by Barbara J Hunt: Human beings have evolved with the capacity for both revenge and forgiveness…
We might not always seek revenge, but we can also end up never forgiving certain people in our lives. Sometimes, forgiveness feels like the last thing we want to do.
Many people don’t really know what forgiveness is and most people think it’s something that it isn’t – like letting people off the hook. Research has also shown that even when people believe forgiveness is important, they don’t know where to start and think they’d need some support to do it.
Most importantly, many people aren’t even aware of the awesome benefits you can get from forgiveness, when you do it. Here are the five main areas of your life that forgiveness will improve:
1. PHYSICAL HEALTH
Forgiveness is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your physical health. Scientific research has shown that it can help:
- Lower your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Reduce your risk of heart attack
- Lower your blood pressure
- Improve weight loss
- Boost your immune system
- Overcome depression
- Make you feel less anxious
- Reduce tension in your body
- Increase your speed of recovery from illness
- Improve how deeply and peacefully you sleep – with no old issues still unresolved
2. MENTAL HEALTH
Forgiveness is the only way you can truly resolve the past. You can talk about it, ruminate on it, process it and complain about it, but until you actually forgive what needs to be forgiven, you’re only part of the way there. Forgiveness can help you:
- Reach places that other therapies have never reached
- Resolve past trauma that you may have failed to let go of
- Feel lighter than you have in years
- Feel happier than you can remember
- Feel more freedom and peace within yourself
- Enhance your meditation and spiritual practice
Forgiveness will improve every single relationship you have, every one you’ve had in the past and every one you’re going to have in the future. After you forgive, you’ll feel like being more loving toward everyone in your life:
- with your family of origin – you really can get over your childhood
- your co-workers and colleagues – so you can be more successful in your business
- your spouse – forgiveness can do wonders for your erotic life!
- your kids – forgiveness is one of the most worthwhile things you can teach them
- your friends – being able to forgive can make friendships flourish
- your pets – perfect for after they’ve accidentally done something they shouldn’t!
- yourself – self- forgiveness – probably the hardest and most powerful forgiveness of all
Studies of brain wave patterns of people in the process of forgiving those who’d hurt or betrayed them, revealed an unlikely benefit of forgiving – it can significantly increase your alpha-waves – the brainwave frequency associated with enhanced creativity, problem solving and even athletic ability. What did the people who did the study find was the biggest single factor suppressing alpha waves? Holding on to anger and grudges. When you forgive, you:
- Enhance your ability to problem solve
- Give yourself access to greater creativity
- Increase your ability to ‘super learn’ – to retain and recall information better
- Develop characteristics associated with enlightened leadership, like equanimity, clarity, compassion and insightful decision making
5. THE WORLD
You may have heard this vivid description of bearing a grudge: “Holding on to anger and resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person will be bothered by the smoke.” You are always the primary beneficiary of your forgiveness – the one who sets themselves free. But when you forgive, you’re also making a difference in the world. You’re setting an example for what’s possible. When you forgive, you contribute the peace in your heart to the world, and you will:
- Feel more connected to other people
- Feel more empathy and compassion for others and their circumstances
- Help change the culture of cyber-bullying and hate crime
- Help create peaceful societies
- Ultimately help to create global peace
You might be thinking “Well, I can probably forgive most things, but there’s one or two people who were downright wrong and I’m never forgiving them.”
Or you might want to forgive, but just don’t know where to start.
In my coaching work over many years, I’ve witnessed the utterly transformational power of forgiveness. I’ve had the privilege of coaching people of all ages, from all walks of life. I worked with a wonderful woman in her 70s, who, after she’d forgiven her abuser, said, “All that bad feeling I was carrying in my body, since I was 15, it’s all gone!” She’s typical of anyone who does forgive – they feel like they’ve resolved the trouble of a lifetime. It’s inspiring and humbling, because the way they’ve done it – the way they’ve set themselves free, is by refusing to hold their ill will against someone else.
So the fact that we’re not all queuing up to forgive each other means there must be really convincing reasons why not. If forgiveness has this many amazing benefits, why isn’t forgiveness taught in schools, offered as part of our mental health services, why isn’t it part of our everyday lives?
I’m fascinated by not just the phenomenal power and potential of forgiveness, but also why we don’t often choose it. What are the biggest obstacles to forgiveness?
In my next blog, I’ll share the six most common mistakes you need to be aware of that might be getting in the way of your forgiveness.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below – what’s your major obstacle to forgiveness? What is your most burning question about forgiveness? What do you need most help with?
Here’s to your peaceful heart!