The current economic situation in America has caused many individuals to lose their homes. Families that were self-supporting may now find themselves in unique living arrangements. Extended family members, in-laws, or parents may be part of the household as people try to survive financially. These conditions can place an immense amount of stress on everyone. Tension can develop from unmet expectations, criticisms, and hurts that have gone unhealed. These experiences can fester and turn into large resentments that lead to anger and hostility. Unresolved issues can create negative feelings that can develop into serious mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. Forgiving these transgressions is not easy but can provide immense health benefits for people dealing with emotional unrest.
In other cultures, this type of living arrangement and the accompanying stress are more common. In Pakistan, married women are expected to live with their in-laws and abide by their rules. They must ask permission to venture out and are financially dependent upon them. When criticism and emotional hurts arise, these married women must decide whether to forgive or to react negatively by avoiding or getting revenge. To determine how these behaviors affect the mental health of these women, Riffat Sadiq of the Institute of Clinical Psychology and the Department of Psychology at the University of Karachi in Pakistan recently led a study examining the psychological impact of forgiveness.
Sadiq evaluated 120 married women who were living with their in-laws and found that those who forgave negative actions and words had lower levels of depression, anxiety, and anger than those who did not. The forgiving women also had higher levels of relationship satisfaction with members of their families and better overall life satisfaction than those who were unforgiving. Loss of individuality is a factor that many of these women struggle with because of the integrated family dynamic. Sadiq said, “Her view revolves around the loss of self and world and she becomes unable to recover from pain.” Women who are unable to forgive often grieve for their former independence and may develop significant mental health problems as a result, including posttraumatic stress. Sadiq believes the results of this study clearly demonstrate the multiple inter and intrapersonal benefits of forgiveness.
Sadiq, R., Zehra Ali, A. (2012). Forgiveness and its relationship with well-being among married women in joint family. Pakistan Journal of Clinical Psychology, 11.1, 59-68.
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