A lot has happened since I last posted. Joyous holidays, the battle with a depressive episode—- still lingering and touched mightily by recent family affairs, progress with workouts under direction of my personal trainer, and the severe illness and death January 31st of my beloved younger sister, Ellie. She was the first in our family of six brothers and sisters to pass. I miss her greatly.
I have been studying forgiveness and the power of forgiveness in one’s life for some time now. Indeed, I have an essay On Forgiveness on this website already devoted to the topic. In that essay, I wrote that “forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And yet it is more than tolerating. I was startled to read that forgiveness is beyond letting go of negatives, such as anger; it is also the inclusion of positive gift-like qualities such as compassion, generosity, and even love.”
This posting is part two of my growth in understanding of this most powerful act of human reconciliation.
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I’ve now made a little dent into the literature of forgiveness, and have learned two major facts: One, there is research to show that physical and mental health benefits come from forgiving and Two, that forgiving, learning forgiveness, is hard work. I’ll write about those benefits in this posting. The hard work of forgiveness will be addressed in future posts.
“NOT Forgiving — nursing a grudge—is so caustic”, reports Fred Luskin, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed and causes enormous physical stress to the whole body.” In this book, citing research and teaching by vivid example, Mr. Luskin shows that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses like depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
So how does one forgive? Is it a process one can learn, something each of us might do, or a work for the saints among us only?
Forgiveness can be hard work. Robert Enright, PhD, the author of Eight Keys to Forgiveness, says: “….in its essence forgiveness is not something we do to just help ourselves. It is not something about you or done for you. It is something you extend toward another person, because you recognize, over time, that it is the best response to the situation.” And then, Professor Enright continues: “Working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety. It can reverse the lies that we often tell ourselves when someone has hurt us deeply—lies like, I am defeated or I’m not worthy. Forgiveness can heal us and allow us to move on in life with meaning and purpose. Forgiveness matters and we will be its primary beneficiary.”
I’ll end this post with a brief outline of forgiveness’ process.
First, accept that something happened in opposition to your wishes and you can’t change it. What can you do to suffer less? Then, look at your involvement with this person—simplify it.
Second, try to move past the hurt and go on. Perhaps the steps suggested below will help you progress.
- Acknowledge that you have been hurt. Talk to a few close friends to explore your feelings and obtain a sense of perspective.
- Make a commitment to forgiveness.
- Start with small things. Start by trying to forgive modest slights by people who have done you harm in life.
- Recognize your “grievance stories” and gradually deemphasize and replace them by thinking of your own positive goals.
- Focus on facts rather than emotions. Attempt to understand what led the person to the hurtful behavior. Bless you.
- Try not to take things personally. Many offenses were not deliberately targeted to hurt you personally, but were byproducts of other people’s own selfish goals.
- Forgive those you love. The most important people to forgive are those close to us.
( Find these steps in Terrie Heinrich Rizzo’s posting The Healing Power of Forgiveness, 2006 )