How forgiveness benefits your health

By Megan Giles: Retirement Transition Consultant

First published by Over Sixty [Link:]

Holding onto anger can never be a good thing. By the time we reach the retirement age it is inevitable that at some stage we have been hurt by actions or words of another. Perhaps they criticised your parenting skills, spoke ill of you to others, or took your kindness for granted.

Some people appear to forgive more easily whilst for others tend to hang on to that resentment and anger because they want the other person to bear the weight of what they have done to them. The think “how dare they treat me like that and think they can get away with it!”


Holding onto that grudge, however, requires much energy and over time this can pose problems for our physical health. Negative emotions such as anger, resentment and the desire for revenge over a prolonged period of time can lead to depression and anxiety, disrupted digestion, increased blood pressure and a weakened immune system.

Not only that, but by not forgiving the other person, we reduce our own capacity to enjoy the present moment, get the most out of the retirement that we have worked so hard for, and be our best self for the people we care about most.

Forgiving others

Whilst we may not want to forgive the other person, it is important to do so for your own well-being. Forgiveness does not mean that you condone their behaviour, nor does it mean that the wrong is justified, it simply means that you acknowledge what has occurred and then get on with your life in a positive way. I’m sure that you’ve seen it – people who have wasted years of their lives in bitterness and resentment, playing the victim and complaining about everyone and everything that has wronged them. What else do you notice about that person? The chances are that they look older than their years. Anger and resentment hasn’t been kind to them.

As Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

By recognising that we are all human and make mistakes, it allows you to move on in a positive way. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life.

It may be hard to forgive others when your pride or self-esteem is injured, however, the reality is that the anger or resentment you feel towards a person does them no harm whatsoever in the way that you would like. You are the one dealing with grief, anger, resentment on a daily basis, taking up your valuable energy.

Conversely, leading a happy and fulfilling life (free of anger) is the best response to those who have hurt you most.

Forgiving ourselves

Interestingly, when we talk about forgiveness, one of the most difficult people to forgive is ourselves. We are often our own harshest critic and we can berate ourselves for a myriad of things that we have done wrong such as not speaking up when we should have, hurting a loved ones, or blowing the family budget yet again…

By the time you reach retirement age you will have had your share of regrets, but the important thing is to forgive yourself. As Joan Collins once said, “Show me a person how has never made a mistake and I'll show you someone who has never achieved much” – mistakes are part of what makes us who we are and adds to our richness.

In forgiving yourself it is helpful to remember that we are all human and are simply trying to do the best we can in any moment. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and chances are that had you known that your action would cause pain or grief for yourself or another, it is unlikely that you would have done it. As such you have permission to forgive yourself and move on.

Key ways to forgive that will leave you feeling empowered

If there is someone that you need to forgive in order to live a life in retirement that is full of joy, positivity and strong connection to the people around you, you may like to start your forgiveness journey with the three steps below.

  • Step into the other person’s shoes and consider the alternate point of view. What were they experiencing, feeling or thinking at the time that they wronged you. Could there have been a particular event or circumstance driving their behaviour at the time, such as a relationship in crisis, financial hardship or a traumatic event? Whilst you do not need to excuse their behaviour or words, the impact may be lessened if you are able to feel some empathy for the other person.
  • Write your forgiveness down on paper. You might like to do this in a journal or a letter to yourself or the other person (though not necessarily to send) and articulate the actions that hurt and the impact it had. It is not critical that you forgive the person face-to-face, the important thing is that you release the negative emotions and memories that currently have a hold on you.
  • Find the positivity in the negative experience. Life doesn’t always go as planned. Consider what you have learned, how you have grown from the experience and even how you might be able to share those learnings to benefit others.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read Regrets in retirement and How to build your legacy.