Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Forgiveness Institute in Wisconsin revealed in a study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice that an intervention based on forgiveness offers emotional and medical benefits for women with fibromyalgia who have suffered abuse during childhood. The study is entitled “A Forgiveness Intervention for Women With Fibromyalgia Who Were Abused in Childhood: A Pilot Study.”
Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, stiffness and numbness in certain parts of the body, headaches, sleep disorder and mood alterations. Fibromyalgia can affect people’s ability to conduct simple daily tasks, compromising their quality of life. Women are usually more affected than men.
It has been suggested that childhood abuse or trauma may change the body’s response to stress, causing neuronal dysfunction and abnormal pain messages in the brain, potentially leading to the development of fibromyalgia. In fact, people with fibromyalgia have been reported to have a higher prevalence of childhood abuse (21% to 53%) in comparison to the American population in general (14.2% to 32.3%).
Childhood abuse and trauma has also been linked to anxiety, depression, anger and low self-esteem in adulthood. Conditions also reported in many abused individuals with fibromyalgia.
In this study, researchers conducted a pilot experiment with fibromyalgia patients who have self-reported emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood to assess the efficacy of an intervention based on forgiveness of the abusing or neglecting parents and caregivers. Forgiveness is the overcoming of resentment and withholding retaliation towards an offender, and it has been suggested to reduce stress and negative coping behaviors, leading to improved mental and physical health. Forgiveness has also been suggested to positively affect the central nervous system and improve the immune system by normalizing the body’s neuroendocrine function.
In total, researchers assessed eleven abused/neglected women with fibromyalgia, aged between 21 and 68 years, randomly divided into two groups: the forgiveness intervention group (5 patients) and the health intervention group (6 patients). The health intervention program provided support on sleep and stress management, and on a healthy lifestyle for fibromyalgia patients, including exercise and a nutritious diet. All patients followed a 24-week program and were evaluated for parameters as overall health, anxiety, depression, anger, forgiveness, self-esteem and coping strategies.
Researchers found that fibromyalgia patients in the forgiveness intervention group had significant improvements in forgiveness, anger and overall fibromyalgia health in comparison to patients in the health intervention group. Researchers observed that patients in the health group were still unforgiving, mildly depressed and anxious and suffered more from fibromyalgia related symptoms.
The team concluded that an intervention based on forgiveness in this cohort of abused women with fibromyalgia promoted an improvement in forgiveness and overall health, while decreasing the anger state. The team suggests that clinicians may be able to help patients cope with fibromyalgia through a forgiveness intervention and the changes that it induces in the patient’s mental and physiological state.