Resources: Article

The Cleansing Power of Forgiveness

By Don Colbert, M.D.

Forgiveness releases layers of hurt and heals the raw, jagged edges of emotional pain. It enables a person to release buried anger; resentment, bitterness, shame, grief, regret, guilt, hate, and other toxic emotions that hide deep in the soul, making a person ill-both emotionally and physically. As a physician, I frequently treat people with physical, problems that I feel are rooted in bitterness and unforgiveness.

A good example of this is the story of a woman who divorced her abusive husband. She suffered from nightmares, headaches, elevated blood pressure, and flashbacks of his abusive behavior. Although she was relieved to be free from confusion, frustration and the threat of physical harm, she was also sorry to have gone through a divorce.

Nevertheless, she wanted to see her husband punished for all the pain he had caused her. She wanted him to hurt as much as she had, even though she knew those desires were not compatible with forgiveness. When she finally decided to forgive him, she not only experienced emotional healing, but her nightmares and headaches also disappeared and her blood pressure returned to normal.

It took nearly four years for this woman to feel as if she had fully forgiven her husband. When she emerged from the process of forgiveness, she was stronger emotionally and physically. In fact, she was healthier than she had been during the seven years of her marriage and the first two years after her divorce! She had more energy; strength, enthusiasm and renewed hope for the future.


I consider bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness to be among the deadliest emotions a person can have. They can actually prevent the body from releasing toxic material–generally creating an acidic condition in the tissues. This buildup of toxins in the system can eventually lead to disease. I am also convinced that prolonged bitterness can lead to autoimmune disease and contribute to gallbladder disease.

I have found that failing to release bitterness caused by the hurts from others may hinder a patient from receiving healing. Before I treat a person with cancer; I encourage them to exercise the power of forgiveness and release any anger, bitterness or resentment they may be harboring inside.

In a scientific study, called the Forgiveness Study, conducted at the University of Wisconsin, results demonstrated that learning to forgive may help prevent heart disease in middle-aged subjects. The incidence of heart disease was higher in those who admitted they could not forgive and much lower in those who reported an ability to forgive easily. The researchers concluded that failure to forgive is a greater predictor of physical health problems than hostility.


The healthiest people among us seem to be those who are childlike. They are generous souls who laugh easily and are quick to forgive even the gravest offenses. This kind of childlikeness keeps a person free emotionally, spiritually and physically. It is no mystery to me, as a physician, that the Bible teaches us to become “like little children” in our relationship with God and in our ability to believe.

The question is never whether someone deserves to be forgiven. We forgive because it is a commandment of God, and ultimately, forgiving them helps us.2 God wants to free us from the energy-draining, disease-inducing, deadly emotions that come with unforgiveness. Only genuine forgiveness can quench the hot coals of toxic emotions.


If I were writing you a prescription for medicine, I would be very specific about what to take and how to take it. Let me be very clear about what I mean when I use the word forgiveness.

Our choice to forgive someone who hurt or mistreated us is not based on finding some redeeming quality that makes them worth forgiving. We can never base genuine forgiveness upon an individual’s “good behavior” compensating for their previously hurtful behavior. Forgiveness is something that happens inside you-it comes solely from your desire to forgive for the sake of forgiving.

We may brush off superficial offenses and irritating trespasses in minutes. But forgiving deep emotional wounds is nearly always a longer process. It takes both time and intentional effort to forgive deep wounding.

Here is an overview of the step-by-step forgiveness process. We need to admit that we have been wounded-not denying the hurt we feel. Second, we must realize the only way we can fully forgive another person is to first know that God has forgiven us. God’s gift of forgiveness for us forms the basis for our ability to forgive others. Third, we need to ask for God’s help to forgive and release the person fully into His hands, trusting Him to impart to us the ability to forgive completely and freely. Finally, we must voice our forgiveness, praying specifically by using the name of the person who offended us. We need to pray out loud, “Lord I forgive (name) for (mention specific offenses) and please heal me from all the hurt it has caused in my life.” Then we need to go the extra mile and follow God’s instruction to bless them. We need to pray for God’s best blessings on their life, release them and go on with our lives.


Ongoing forgiveness keeps toxic, deadly emotions from building up. Daily forgiveness is my foremost prescription for a person’s total mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Also remember it is critically important to forgive yourself. If you cannot forgive yourself, you cannot forgive others

P. 29. 05/2006 Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer Ministries Magazine.