To err is human; to forgive, divine. (Alexander Pope)
An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind. (Kahil Gibran)
While many reasons are ingrained in our moral fiber and cultural roots, a more recent one has been the finding that forgiveness changes our emotional state and as such our physical well-being. Forgiving is a way to stay healthy.
The Physical Risk of Holding on to Anger
In the face of interpersonal offenses, most of us feel angry in addition to feeling insulted, dismissed and hurt. Many of us rehearse the event in our heads over and over, thinking about what we could or should have said, fueling our negative perspective of the offender in some attempt to gain some mastery over the personal offense we have suffered.
“ I can’t believe after all the time and information I provided, he minimized my role and choose someone else.”
“ Who is she to stop inviting me, when I’m the one who introduced her to everyone else?”
Can Forgiveness Actually Change This?
The findings are significant and alarming in that the unforgiving responses not only drove up physical stress responses in body—these physical stress responses including heart rate, blood pressure elevation, as well as sympathetic nervous system responses remained elevated for some time even after the subjects stopped the unforgiving responses.
The forgiving responses, on the other hand, offered a way to think about the offender and the incident with less negative emotion and correspondingly less heart rate, blood pressure and (SNS) reactivity. They promoted greater perceived control on the part of the person offended.
How Can We Use These Strategies?
Healthy Strategies for Forgiving:
Develop Feelings of Empathy
He has been a really good supervisor to me. I don’t know why this happened but I know he has helped me in the past.
She is so insecure with people—I wonder if she is aware of how others feel?
I wonder if he was getting pressure from above to choose someone they wanted to move up the ladder?
She has had so much crisis this month, I wonder if this was an oversight?
Imagine Granting Forgiveness
Recognize that forgiveness means going forward with your own life unhooked from the burden of another’s behavior.
I have too much to do and too many good things going on to get stuck with this incident.
Recognize that forgiveness does not mean condoning transgression or denying, tolerating or excusing the offense.
This situation says more about her than me–I can let it go because I won’t stay involved if it happens again.
Substituting grudge holding or rehearsing with perspective taking or letting go takes you out of the victim position. It often affords an ability to see the offender with a merciful attitude.
I don’t know what or why this person acted this way. It’s a shame because it can’t bring good things or good feelings.
A Reason to Forgive
To be offended is hurtful enough. To react to the offense in a way that takes away our sense of control, our emotional state and our health is too much to give away.
Forgiving Responses offer us some tools for body and soul. They pass forward something positive that changes our perspective of others and protects our health.
As the holiday season approaches—Forgiving Responses may be worth trying.
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From Psych Central's World of Psychology:
Best of Our Blogs: December 6, 2013 | World of Psychology (December 6, 2013)
Best of Our Blogs: December 6, 2013 | Psychologist Magazine (December 6, 2013)
Last reviewed: 3 Dec 2013