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Forgiveness May Improve Health for People Hurt by Addiction

The consequences of addiction far exceed the emotional and physical effects for the user. People suffering from addiction may continue to make choices that separate them from friends and family and other social relationships. Extreme mood swings and irritability can also destroy lives; the addict may also take advantage of friends and family to try to feed their addiction. Forgiving an addict, though difficult, may be necessary for a loved one to improve their health and maintain positive levels of self-esteem.

The feelings that surround the family members of an addict can range from sadness to despair to anger and a sense of confusion. At times, a loved one may even desire to harbor resentment or lash out at the addict for the pain they have caused. Forgiveness in this situation refers to a loved one making a decision to reconcile the relationship as a benefit or gift to themselves – independent of how the addict will respond.

Knowing what forgiveness is, and what it doesn’t actually mean, can be helpful. Forgiveness does not mean that the person has to let go of feelings of anger over the situation, nor does it mean they are validating the addict’s choices. It means the loved one of the addict has decided to maintain as healthy a life as possible in the midst of a very difficult situation.

An attitude of separation between the addiction and the person can also be beneficial, such as loathing the alcohol or other addictive behavior, but deciding to continue to loving the person.

Research suggests that forgiveness may actually have physical benefits, such as helping a person maintain a healthy level of blood pressure, avoid bouts of depression or ward off heart disease. To begin, it is recommended that a person take a very close look at the ways the loved one’s addiction has caused problems in their life – including at work, at home, and in other social settings. They must determine if they are truly willing to make the choice for forgiveness.

It is also important to keep in mind that forgiveness goes on over a period of time, rather than being a complete decision that happens all at once. As the process continues, the person may have to consider ways they could have harmed others or try to remember phrases like the addict is “only human.” During the process, it is suggested that people maintain healthy, realistic boundaries with the addict to help establish a sense of balance and self-control over the situation.

A support group, such as Al-Anon for family members of alcoholics, can be helpful as the person tries to pull something positive out of the experience. One positive outcome can be that the person starts to see feel more compassion or understanding with people in all areas of their life.

Recognizing that addiction hurts friends and family members on a multitude of levels, and then choosing to separate themselves from that pain, is a difficult step for many people who live with an addict. However, if these feelings of sadness and resentment are left unchecked, they can result in diminished feelings of self-worth and physical consequences. The process of forgiveness may have to repeated over and over, but can provide relief and restore feelings of wellness to those that undertake it.

Posted on September 24th, 2010

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