“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus Christ, Luke 23:34.
Today is Easter Sunday. We have just completed Lent, a period of prayer, contemplation and reflection. As I reflect on my life and experiences, I have concluded yet again that the act of forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of living a peaceful and purposeful life.
I have observed on numerous occasions the negative correlation between “an unforgiving attitude” and stress.
An article entitled ‘Effects of lifetime stress exposure on mental and physical health in young adulthood: How stress degrades and forgiveness protects health’ published in 2014 in the
Journal of Health Psychology, reported on research conducted in 148 young adults. Researchers in this study examined risk and resilience factors that affect health, lifetime stress exposure histories, dispositional forgiveness levels, and mental and physical health.
They discovered that people with greater exposure to stress over their lifetimes experienced worse physical and mental health. The researchers also discovered that in those persons who exhibited the character trait of being highly forgiving, of both themselves and others, the connection between stress and mental illness was almost eliminated.
An unforgiving attitude can cause anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia, and physical pain.
When you forgive someone who has hurt you, you are literally taking back control of your life, and that simple yet difficult act delivers some positive pay-offs such as improved self-esteem, less anger, anxiety, and depression. Anger is a valuable emotion in that it can aid us in defining our personal boundaries; however, long-term and/or unresolved anger can literally burn out the body and soul.
Do you need to forgive someone and do not know where to begin? Here are some tips to start you on your way.
UNDERSTAND WHAT FORGIVENESS IS
Practising forgiveness is not synonymous with being a saint, or a doormat. Many people do not want to forgive because they feel that by doing so they are saying that the offender did nothing wrong.
Some people feel that forgiveness implies weakness. The process of forgiveness is not about the offender. It is about letting go of anger and resentment. It is about accepting that you were wronged but deciding to move on and away from the hurt and pain.
Forgiveness is an act of profound self-respect that takes courage and commitment.
GRIEVE FOR WHAT YOU HAVE LOST
A victim of domestic violence told me that before she could forgive her husband, who used to beat her mercilessly, she had to mourn what she had lost — the hopes, the dreams of a happy, married life.
To truly forgive, you need to feel your sorrow, and that can take time. Even after you have decided to let go of your anger, you may feel it flare up from time to time. Be gentle with yourself.
TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE OFFENDER’S BEHAVIOUR
In general, bad behaviour is the result of emotional immaturity. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between abused and neglected children and subsequent criminal behaviour. If your father neglected, cursed and beat you, ask yourself the question — did his father or mother show him any love and affection? Empathy can calm angry hearts and minds and transform lives.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his book,
The Four Agreements: “Don’t take anything personally.”
He states that “nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you become immune to the opinions and actions of others, you will not be the victim of needless suffering”.
Many times the person who hurt you may not be aware of what has been done. Perhaps he or she is incapable of understanding, or even caring. Although the words “I’m sorry” can be comforting and healing, so is deciding that you no longer need to hear them.
“The only way things are going to change for you is when you change.” Jim Rohn
You change when you forgive someone who has done you wrong. Some people report that they feel light and free; more compassionate, less selfish and angry with themselves. Others discover hidden mental and spiritual strengths.
GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Many times, forgiveness is difficult and one needs professional help to cope and navigate this “minefield of insanity”.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies — Martin Luther King.
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer and pharmacologist. She is the author of the book
A patient’s guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus