Have you ever noticed what happens when you choose to forgive? Or what about the benefits of forgiveness?
When we forgive someone for a real or perceived wrong, whether it be a betrayal or a wounding of another kind, something magical happens. The tension or constriction we feel in both our body and our mind seems to simply melt away. And with that melting, we experience a sense of freedom. Of relaxation.
On the other hand, when we hold onto a feeling of non-forgiveness, of resentment or hurt, that holding also has an effect on our body and mind. We experience constriction and stress; the polar opposite of feeling relaxed or free.
What every person on this planet wants, more than anything, is to feel connected; to feel part of something; whether it be a relationship, a group, a community, a church, or an organization. When we stand in the space of non-forgiveness we feel separate and no longer a part of that relationship, group, community, church, or organization.
We are the ones, then, who feel the pain of not forgiving, while the other person may be totally unaware that we are carrying or holding a grievance toward them.
I recognized this in my own life when I realized that the resentment I was feeling toward my ‘philandering’ husband was having a negative effect on me; the tightness in my shoulders and back told me that holding onto resentment was causing a problem in my body; not his.
When I let it go, i.e., no longer focused on the hurt or anger I felt toward him, I instantly experienced a sense of ‘lightness’. My neck and shoulders relaxed and I felt good again. Lighter. Freer.
I’m reminded of this saying:
Holding onto anger is like drinking poison, expecting the other person to die. – Author unknown
Forgiveness allows us to accept the situation as it is and to face the facts, rather than try to deny them.
According to Dr. Karen Swartz, the director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.” (**)
Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. “It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not,” Swartz says. As you release the anger, resentment, and hostility, you will begin to feel empathy, compassion and sometimes even affection for the person who wronged you.
Scientists, over the years, have tried to define forgiveness but admit that there is no easy, one-size-fits-all definition. Here’s one that I think does pretty well: “Forgiveness is the overcoming of negative affect and judgment toward the offender, not by denying ourselves the right to such effect and judgment, but by endeavoring to view the offender with benevolence, compassion, and even love…”
Moving Into Forgiveness
Although many people believe that forgiving implies forgetting, that’s not the case. Forgiving allows us to move on. While we may never forget what happened, forgiveness allows the pain we feel to lessen.
Before we can move on, however, we have to move in. Once we move in—once we honor how we feel and make the decision to forgive—we’re halfway there. As the saying goes, ‘What we resist persists.’ Acknowledging how we feel, we give ourselves permission to experience the pain and release it. Choosing to forgive allows us to win the battle before it becomes a war; a war with no winner.
It may be that the wounded ego-self wants to hold on to the anger or even seek revenge. This ego-self, the one the world is “supposed” to revolve around, feels separate because of the other person’s behavior.
When we recognize how uncomfortable this ego-self makes us feel, we can actually choose to go in the opposite direction. Rather than close our heart, we can decide to move into compassion. Like us, they are human and fallible. Worthy of forgiveness.
DARWIN… Misquoted, Misunderstood
I recently heard a podcast about how, rather than promoting the idea of “survival of the fittest,” Darwin actually concluded that “survival of the most compassionate” ensures the survival of the species.
Indeed, science has proven that compassion—the act of caring for each other as brother, sister, friend or neighbor—does more to strengthen our communities, and our world, than aggression or warfare could ever hope to.
James R. Doty, M.D., writing about the Science of Compassion, said: “Many of us are isolated and feel alone. We know that each of us is suffering, but let me ask you: Have you worked next to someone and knew nothing about them? How many times have you been in pain and felt alone and isolated? … Science and technology have the potential to profoundly impact the human landscape, taking us either to the deepest, darkest valleys of human suffering or to the highest peaks of human potential. What will stop us from choosing the former is the cultivation of compassion. It is the recognition that our family and our tribe is not just our mother, father, aunt, uncle, sister or brother, and that our home is not just what we can see immediately around us, but that every human is part of one family, and that every part of earth is our home. That is what will result in our transcendence and take us to that far shore…”
Compassion for the one who committed the action “against” us is an intrinsic aspect of forgiveness. Perhaps what we forgive the other for is forgetting that we are, ultimately, in this together. And that together, we have the power to create a kinder, warmer, more compassionate world.
The question, then is, which choice will we make?
The physical, emotional, mental and spiritual response when we forgive is palpable. If we are willing to trust our body-mind as well as our intuition and honor the desire we have to live free of self-imposed stress or tension, to live with a sense of compassion for each other, there is no question which will lead to a healthier, happier life. Then ultimately, a healthier, happier, and safer world.
Will you choose the benefits of forgiveness in your life?