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The Importance of Forgiveness When Living with Chronic Illness

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By Julie Ryan • • March 5, 2015

The Importance of Forgiveness When Living with Chronic Illness
While we don’t know the causes and there are no cures for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, we do know some of the triggers that can affect these disorders. Stress and anger are negative emotions that can increase symptoms of both fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. A 2010 review by Toussaint, et al. examined the implications of forgiveness on fibromyalgia and whether forgiveness could act to help mitigate the effects of anger and stress, and therefore reduce symptoms of FM and ME/CFS.

They point out that anger is a common response to fibromyalgia. We are angry because we are dismissed; we are angry because we have to put up with pain; we are angry because there doesn’t seem to be adequate treatment. We are angry because we don’t know why we have these disorders. We are angry at our disorders for all that they have taken away, our lives, our jobs, our friends, and often our family. We are often angry at ourselves, as well as at others, for a variety of reasons. As normal and as understandable as anger is, it’s not healthy. Anger can lead to a variety of other health issues. It raises our blood pressure, can lead to heart disease, digestive disorders, and headaches. Anger leads to increased muscle tension, which leads to increased fibromyalgia pain. All of those negative effects work to increase the pain and fatigue that are part and parcel of fibromyalgia and ME/CFS.

So, what is the answer? How do we decrease our anger so that the negative emotions don’t increase our physical pain?


Forgiveness training has been shown to decrease negative emotions, such as anger and stress, in those with chronic hypertension (high blood pressure). Data from these studies suggestions that forgiveness training can have positive benefits,for both the mind and the body. There are a lot of ideas as to why it helps, but what it comes down to is that being pissed off at someone for whatever they did creates stress; stress activates our “flight or fight” system (the sympathetic nervous system); and when that is activated, our bodies' systems are not focused on anything but survival. One big issue with fibromyalgia is that we are hyper-sensitized, meaning that our “flight or fight” system is constantly activated and never has a chance to calm down.

There are three primary methods of forgiveness training. I won’t go through the details of each as they can be pretty complicated. The one common factor for all of the methods is that you have to realize that you are forgiving someone – not for them, but for you. They may never even know you forgave them. Forgiving them doesn’t mean that you allow them the opportunity to hurt you again (definitely not in the same way). Forgiveness is simply about letting go of the hurt and finding a way to stop focusing on it.

In my life, I can say that without a doubt learning to just forgive people and move on from the hurt has helped a lot. By holding a grudge, I was trapping myself in that moment when they hurt me, doomed to relive it over and over again – until I finally let it go. It’s funny how once you finally let those moments go, they are so easily forgotten. They become fuzzy and the details are lost. I think that that might be why we try to hold onto them. We are afraid that if we forget the details we will allow someone else to repeat the same hurt. But, forgetting the moment and forgiving the hurt doesn’t mean we didn’t learn from it. We can learn from an event and still forgive.

Unfortunately, what I find when looking back at the hurts in my life is that what I’ve learned, too often, is not to trust people. That’s been my key to avoiding hurt, because people can’t hurt you if you don’t let them in. But, that’s no way to live life. If you don’t let people in, you not only avoid the hurt, you avoid the love and all the great things that come with allowing others to be part of your life.

As I am writing this, I am working to forgive a recent hurt. I’m struggling with it and have been for days. I know eventually I will forgive because I love this person more than I want to hold onto a grudge, and I’m just not willing to let them leave my life. You can’t keep the person in your life and hold a grudge. It just doesn’t work. And, when it comes down to it, there’s just no use in holding a grudge. Forgiveness is a lot less stressful. And, if there’s one thing those of us living with chronic illness need, it’s less stress.

About the Author: Julie Ryan is a fellow Fibromyalgia Warrior, freelance writer, and blogger. In addition to Fibromyalgia, Julie is currently diagnosed with Endometriosis, Migraines, Cluster Headaches, and Hypothyroid. She shares her journey, along with inspiration, and information on her blog at

You can follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

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