Friday, July 10, 2009

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is good for your health. Really. They've done studies on it. People who are 'forgivers' have lower blood pressure and pulse, fewer physiologic stress responses, and more positive emotions. They also sleep better, are more energetic, have fewer physical symptoms and use fewer medications.

Sounds like a no brainer. Let's all be forgivers. Too bad it isn't as easy as it sounds, eh?

What is forgiveness anyway? What does it mean to forgive someone? Say somebody hurts you in some way. They say, "I'm sorry." You say, "That's okay." Have you forgiven them? What if it really isn't "okay?" What if it will never be "okay" what they did? What are you going to do?

"I forgive you" sounds like it's more about what I do to you than what is going on in my own mind. It even has a slightly haughty, patronizing tone to it, as if I'm anointing you or something. But forgiveness isn't something you do TO someone. In reality, forgiveness has little to do with the other person.

If you forgive someone, that doesn't mean you condone what they did. It doesn't mean you excuse it, or even that you think it was "okay." It doesn't mean you will forget what happened, or even necessarily that you reconcile with them. Forgiveness happens in your own mind, and is a process of letting go of the anger and resentment you have. How do you do that? You make a decision that you will not allow those thoughts to dominate your well being or mess with your peace of mind. We control our own thoughts, after all. You can decide what you will or won't think about or dwell on. Our thoughts create our experience to a huge degree.

Thoughts can open the back door for unwelcome feelings to come in. If you hurt me, I can decide to stew about it. "How dare she? I can't believe what she did! That really hurt me. Ow! She's such a *&^%!" etc etc. If I start thinking like that, anger and resentment will soon be invading and before I know it I'm hogtied in my own kitchen. Who wants that? Not I.

You cannot count on someone who hurt you to apologize, to try to make amends, or even to recognize that they hurt you. If you hold your breath for any of that, well, you'll suffocate, that's what.

Let it go.

4 comments:

Paul Elam said...

Outstanding sentiments, and so true by my estimation and experience. It was an axiom of treatment for alcoholism and addiction that the number one offender was resentment when it came to recidivism.

I can also speak as someone who has forgiven much in my life. A distant, often abusive father, a colluding mother, a couple of ex wives.

At first I made the simple discovery that my resentments didn't hurt the person that I didn't want to forgive. More often than not, they were hardly aware of my feelings anyway.

But it still left the problem of how to go from resentful to forgiving in a heartfelt way. Time helped, but my biggest friend was the mirror.

As I took stock of my life I realized that I had indeed hurt people in the same way I was hurt. I was, in fact, not one bit better than anyone who had ever hurt me in the past.

I was just a normal, flawed human being, selfish, self-centered and self seeking.

I figured out that I was better off trying to make something better of myself (quite a job!) than I was wallowing in resentments of the past. And the more I embraced this, the more I actually forgave people who had harmed me.

Also, as long as I am being long winded. Forgiveness, to me, has nothing to do with apologies. I never got one from either parent or the ex's.

In fact, the forgiveness had nothing to do with them at all. The resentments lived in me, and now so does the forgiveness. It is total and complete. No need for apologies, or even to tell someone I forgave them.

I am still a work in progress, but this was a very big piece that brought me very big peace.

Margie said...

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Basically, we cannot hope to be forgiven until we forgive others. A quid pro quo, beneficial to both parties, relieving one of any held past resentments and providing space for grace to enter.

That one prays or meditates on these words daily must have something to do with how hard it can be to accomplish.

From my point of view, forgiveness takes practice and patience.

Peg Spencer said...

Paul,

Thank you so much for your eloquent comments. I agree wholeheartedly. Your discovery that "my resentments didn't hurt the person that I didn't want to forgive" reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from The Buddha:

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

So true! We can be as mad as we want inside but that's no guarantee that the one we're mad at will even notice, let alone suffer like we think they should! Kinda funny when you think about it.

For me the step from resentful to forgiving is all about compassion, which is what I think you were describing. Understanding that, first of all, we're just as imperfect as the next person, and, second, that whatever they did "to" us was far more a factor of their own internal struggle than anything else. I believe when we hurt others it's because we ourselves are hurting in some way. Understanding that about your transgressor, as it were, can go a long way to softening anger and resentment.

Thanks for your comments!

Peg

Peg Spencer said...

Hi Margie!

Patience and practice, for sure! Truer words were never spoken.

It's nice to think that we might be forgiven if we forgive, but I wouldn't hold my breath. All we can do is take care of our own internal process. If others choose to let go of their resentment towards us, fantastic! If not, well, that's their coal to hold!

Thanks for your comments!

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