The Healing Power of Forgiving

Robbie Parker, the father of a six-year-old who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, fights back tears as he speaks during a news conference in Newtown, Connecticut. In an act of selfless grace, he extended his condolences to the family of shooter Adam Lanza, saying "I want you to know that our love and support go out to you as well." (photo and story from news.com.au)

Out with the bad and in with the good . This  is what you often hear when a  new year starts. Start fresh and start anew. Leave all your baggages behind. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if you’ve been subjected to any form of abuse.  For some of  us, we carry on with our lives bearing grudges and holding on to the anger and  the desire  to get revenge. It may not  manifest in violence  but  it  may manifest  in some  ways.

A lesson which  I had to learn the hard way.

A few years ago, I was stuck in a relationship that rendered me broken, broke,  and  emotionally battered.  And  for years, I have blamed the other party for treating me so callously,  but  as the years passed, I realize things  wouldn’t have  ended  the  way  they did if  I  didn’t  let  him. I was hurt and  I was  angry.  There were countless incidents I’d imagine myself slapping the guy and kicking his nuts. Our common friends  would  mention his name and  I think I would go pale with  anger. I would feign  indifference but I suspect our friends felt it was more of disdain. To this day,  a closed friend of mine swears  that I was like a fire-breathing dragon- livid  and armed with the deathly stare- at the mere  mention  of  the guy’s name. I was lucky to have friends who are understanding enough to let me come to terms on my own until I finally realize that I have a part  in all the mess I got myself caught in.

If you’re going thru a rough patch and  if you think that you’ve been wronged, remember that it’s natural to feel angry and  it’s alright to release that anger by venting. Understandably, you’ll say the meanest things you could think of. You’re  angry and  you do irrational things out of anger. Once, twice or even thrice is ok.  One thing I’ve learned though, is  saying  all the meanest words that you could muster will not change what happened and will not lessen  the pain.  Revenge only reduces you to your worst self and puts you on the same level with those spiteful people you  claim to abhor.  As Confucious says, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves

Additionally, studies have shown that anger and revenge can increases stress level which in turn, can impair health and immunity.  Anger also has direct physiological effects on the heart and arteries. Emotions such as anger and hostility quickly activate the “fight or flight response,” in which stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing and give you a burst of energy. Blood pressure also rises as your blood vessels constrict. The body’s reaction may mobilize you for emergencies,  but it might cause harm if activated repeatedly.

It’s human nature to hit back the minute someone hits you with a stick – but  that’s how wars get started. And  history suggests that wars bring no good to anyone, even to the victors. It’s not easy to forgive, and if you find yourself torn between letting your anger get the best of you, try these  four powerful steps from Dr. Fredrick Luskin,  director and cofounder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project.

  1. Close your eyes, and for about 20 seconds, picture the person who hurt or angered you. Let all your grievances come up. Take not of  what happens in your body – acceleration of heart-beat, shallow breathing, tension, etc.
  2.  Now let go of this image and take some slow, deep abdominal breaths. Focus on your abdomen, and imagine the breath going down into it as you inhale. Expand your abdomen on each inhalation, and deflate your abdomen as you exhale. Take about five breaths and keep your focus on your abdomen. If your mind goes back to the person who hurt you or to anything else, bring the focus back to the rhythm of your breath and the movement of your abdominal muscles as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Bring into your mind an image of someone you love very much, or a place of peace and beauty. Allow yourself to be flooded with the positive feelings this image elicits. Bring those feelings down to the area around your heart. Allow the good feelings to penetrate your heart and soothe you.
  4.  Lastly, keep breathing the good feelings into your heart. Now take a look again at the person you are angry at. Let the good feelings protect you. The purpose of doing this step is to break the pattern of stress reactions that normally occur in your mind and body when you think of the person who hurt you. When you surround your heart with positive energy, the power the person has had over you begins to dissipate.
Robbie Parker, the father of a six-year-old who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, fights back tears as he speaks during a news conference in Newtown, Connecticut. In an act of selfless grace, he extended his condolences to the family of shooter Adam Lanza, saying “I want you to know that our love and support go out to you as well.” (photo and story from news.com.au)

Dr’ Luskin’s research also showed that as people learn to forgive they become less angry, less depressed, less anxious and  less stressed. They become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate. They become more forgiving in general not just towards one particular person who did them wrong.  His research also showed that forgiveness has physical health benefits.  People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs.

Forgiveness is  the most  liberating gift can give yourself, but  remember that it is something  that you cannot force or pretend to do.

Web References:

http://learningtoforgive.com/2010/04/welcome/

http://www.learningpeace.com/pages/LP_10.htm

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-freedom/201109/the-power-forgiveness-even-911

http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/how-anger-hurts-your-heart