IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH: FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.
Now that the holidays have passed and we’ve made it through the beginning of the year, I’d like to focus on letting go of grievances. Let’s start out the year with how we can resolve those obstacles that hold us back from truly giving and receiving love, what I see as the last frontier in the healing process: forgiveness. In my work with individuals who have experienced trauma, abuse and challenging life events, I find that forgiveness is vital to the process of moving on, to releasing ourselves from the restraints of regret, past hurts and perceived injustices. It represents a commitment to an ongoing healing process.
It is impossible to live a life that does not offer us lessons in adversity. Bad things happen, both to us and because of us; this is part of the human condition. Good and bad, right and wrong, love and hate are a small list of conflicting ethical and emotional issues with which we struggle every day. Stresses arise in multiple aspects of our lives: at home and at work, within extended family or blended-family situations, in problems relating to our health and that of others, and from worry arising from economic strains.
Maybe you know someone who challenges your sense of well being. Holding feelings of resentment and refusing to forgive can actually create a physical stress response that can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems. If you focus on this person who arouses conflict and anger in you, your heart rate increases and blood pressure rises.
A simple yet profound way to begin lessening this tension is to imagine you and this individual as worthy of happiness, love and freedom from the restraints of conflict. Try switching your focus to feelings of forgiveness, both for that person and yourself. This may be a stretch in some instances, but when this can occur even in the smallest measure, these tiny steps can start you toward relief and healing and shift your neurotransmitters to a more healthful state. Light, spaciousness, acceptance and tolerance begin to flood your body and soul. You are on your way to becoming a forgiving person.
We must recognize that forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation; it does not wipe out memory or turn a wrong into a right. We may have to find a way to forgive others, if not their actions. We may need to forgive ourselves for our own wrong actions, let go of regrets and loosen the grip of guilt and shame that can keep us trapped in negative states of mind. You can’t expect relief to be achieved all at once, but a gradual shifting of awareness can begin to release you and even the others around you from this inner tightness.
As we move through regrets and hurts and take concrete steps toward changing our emotional relation to past events, we must acknowledge the critical role forgiveness plays in creating connection, community, and life-sustaining choices. We are meant to love and be loved. I urge you to chance removing that barrier from around your heart, and begin again—through forgiveness.
One of the points you make that feels important is, “We must recognize that forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation; it does not wipe out memory or turn a wrong into a right.” So often I hear people’s fears that if they forgive they leave themselves open to more hurt and betrayal. Thanks for making this so clear.
Deirdre: Thank you for your deeper inquiry and comment! It is a tricky area yet I have found that this is true in the reality of being honest and truthful!