Health Matters,  Self-Care

The Power of Forgiveness

In my post of 22 December 2014 I mentioned that “forgiveness” is a key to emotional health. I first realised this when I was in my late 20’s. A I practiced the act of forgiveness I believe my life has been better off because of it. It seems such a simplistic approach to forgive so you will feel better. Does it really work? Is there really any truth in the power of forgiveness?

There is no doubt that emotions are very powerful and for some they are difficult to contain. The results can be devastating. We keep hearing about such stories, ever present on our TV screens. We can all be hurt whether from words or an act, intentional or not. In my own experiences when I have been at the centre of an injustice it is difficult to stand by and accept it. Then what do we do, do we retaliate, hold a grudge or resentment or go further and seek revenge? The other approach is that we all have the power within, if we choose to appropriate it, to forgive.

Flowers are a symbol of forgiveness. In the Victorian era the purple Hyacinth said "I am sorry, please forgive me". In the photo is shown the beauty of the Oriental Lilium Robina grown in our garden. It flowered in December 2014.
Flowers are a symbol of forgiveness. In the Victorian era the purple Hyacinth said “I am sorry, please forgive me”. In the photo is shown the beauty of the Oriental Lilium Robina grown in our garden. It flowered in December 2014.

Giving forgiveness to another is not accepting what happened, it is not forgetting, it is not excusing or pardoning and it is not justice. You can remember the violation of the injustice however you do no have to hold on to the emotions of wanting “pay back”. This is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt. It is a simple decision that always has benefits for the person who forgives. Forgiving a person who hurt you or violated you or your trust, whether this is in a relationship or a business deal, does not mean that you have to continue to have a relationship with them.

In other situations where a criminal act has occurred forgiving may not seem like the right thing to do. Such a case in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is the abduction and murder of 13 year old Daniel Morcombe. The parents of Daniel, Bruce and Denise, following a conviction of the person who committed this crime, believe they got justice but cannot forgive the man for such a heinous crime. I cannot make a judgement on the Morcombe’s particularly as I have never been in their situation. It is very much a personal and private decision that has to be respected.

However, the literature today is very convincing. There is scientific evidence that shows there are benefits for those who choose to forgive. Research studies on forgiveness are finding links between forgiveness and our overall health: physical, mental and spiritual. The act of forgiveness is powerful because in exchange we receive peace and contentment. Everett L. Worthington, Jr has dedicated his career to the study of forgiveness.  In his article The New Science of Forgiveness he draws attention to the research. I was interested to read about his review of one study by Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet who found that when people ruminate on an old transgression it affects them physically. Essentially at this time people are practicing unforgiveness by going over events of the past. The result is that it is stressful and damaging to the body. The alternative is to practice forgiveness.

But how do we forgive? Has our society with all its sophistication forgotten the art of forgiveness? Dr Frederic Luskin is Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects. His work documents the healing and health benefits for the person who forgives.  Dr Luskin outlines nine steps in order to “forgive for good”. As Martin Luther King Jr once said “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude”.

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