www.salon.com/2015/08/24/the_science_of_forgiveness_when_you_dont_forgive_you_release_all_the_chemicals_of_the_stress_response/
  2. https://www.asaging.org/blog/art-and-science-forgiveness
  3. Ibid.

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