A new book looks at how forgiveness can improve health.
BY MARK I. PINSKYMCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
If you think anger can make your blood boil, you may be right, according to Dick Tibbits, a Florida mental-health counselor and a Seventh-day Adventist minister. On the other hand, faith -- and forgiveness -- may help save your life.
For years, Tibbits has been intrigued by the connection between spirituality and good health.
"People who attend church are healthier, because they have fewer diseases and live longer," says Tibbits, 56, who practices at Florida Hospital. "I was curious to understand more about that. All of that built my interest in how one's faith can influence one's health."
That curiosity has led to Tibbits' new book, "Forgive to Live: How Forgiveness Can Save Your Life," along with a companion workbook, devotional and video curriculum.
In particular, Tibbits is interested in the relationship between anger and heart disease. He looked at research from Duke University, including a study by Dr. Redford Williams, which resulted in a book called "Anger Kills." Another book, "Forgive for Good" by Stanford University psychologist Fred Luskin, argues that forgiveness can mitigate the toxic effects of anger.
In 2000-01, Tibbits designed a study for 40 Florida Hospital patients with high blood pressure, all on the threshold of needing medication.
Tibbits divided the patients into two equal, random groups. The first did nothing but monitor their blood pressure. However, the second group went through an eight-week course during which Tibbits taught them how to address crippling grievances they had against others.
"What I did was to try to teach people with high blood pressure how to forgive, with the outcome being, reducing their high blood pressure," he says.
And, to a degree, he succeeded. Although there was no change in the control group after eight weeks, the group that had forgiveness training "had a slight but measurable improvement in their blood pressure."
But for the angriest people taking the training, the results were more dramatic, Tibbits says.
"Everyone in the study took an 'anger test' before it began," he says. "Those with elevated anger had a both medical and statistically significant drop in blood pressure in the training program. There was no drop in any of the control group."
Tibbits found that, of the participants with the six highest anger scores who had forgiveness training, all went from diagnosed Stage One hypertension to normal blood pressure in eight weeks.
Although his book is written for general readers, there is a companion devotional aimed at a Christian audience.
"I want to reach people with a faith-based spiritual tool that can help them," he says, "whether they're attending church or not."