There are a few people in my life who I need to forgive. Not because they deserve it or because I condone their behaviour, but for my benefit. The feelings associated with transgressions from others include anger, hostility, resentment and perhaps more that I cannot think of. Feelings are not my strong point.
Studies have been performed to show the negative effects of holding onto those feelings. It affects your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in your body, creating anxiety and increased heart rate. My cortisol levels have been alarmingly high in the past year and I’m working on ways to reduce them. I’m pretty sure it can’t be good for your body for extended periods.
I’ve encountered and tried a number of techniques to let go of the hurt and the unhealthy feelings and I think it’s working. I can’t say I completely forgive those who have hurt me the most but I’m getting there. It is a process and it would be foolish to think that it can happen overnight. If you’re interested there are some good visualisation exercises in Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life. I’ve also tried exercises such as writing forgiveness letters in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness. I also read about creating a silly song or ditty about those who have hurt you. It seems to lighten the burden.
The expert on forgiveness appears to be Everett Worthington who has conducted much research and has written a number of articles and books on the topic. He created a model with the mneumonic REACH. I’ve summarised it below:
- Recall the event as objectively as possible and take deep breaths while doing so.
- Empathise and try to see things from their perspective.
- Altruistic gift of forgiveness. Think about a time when you were forgiven.
- Commit yourself publicly by writing a letter that you needn’t send.
- Hold onto forgiveness. Don’t dwell on the memories when they return.
Worthington’s studies show that the model creates less anger, less stress and more optimism in the participants. I could certainly do with less stress and more optimism in my life.
Buddhism promotes altruism and compassion for all, including those who have hurt you. Matthieu Ricard writes of the sheer joy he has attained in his life through meditating on compassion. In his book Happiness, he writes that “[a] series of studies conducted on hundreds of students found an undeniable correlation between altruism and happiness, determining that those who believe themselves to be happiest are also the most altruistic.”
So perhaps if I’m struggling to forgive, I need to focus more on compassion and hopefully the forgiveness will follow. Forgiveness has real power as acknowledged by great people such as Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Whether or not you are religious, forgiveness has the power to free you and to heal you. It’s worth a try in my view.Follow me: