Forgiveness, most agree, is the right thing to do. It’s also an inner ability to access certain resources and cultivate the strength and courage needed make a conscious choice to take the higher road — in key moments. And a practice of taking the higher road in challenging moments, well, that’s where human beings grow and enhance attributes of wisdom, health, happiness, peace of mind, among other priceless gifts.
Arguably, forgiveness is a practice that is key to reaching your human potential, essentially, who you are.
There are at least 7 reasons why forgiveness can be described as integral to human nature:
1. It increases your knowledge and understanding of how life works, or doesn’t work, to realize more happiness and health, peace and harmony in your relationships.
Forgiving a person who hurt you is a challenging task. It is good to accept this up front. It may even be daunting for some, or seemingly impossible for others. More often, this is because forgiveness is mistakenly thought of as forgetting or denying a wrongful action occurred.
Similar to going to the gym, taking the high road is never easy. It’s replete with uncomfortable moments, yet when you hang in there, step by step, you reap the benefits; and to top it off, it gets easier and easier, in fact, many learn to enjoy and extract amazing natural highs from the practice (and the gym!).
The choice to forgive is a powerful practice of that releases the love and safety chemical, oxytocin, into your blood stream. This which allows the physiological state of your mind and body to return to “learning mode,” a natural state of relative calm and balance. Not forgiving, in contrast, releases stress chemicals, such as cortisol, meaning you not only miss out on the multifaceted benefits that come from taking the high road, but also engage in processes of resistance that activate emotional suffering.
And the kicker is that not forgiving doesn’t work! It’s like taking poison and expecting a hated person to die. Biochemically, emotions of rage and hatred literally cause the human brain to give more attention to a person who has wronged you, thus, giving them “more” power to manipulate your emotional states from afar, in ways that keep you from feeling fully alive.
2. It keeps you alive and healthy, protecting you from physical and mental illness and disease.
Compassion is the governing emotion. When compassion-based emotions direct your brain and body, then your subconscious self activates your body’s “relaxation response,” meaning you brain remains in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic system, also known as “learning mode” (versus survival mode!). In learning mode, healthful hormones nourish the cells of your body, neurotransmitters are replenished, the frontal cortex or higher-thinking capacity of your brain is engaged, all of which permit your mind and body to work together, and when they do, that means you have access to inner resources, such as possibility thinking and creativity, and high frequency emotions, such as gratitude, curiosity, love, joy, enthusiasm, and so on.
In contrast, when fear is the governing emotion, the directives of your brain and body are automatically put in survival mode (sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system). In survival mode, the subconscious mind of the body activates mostly old “learned” or pre-programmed reactions, defense strategies of thought and behavior, and the like, many of which date back to childhood, when your brain imprinted some combination of your parents’ stress reactions onto your brain. Under these conditions, especially when stress is prolonged and chronic, the levels of stress hormones released can have a toxic effect on your physical body and health.
Studies repeatedly show that not forgiving is associated with disturbances, both emotional ones, such as intense anger, depression, powerlessness, and physical, such as coronary heart disease, sleep or immune system problems. In contrast, forgiving is associated with health benefits to include sound sleep, mental health, and a longer life span.
3. It connects you to your deepest core values, or inner core-emotion drives to matter and connect to your self and life in meaningful ways.
We are hardwired with unstoppable core emotion-drives to matter and meaningfully contribute in relation to our self and life around us. While these can become so hidden or masked by our fear-instincts as to appear non-existent to us and others, they remain key driving forces, reminders of our true nature (though they only manifest outcomes to the extent we nurture and cultivate them.
Forgiveness reminds us that we are relational beings, that our brain forms literal structures, or neural pathways, in our brain, for the persons we are in closest relationship with. The pain of not forgiving prompts us to look for healing and inner work, to face our fears and learn new and optional ways of relating and handing our most uncomfortable emotions. Not forgiving is a form of pain avoidance, and avoiding emotional pain is what gets many in emotional stuck places. Resistance of this nature stunts your growth and emotional development. It’s safe to say that avoiding pain, because it stunts growth, is the root of all emotional suffering.
4. It fosters your personal and relational growth and transformation.
When you hold on to hurts and disappointments, regardless how “justified” it may feel, deep down, you allow deep emotion-laden pockets of bitterness, rage or hatred to accrue. Hating or resenting, as explained by American existential psychologist Rollo May, is a superficial way of soothing our pain and preserving our sense of personal power and dignity that gives away our power instead, declaring, “You have conquered me, but I reserve the right to hate you.”
The good news is that letting go of bitterness becomes easier with practice. It helps to understand that it is not something you do for another, rather something you do for your own health and emotional wellbeing. When someone acts wrongfully, you offer forgiveness to avoid the harmful and potentially deadly poison of not forgiving.
Like eating nutritious food, rather than junk, protecting our happiness is a vital responsibility in the care of our self, mind, body and emotion (spirit).
On the other hand, forgiving too quickly and easily is not healthy either, in fact, author and psychologist Dr. Janis Spring refers to this as “cheap” versus “genuine” forgiveness (the former being unhealthy for both, and not “real” forgiveness). Dr Spring recommends “acceptance” as a form of forgiveness that is critical, specifically, in cases where the wrongdoer is a repeat offender.
If the wrongdoing is ongoing, for example, it is about accepting you cannot change other people, and your attempts to change their actions, thoughts, feelings about you, or the situation, are the root cause of much suffering for many. You always have a choice, and accepting that you cannot change the past or another person allows you to own the power you have within you to change, for example, how you respond, think or feel in ways that best protect your happiness, which is no small matter!
5. It grows our capacity for compassion for self and others, and life around us.
Forgiveness is a practice, a way of life, that allows you to experience the fullness of your capacity to give and receive love. The practice of forgiveness—as an art, science and power—will help you do so.
“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” ~ MOTHER THERESA
Forgiveness however is not something you do for someone else. You forgive to heal your self, to restore the emotional power you need to remain empathically connected to your inner sense of compassion for your self first and foremost, for without your own love-connection to self inside, you cannot connect to the other as a human being. You do so to honor your inner design, as a human being, because love is the essence of who we are as human beings.
You love just because it is who you ultimately are, and therefore in the highest interest of your health and well being. In the words of Alexander Pope, ”To err is human; to forgive, Divine.”
At the same time, forgiveness is not forgetting or a lapse in memory. Forgive and forget is a myth. It’s vital to remember what others have done to hurt us.
Forgiveness is about fully accepting what happened happened, and the past cannot be changed. And acceptance is a form of forgiveness that allows you to shift you focus your own self-care.
If you stay together, it is because you both grew and gained new understandings of self and other, and because both persons want to restore the love connection, and feel the discomfort of growing and learning to make optimal choices, and learn from less than optimal ones, is well worth it.
Remaining connected to your compassion is a vital means to protect your happiness. Though it requires much courage to do so, the process is self-reinforcing. The more you practice forgiveness, the more benefits you realize, the more confident you become of your ability to grow your confidence and transform your experiences of pain into assets, rather than shrink and live a life of lies and illusions, in which fear seems larger than life.
6. It teaches us to transform our fears into assets, thus become disinterested in instincts to retaliate or punish, and replace that with a love for to participating with others to create more peace and harmony in and around us.
When we hold on to hurts and disappointments, regardless how “justified” we may be, deep down, we allow deep emotion-laden pockets of accrued bitterness, rage or hatred to build inside of us. Hating or resenting, as explained by American existential psychologist Rollo May, is a superficial way of soothing our pain and preserving our sense of personal power and dignity that gives away our power instead, declaring, “You have conquered me, but I reserve the right to hate you.”
Letting of bitterness is a gift you give to free yourself. In the words of May,
”Freedom is man’s capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves.” ~ ROLLO MAY
Deep down, a refusal to forgive has a positive underlying intention. It is a yearning for empathy from the person who hurt us, a desire for them — to take the highest and most effective road to reconcile the relationship — and thereby heal themselves. Giving ownership to the person who acted hurtfully, rather than being quick to forgive, is genuine forgiveness.
Being quick to forgive, by the way, is not genuine forgiveness because it does not place the burden of reconciliation on the person who acted hurtfully, to allow them to do what is in their highest interest as well, and that is, to take full responsibility to make amends, to reconcile the relationship.
7. It grows your understanding between choices to use fear-based “power” to dominate, limit, force, etc., versus the miracle-making “power” and miracle-making practices to collaborate, inspire, create.
When you chose to forgive you stop using energy-wasting defense strategies that judge, stew or activate negative thinking-feeling states to rule your mind and body, which can harm your emotional, mental and spiritual growth and well being, and even physical health.
Conceivably, relationships with certain key others in your life (self and loved ones) are a top-notch school that, by design, seeks to stretch the limits of your compassion in order to teach you what you need to know to realize your deepest yearnings for happiness and meaning.
Whereas fear brings out the worst in human nature, love brings out the very best of what it means to realize human potential.
An invitation to forgive is a challenge that calls you to let go of behavior patterns rooted in “force” and other fear-based powers. Fear- and force-based power is only effective if your intent is to burn bridges and cause destruction or harm to your relationship with your self and another. In contrast, love-based power allows you to stay connected to an infinite source of inner wisdom and knowledge, compassion and understanding.
“True forgiveness is not an action after the fact; it is an attitude with which you enter each moment.” ~ DAVID RIDGE
Forgiveness is for the strong, the courageous, those who want to heal and take the road less traveled, and live wholeheartedly and consciously connected to what most brings meaning and the best in life.
In sum, forgiveness is your true nature, a statement you make to yourself, and others, that says you choose to live life fully and wholeheartedly, not half-alive or numb from quick-fix ways to feel power and cheap substitutes for love. As a human being, you have access to wondrous strengths and capacities that help you navigate fears and vulnerabilities successfully, in ways that disallow lower instincts from taking control of your life and relationships, and put your highest vision for personal and relational peace and happiness in charge instead.