Summary and Keywords
Research on forgiveness and its health-related effects has steadily increased since the late 20th century. Most of the forgiveness-health literature demonstrates that forgiveness indirectly influences health through a variety of psychosocial affective factors. Common distinctions in this research are reflected in studies focused on reduction of negative affect and, thus, negative health effects, and studies focused on preventative and health-promoting implications of forgiveness (e.g., increased positive affect). While a lack of clarity exists regarding health implications stemming from reductions in unforgiveness (as distinct from increases in forgiving responses), current research supports the notion that forgiveness, as opposed to unforgiveness, affects psychological, physical, and relational health in overridingly beneficial ways. More specifically, forgiveness, and/or the moderation of unforgiveness, is associated with the exhibition of positive affect (e.g., sympathy, empathy, and optimism), improved self-esteem, higher life satisfaction, and better mental health ratings. Physical health effects of forgiveness include enhanced bioregulation in response to transgression stressors, as well as better self-rated health status and the exhibition of positive health behaviors. Limitations in the current literature most commonly relate to disparate definitional, methodological, and interpretative issues typical of transdisciplinary forgiveness and health research. Current trends and future directions for forgiveness-health research include consideration of additional variables thought to be associated with forgiveness processes, including religiosity, empathy, and social support. Additionally, research that focuses on communicative and relational aspects of health and well-being is warranted. Suggestions for research opportunities in forgiveness-health research framed by a communicative lens are offered.
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