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The Science of Forgiveness

Updated: Aug 19, 2021


As an ongoing psychology, counselling and coaching student, I sometimes pick up fascinating random facts. In a recent unit on neuroscience, I learnt about the brain’s ability to radically change, indicated by neuroimaging showing brain areas that light up when different thoughts stimulate various areas linked with thoughts, motor abilities, senses and feelings. Studies have shown intriguing facts about unforgiveness which is linked with particular brain areas that correspond with depression and a lack of empathy. This seems to mean that the less one is able to forgive the greater the potential for depression and difficulties with empathy. In other words, if you can begin to increase empathy, forgiveness increases, and depression is reduced. Awesome information to consider for our lives.

Perhaps you are from a family where members haven’t spoken for years perpetuating unforgiveness, bitterness and reduced empathy. Importantly this can change as you appropriate the science of forgiveness.When you attempt to show empathy and forgive, you are fighting depression by neuroplastically changing the brain.

Neurogenesis means new neurons are created which makes new structures producing new thoughts and habits. But change starts with the thoughts and actions to create the new neurons in you. Three things need to happen in those thoughts to create new brain structures or neurogenesis which could make life better for you and your family:

1. New stretched thinking,

2. In an enriched environment,

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat…

To operate these this let’s look at these in context.

A client from a difficult childhood recounted the ways his and his siblings were in some way emotionally abused. As a result of the abuse, each sibling grew up with difficult social and emotional struggles but all of them lacking in the understanding of each other’s adult life challenges. This lack of empathy is often associated with early trauma. (1) New stretched thinking would involve looking at oneself through the lens of the Bible – focus off others and onto self instead. (2) The enriched environment would involve help from others giving understanding, caring and even reparenting from pastors, therapists, coaches, counsellors or mentors. (3) Then finally these new thought and actions need to be repeatedagain and again to build new brain circuitry.

In my extended family there are many family units where different members don’t talk with others which I find extremely heart-breaking. I can see why these occurrences began historically, but unless one person commits to change their own thoughts, get some help and persevere then the same situations will continue down each affected family line. Healing these family rifts begins with you!

‘Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…” Luke 23:34 NKJV

Begin to make a decision to forgive (decisional forgiveness) then attempt emotional forgiveness which is to stop negative ruminating about what others have done; stand in their shoes to see their point of view and then truly wish them well. Then and only then can you make a change to see change. It actually is as the Bible instructs, to love your enemies (See Matthew 5:43-48).

I’ve done this arduous work and it’s made a huge impact on how I see and feel about others who have hurt me. If you do this too, the change will take unforgiveness off your shoulders which is weighing you down and help you find freedom. If you continue in unforgiveness, medical science proves that lives are shortened, related DNA is produced and the cycle continues.

Think about what unforgiveness is doing to your kid’s lives. It is perpetuating this into their DNA as it is passed on. ‘Healing begins with me’ can be a reminder to stop negative thinking and see other points of view. To change the brain wiring remember this will stretch you, so you will need help or support and you will need to keep doing this.

We humans are funny creatures, and we do things to hurt others and ourselves. We all need a God who is the Healer with forgiveness and grace enough to provide you the empathy to extend to others. This may take some time so be patient with yourself. One step at a time.

Take it—one day you’ll look back and be so grateful you did.

God bless


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