Forgiveness – The Power Of Letting Go
Forgiveness—it’s such a simple concept, but never easy to do. Taught in all religions and upheld by shrinks everywhere, it puts off most anyone. Worse, nobody realizes why it’s worth the inconvenience to forgive someone who made your life perdition on earth.
Revenge—now that feels closer to home. To be vindictive is human, as depicted cheekily in such films as Kill Bill. But nursing a grudge, like an itch you have to scratch, has its doctor-recognized tradeoffs.
It short-circuits your nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems. In this view, forgiving someone runs counter these effects. Again, it’s never easy, but worth it for your body.
Advantages of forgiveness
First, your heart would be all stronger for it. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, individuals who hold grudges risk suffering from heart disease. True enough, 71 of the respondents reduced tension in their facial muscles just by mulling an act of forgiveness. Another research, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, seems to corroborate this. It showed that people who forgave others had significantly reduced blood pressure.
At the Institute of HeartMath in California, researchers asked subjects to think of a situation that evoked ill feelings. Their immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels plummeted right thereafter, an effect that lasted five hours! IgAs are antibodies that keep the common cold and other viruses at bay; their levels rose substantially once the subjects thought of forgiving someone.
But of course, the upshots of forgiveness are vastly psychological. Almost invariably, forgiveness makes people more emotionally grounded, calmer, and less anxious.
Such Zen-like ability could be mastered, according to Fred Luskin, a founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. He compares forgiving to a muscle that could be toned with time. Start forgiving petty offenses, and soon you’d readily let go of major transgressions hurled your way.
How to forgive
Forgiveness is not the same journey for everyone. People take it according to the gravity of their offenders’ wrongdoings. Often, they take their time. Some of the following are ways to make that journey just a little bit more bearable:
1. Write a letter to the person in question
And you don’t have to mail it. That leaves you free to be frank, caustic if you may. Jot down the hurts he or she has caused you and the irreparable harm they have done. Eventually, you would want to accept what he or she did and move on.
Revisiting bygone hurts could be an unpleasant experience. But write on. The first step to catharsis is recognizing the pain.
2. Don’t deny it
Admit it; you’re wrathful. Sometimes you feel like you’ve buried the hatchet with someone, when you really have not.
Be especially careful with this deceptive type of thinking when the offender is a loved one or a friend. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a particular affront is not a big deal. Never feel guilty for being furious at the person.
3. Forgiven, but not forgotten
You may forgive a person, but that doesn’t mean you forget his or her wrongdoings. By all means, forgive but do not to misconstrue forgiveness with reconciliation. You would always be on your toes around this person from now on.
Forgiveness does not mean you’re tolerating wrongs, suffering fools. Nor does it mean you should not seek the wrongdoer’s legal comeuppance. Pope John Paul II took the high road when he forgave the gunman who tried to kill him. But the man still ended up in jail.
4. Show you’re ready to forgive
Take at least a symbolic gesture once you have decided to forgive someone. So send your foe a self-help book. Invite your enemy to coffee. Still, you are not compelled to confront your trespasser in person.
5. Step in their shoes
Next time you dwell on a situation that hurt you, try to see it from the other side of the fence. It may just give you insights on why he or she scathed you.
Now that does not mean you justify what he or she has done. You are merely empathizing with the person, who is only human. Someone who knows your transgressor well may give you that hint.
Even so, take time to practice any act of empathy.
Some blessings could truly be disguised as catastrophes. Seek some meaning in the experience. But seek a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor if the hurt has devolved into trauma.
Examine yourself if you have really forgiven that person. Try extending a gesture of goodwill to your offender, even in a roundabout way like praising him or her in front of other people. Then gauge your emotional barometer. An ensuing feeling of peace and happiness could be the mark of forgiveness.
There lies the paradox: forgiveness is something you both do for the other person and yourself. Katy Hutchison’s story is exemplary in this sense.
In 1997, a certain Ryan Aldridge kicked her husband to death. Six years later, she personally confronted the perpetrator in jail—and gave him a book titled Searching for the Silver Linings.
Mother of twins, Hutchison is now married again. In 2006, she penned her own book, entitled Walking After Midnight, which chronicles her misfortune and her journey to forgiveness. She now circles the globe, espousing the virtues of releasing grudges and being a good mother.
Like her, you could also enjoy the bodily and spiritual benefits of forgiving.