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Forgiveness reduces trauma, study suggests

05 August 2022

Melanie Stander/Unsplash

THE practice of forgiveness has been identified as a factor in Christians’ experiencing reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A study of the responses of Puerto Ricans to two devastating hurricanes in 2017 has found evidence that Christian affiliation could lessen symptoms of PTSD.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico within two weeks of each other in September 2017, killing about 3000 people and causing catastrophic damage (News, 22 September 2017).

Researchers studied the symptoms of 5111 Puerto Rican residents who survived the hurricanes, and looked at their religious affiliation, PTSD symptoms, and propensity to search for meaning and forgiveness. They found that Christian affiliation was associated with forgiveness, and that forgiveness in turn was associated with less severe symptoms of PTSD. Searching for meaning was not associated with fewer symptoms of trauma.

The study was published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

The lead author, Loren Toussaint, a Professor at Luther College and President of the Forgiveness Foundation, told the PsyPost news website: “Having a religious faith can be helpful in times of distress. Especially in very turbulent and unsettled times like we are living in now we can take several lessons from the work we did with Puerto Ricans.

“First, faith can help with coping in the midst of traumatic events. This is probably because it promotes things like gratitude, hope, meaning, and forgiveness.

“Second, in our study we found that it was forgiveness that was the key link between Christian faith and fewer symptoms of trauma. That’s probably because Christianity promotes forgiveness and forgiveness is good for your mental health.

“We have an enormous amount to learn about faith, forgiveness, coping, and life stress. We are facing more common societal and global stressors: think climate change, war, pandemic, gun violence, etc. Sometimes, we can pinpoint blame on one person, and other times it’s more of just a horrible situation.

“Going through these things is hard, really hard; but, when we come through on the other side, how do we cope, let go, and learn to thrive again? Looking deeper to one’s faith and spirituality for these existential answers is a natural thing to do, and reaping the benefits of doing this often means we grow in understanding, making sense of life, gratitude, and forgiveness of ourselves, others, and even just plain old bad situations.”

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