The Power of Forgiveness

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

This is a very special podcast where we talk about the power of forgiveness and the impact it has on your brain’s health. They also discuss the health costs of holding on to hurts.

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Donny Osmond: Hi, I'm Donny Osmond and welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way hosted by my friends Daniel and Tana Amen. Now, in this podcast, you're going to learn that the war for your health is one between your ears. That's right. If you're ready to be sharper and have better memory, mood, energy, and focus well then stay with us. Here are Daniel and Tana Amen.
Tana Amen: Welcome back. So today we're going to talk about something that's hard for a lot of people used to be really hard for me, and that is forgiveness. We want to talk about the consequences of not forgiving someone. For many people that we talk to, it's like, "But they don't deserve it. I deserve to not forgive them." So before we get too far down that road many of you have heard the expression, when you don't forgive someone it's like you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, right? You've heard that expression?
Dr Daniel Amen: That's so true.
Tana Amen: So yeah, when you don't forgive people, it's really toxic to you. So if they don't forgive it, we just want to ask you if they don't deserve your forgiveness, do you deserve the benefit of you forgiving them? Okay. Now we'll talk about why it's so important.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and it's hard. And it's especially hard for certain brain types that if you're the kind of person where your frontal lobes work too hard and those people can be, tend to be worried, rigid and flexible. If things don't go their way, they get upset. They can hold grudges sometimes for decades, tend to be argumentative and oppositional and see what's wrong rather than what's right.
Tana Amen: So what you're saying is sometimes forgiveness might be easier if maybe they treat that underlying brain issue.
Dr Daniel Amen: If your brain was balanced.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: And we've actually seen-
Tana Amen: So it becomes easier.
Dr Daniel Amen: -generational hatred.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: Remember this study that I talk about, about the mice that they made afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. They shocked them whenever they, that scent was in the air. And what they found was, yes, every time the scent of cherry blossoms was in the air, those mice became nervous. But their babies and their grand babies were also afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. They actually found emotional states can be transmitted genetically. And I was reading something recently about the Hatfields and McCoys, so everybody knows about the terrible grudge and rivalry between those two families. Well apparently generations down the line they still have-
Tana Amen: Well they didn't they didn't even know. And they didn't even know what the problem was. Yeah, really interesting.
So I want to bring something up cause I think this is so interesting. I heard about a burn doctor from Tulane and he noticed that, so he would see patients who severe burns across their entire body. And burn patients, if you've ever been in a burn unit, they are some of the hardest patients to treat because they're, they just don't heal very well. And they're, it's just they're very difficult. They get infections really easily and the pain is just horrendous. So this burn doctor became well known for putting his patients into a hypnotic trance because what he found was that many of his patients, he noticed that patients who were not suffering with resentment and anger towards someone, usually themselves, but often towards other people, the ones who didn't have that healed better. And the ones who were angry, resentful, or hateful, didn't heal.
Dr Daniel Amen: Wow, that's so interesting.
Tana Amen: So interesting. They weren't healing and they were having more complications. So what he started doing was putting his patients into a hypnotic trance. And in this trance he would talk to them about forgiveness and about how they were cooling their anger and cooling their bodies and healing. And he would use this, you know, these suggestions and his patients got better. Now through this process, a lot of them would say, 'Yeah, but they deserve my anger." And so he would say, "Okay, I understand you feel entitled to be angry at that person. But would you be willing to set your entitlement aside long enough to get well?" And I just thought that was so powerful. Would you be willing to set your entitlement aside long enough to get well because it's you it's affecting. And I just thought that was like the coolest way to state it.
There was another, there's another, forgiveness is actually been studied at a lot of major universities. It's a science actually. And there's another doctor named Dr Luskin. He's from Stanford. And he recommends if you're having a hard time with forgiveness, what he recommends is that you actually focus on the action and not the person. So focus on the consequences of the action as opposed to hating the person. Because the reason he says that this is so important is because if you don't, it's you it's hurting again because it's the stress hormone. So when those stress hormones are increased, it those, that constant release of stress hormones is doing a lot of negative damaging things to your body. It's not doing anything to the other person. Not one single thing, but it's really damaging your body. In fact, in many very specific ways, like we just talked about, wound healing. That's one way. It doesn't, wounds won't heal.
Pain receptors actually become more sensitive. So pain increases. Patients who have chronic pain are often patients who have a lot of anger and resentment and don't forgive people. It affects your relationships obviously because you're angry at someone. I mean you're, you're holding onto hatred, so it's affecting your relationships. It also affects your physical health in other ways. So not just the wound healing, but if you've got those constant stress hormones going on, it makes you more vulnerable to things like cancer, diabetes, even obesity. So lots of illnesses. So it's increasing a lot of those things and depression and anxiety. So it's affecting brain health.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and we actually did a study when we had a woman focus on what she loved about her life. Her brain worked really well. And then we had her focus on what she hated about her life and it completely disrupted brain function. It actually made her more likely to have memory problems, anger problems, judgment and impulse control problems. And it made her less coordinated. So she was more likely to fall.
Tana Amen: Right. So look, we're not saying that this is easy and with my past, I usually do a lot of work on this one. So, but the work was worth it because I know that there, I mean I'm a very justice oriented person. You know, Daniel often teases me that I should have been in the military or a cop or judge because I'm-
Dr Daniel Amen: No, you shouldn't have been a judge. It would not be good-
Tana Amen: I would have made a good judge.
Dr Daniel Amen: -good for anybody.
Tana Amen: No, I'm a very justice oriented person and you know, there are times that justice and forgiveness clash. We understand that there are some crimes that are heinous. They're just flat out heinous. But when you don't forgive and you don't leave justice up to a justice system or at least get help with your loved ones, and this is where we incorporate that, then it, it affects you in a very negative way and you're more likely to carry on toxic behavior. So that's why it's so important. Not only are you likely to get sick, you're likely to carry on toxic behavior that's not only damaging to you but to the next generation. So we want you to help you keep that focus on accountability.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well let me just talk a little bit about why forgiveness became easier for me. So when I first started looking at people's brains, I actually had no opinion on the death penalty even though I grew up Catholic, and Catholic, really against about penalty. But I had no opinion because I really hadn't thought about it much. And then as my work became more widely known, defense attorneys started sending me people who did really bad things and I could see the damage in their brain. And there was this one case, it's called the red sweater case. Have you heard me talk about this case?
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: And so 16 year old boy, Jose, who was part of a gang and he confronted another 16 year old boy who was wearing a red sweater. And he said, "What color do you claim?" And the boy said, "I don't claim any color. I just like red." And Jose said, "Wrong answer." And beat him nearly to death. In fact, his friends had to drag him off of him.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Daniel Amen: And Dylan was permanently brain damaged and this was in northern California. And the trial got a lot of attention because they were worried about gangs and so on. And they asked me to evaluate Jose. And when I scanned him, his brain was very damaged and I went, so I need to understand the story of Jose's life because it's easy to just label him as bad and throw him away because what he did was heinous. It's almost unforgivable. But when you understand the story of his life, he was actually not named for a month because his father was in jail. And his earliest memory is his father throwing a brick through a plate glass window when he was five. And when he was eight his mother was murdered and he remembered . He told me, and he was crying when he told me this, that he was so distraught and he couldn't stop crying. And his father told him that if you stop crying, your mother will be here in the morning.
Tana Amen: Oh my God. .
Dr Daniel Amen: So you can imagine how that would screw with somebody's head because his mother was not there in the morning. And he had three head injuries and he committed this crime. Everybody thinks marijuana is such an innocuous drug. They were hotboxing. And I'm like, what's that? They would get in a car, roll the windows up, smoke joints, and really increase the level of THC in their blood. And that's when he committed this heinous crime and he got stuck on things. If things didn't go a certain way, he'd be upset. His cingulate gyrus was on fire. But his temporal lobes, memory, mood stability, temper control, were clearly damaged. His frontal lobes were damaged. And when I testified for him in court, and I didn't testify to say he didn't do it because he did it. And I didn't testify to say wasn't responsible because he was. But shouldn't we send him to a place where he could get help rather than to throw him away. And you know, they wanted to give him 25 years, ended up giving him 11 and sending them to a place where he could get help. And I got hate mail for it. But I think if we don't understand them from a neuroscience standpoint, and you and I, we always teach about four circles.
We teach that if you want to understand someone, you have to understand their biology. So how their body and their brain works and his was obviously disrupted. You have to understand their psychology, how they think and their development in his was clearly damaged. Their social circle, who you hang out with. He was not hanging out with the right people to make his life better. And this spiritual circle and his was damaged. And getting well is about getting well in all four of those circles. But when I look at people, even people who've hurt me through the lens of those four circles, it's so much easier to forgive them.
Tana Amen: It is. Your right. And it's we're not saying this is easy. What we're saying is you deserve it. Okay? And ask yourself that question. Do I deserve? What will come to me if I forgive that person? You know, my health, my relationships. And it doesn't mean that you condone it. Like you said, it doesn't mean you condone it. And it doesn't mean that there aren't consequences to that person or that they won't be responsible because they will. It just means that you don't suffer the consequences. And there's a difference between suffering and forgiveness. And so just, you know, it doesn't mean you're not going to suffer if you forgive. It just means that you get the benefit. So ask yourself this question. If they don't forgive you or if they don't deserve your forgiveness, do you deserve it? It's a really important question. Stay with us.
Donny Osmond: Thanks for listening to today's show, The Brain Warrior's Way. Why don't you head over to That's where Daniel and Tana have a gift for you just for subscribing to the show. And when you post your review on iTunes, you'll be entered into a drawing where you can win a VIP visit to one of the Amen clinics. I'm Donny Osmond, and I invite you to step up your brain game by joining us in the next episode.