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Chronic stress makes forgiveness easier, study suggests

by Vaishali Sharma

Russian researchers investigated the relationship between personality authenticity (being oneself) and the ability to forgive under various levels of stress.

They discovered that those who are under chronic stress are more likely to forgive, but persons who are under daily stress are less likely to do so. The capacity to forgive encourages sincerity. The study’s findings, which were published in the journal Clinical Psychology and Special Education, can be applied to life coaching programmes.

Authenticity—the capacity to “be oneself”—helps people cope with many life challenges. The ability to forgive—to transcend a sense of offence by the person who inflicted harm or challenging life circumstances—also contributes to psychological well-being.

Despite the relevance of these phenomena in personality psychology research, their relationship has received little attention. The ability to forgive is just now being studied in Russian personality psychology, and nearly no publications on its relationships to other positive personality phenomena have been published.

There have been no studies that look at genuineness, forgiveness as a moral characteristic, or stress levels. Professor Sofya Nartova-Bochaver of the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences collaborated with colleague Violetta Park to investigate how stress affects sincerity and the ability to forgive. The researchers examined 140 young men and women aged 16 to 40 to identify the links.

Chronic stress cohort

In terms of stress levels, the respondents belonged to various cohorts. They included the relatively well-off (students from a teacher training university living in Moscow), the cohort experiencing daily stress as a result of routine responsibilities (students at one of Moscow’s international classical universities), and the chronic stress cohort caused by a severe trauma with irreversible consequences (patients of a rehabilitation centre with severe spinal injuries). Standardized questionnaires were used in the research.

According to the findings, persons who are under chronic stress had the highest levels of authenticity. The outcomes for the relatively well-off patients are average, whereas the results for the everyday stress cohort are the lowest. The same patterns apply to forgiveness.

Researchers attribute the heightened proclivity to forgive among members of the chronic stress group to the post-traumatic growth effect. Despite the fact that these people are physically dependent on others, that their typical body feelings have changed, and that many abilities have been lost, they are more likely to realise their true purpose in life and the most essential values.

They feel ‘more like themselves’ and are able to disregard the multiple misfortunes and imperfections in life by means of forgiveness in order to move on.

Representatives of the’relatively well-off’ cohort adapt rapidly to themselves and the world, have a moderate level of sincerity, and are prepared to forgive others, themselves, and the challenges that life throws at them.

The everyday stress cohort had the least ability to forgive and the least sincerity. Because of the ‘invisibility’ and ‘unimportance’ of everyday difficulties, these people are likely ignorant to their daily stress until their reaction to it surges. This is why people who believe they can manage everyday stress well become exhausted and too demanding of themselves and others.

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The researchers also investigated how stress levels affect authenticity and the ability to forgive. These phenomena are often positively correlated: persons who exhibit mercy and forgiveness to others or who live in unpleasant circumstances are more likely to experience the authenticity of their own personality; however, the degree of this association varies according to stress.

Authenticity has absolutely no link with the ability to forgive in the chronic stress cohort; rather, it appears that they develop concurrently. For the relatively well-off and those experiencing everyday stress, forgiveness of oneself has become the most significant requirement for experiencing authenticity; yet, researchers have only discovered the great relevance of forgiving life circumstances and occurrences in the everyday stress group.

The stronger one’s ability to forgive oneself and one’s circumstances, as well as one’s willingness to forget about revenge or restore justice, the truer and more real-life people live.

The researchers found that the ability to forgive does contribute to feelings of authenticity, but the variables that generate it may fluctuate depending on the degree of stress and the type of stress.

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