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Your mother, your minister and your best friend may have extolled the virtue of forgiveness. But maybe it's time to discuss it with your doctor.
Researchers now believe that letting go of grudges may fortify the heart and the immune system. "When you're stuck in a grudge, you're isolated in your own suffering," says Fred Luskin, Ph.D., author of Forgive for Good and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. "The long-term damage to the cardiovascular system from bitterness and resentment is clearly established."
The power of forgiveness also boosts immunity in the short run, helping the body fend off colds and flu, Dr. Luskin said. But is it powerful enough to take on tougher infections? A study of the health implications of forgiveness on 200 HIV/AIDS patients is under way at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, in Baltimore. Psychiatry professor Lydia R. Temoshok, Ph.D., is measuring how much the patients have forgiven the people who infected them as well as how their disease is progressing. The ones who blame others or themselves in a "relentless daily battle," Dr. Temoshok says, "are the ones who we think will do worse."
Forgiveness may be beneficial not just for AIDS patients, but for everyone, says Dr. Luskin. After giving 260 volunteers nine hours of training in forgiveness, he found that forgiveness lowered their stress, boosted their feelings of self-confidence and helped them feel a greater sense of community with other people. His subjects also reported fewer headaches, backaches and upset stomachs.