I’m so grateful when people alert me to new articles or books, or ideas about forgiveness. So I was really intrigued when someone point me at a recent article by Anna Hart in The Daily Telegraph entitled “Forgiveness: Why It’s The New Mindfulness“.
The psychology community have known for a long time that resentment, bitterness and something they call ‘unforgiveness’ can damage your health; very badly in some cases. The Telegraph article explains it in scientific terms. When you hold on to resentment, bitterness and so forth it puts your body into a full blown stress response. Apparently if you have a ‘chronic grudge’ against someone or some organisation you can revisit this about it 20 times a day, stimulating all those stress chemicals to flood your body over and over. This in turn limits creativity and problem solving ability, because the stress chemicals over-ride that part of your brain that deals with creativity, and over time cause you to fell helpless and victim-like. The act of forgiving stops all that, and allows you to move on. Resentment damages the brain.
I know from personal experience just how true this is. I’ve been practising forgiveness for over 15 years now in the form of ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian forgiveness process, and it was so important in helping me turn my life round. Over time, my resentments and grudges turned into depression, and a massive sense of victimhood along the lines of ‘I’m never the lucky one’. Forgiveness played a huge part in releasing me from that prison.
Mindfulness, Positive Thinking And Forgiveness
It is such a relief that more and more people, including the medical community, are talking about forgiveness and its benefits, and that it’s starting to take its rightful place as a major tool for healing on the mental, emotional and physical levels. I’m a fan of mindfulness, because it helps to calm the mind, develop focus and reduce stress, but when you’re trapped so deep in your own story of old hurts and hatreds, mindfulness on its own is unlikely to do the trick.
It’s been known since the ’80s that our thoughts have a profound effect on our body chemistry, which in turn has a profound effect on our physiology, particularly our physical health. The tendency is to assume that all we have to do is practice positive thinking, and all will be well.
To some extent that’s true, but if we don’t also resolve the ‘baggage’ we carry with us, which hunkers down in our being and hangs around as trapped energy, then it is very difficult for complete healing – psychological and physical – to take place, no matter how hard we try to stay thinking positively.
It’s also easy to kid yourself. I’ve had clients and friends who bounce around exuding positive vibes and focusing on positive thoughts, but when you get them alone, and they talk about how they are really feeling, it’s obvious that positive thinking on its own isn’t actually going to bring them happiness. So often I have met people who are outwardly confident and fun and holding it together really well, yet inwardly just feel empty. They can’t sustain the positive thinking once they are on their own, because of all he longstanding psychological baggage they are carrying around.
Why Is Forgiveness So Damned Difficult Then?
Actually forgiveness is easier than you think. Once you decide that’s what you REALLY want to happen, it can occur in a nanosecond. Holding on to a grudge for 20 years, and then forgiving, does not mean that forgiveness takes 20 years. It means you didn’t forgive for 20 years, or you were preparing to forgive for 20 years, then, when you did, it was done in an instant.
I think one of the things that holds people back is the feeling that forgiving means they have to be nice to the person, or to hang out with them, or to be a doormat, or to let them do it again. But in fact it means none of those things. If you want to walk away from someone you’ve forgiven, and have nothing more to do with them, that is fine. What matters is how flat your emotions are concerning them and whatever it was they did to you. If you’re still calling them a bitch or bastard, you probably haven’t let it go yet!
Sometimes forgiveness also means enforcing boundaries: telling people when their behaviour is not acceptable rather than suffering in silence. Warning them that if they don’t change you will walk away – and then doing what you say. Our Hula teacher here in Hawaii has a 3-strikes-and-you-are-outpolicy. First time someone does something rude or that offends him, well, it’s time to talk about it, extend the hand of forgiveness and ask them not to do it again. And then forget about it. Unless they do it again, in which case, another conversation, forgive and forget once more, while reminding them that if they do it again, that’s it. Third time – that’s it. But he still does the forgiveness. Even though he now is unwilling to have that person in his life, he still forgives them. And if he sees them, he’ll be polite, but no more, the energy is cut. It’s done. After all, with the possible exception of your kids, your partner and close family, how many times to you want to keep allowing people to hurt you?
Suppressed hurt, not speaking your truth and doing something about a situation where someone keeps hurting you, is just as nasty physiologically as suppressed resentment
So the moral of the story is, if you want a long and healthy life, forgive the people who hurt you and speak your truth.
If you’re struggling with forgiving someone, or letting go of old emotional baggage, get in touch to arrange a complimentary Skype session to see how I can help you.
Original quote image: personalexcellence.co/quotes/2188
Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/4384344236