I’ve been participating with the Cleveland Clinic’s Stress Free Now for Healers online program. It’s a wonderful program that offers meditation as well as different strategies for dealing with stress. I love the program and came across a piece I want to share with you. It’s titled The Science of Forgiveness. I believe we can all struggle with unforgiveness from time to time. Although I embrace forgiveness for my sake, I’ve had to give myself a talking to every now and again. I do hope the lesson on The Science of Forgiveness from The Cleveland Clinic blesses you as much as it has me.
The Science of Forgiveness
You may wonder why we are including an article on the benefits of forgiveness in this week’s lesson about how to improve your relationship with yourself. It’s because forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.
When our thoughts turn to people who have wronged us or to situations where we got hurt, the story those thoughts tell can be powerfully compelling and quite painful. We often become preoccupied with repeatedly reliving the details of how we were wronged. It’s like a gripping Hollywood movie. No wonder these story lines can, and often do, last a lifetime. Unforgiveness is stressful: Reliving negative past events in our minds and harboring anger and resentment toward others comes at a great cost to our health and well-being. When we are willing to let go of resentment, we reclaim our power from these past events and choose to move forward with our lives.
Three Types of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is experienced on a continuum. How deeply we are able to forgive determines the benefit we receive when we let go of resentment. Moving from lowest to highest, the three types of forgiveness are:
- Unforgiveness: In this state, we spend time and energy ruminating over the hurt we suffered. The thoughts that arise as we dwell on what happened often cause anger, resentment, hostility, bitterness, fear, depression and a quest for vengeance. All of these emotional states trigger a stress response in the body.
- Decisional forgiveness: Often the people who wrong us are people who are part of our lives—friends, family members and coworkers. In this instance, we can decide to set aside the resentment and forgive in order to keep the relationship functioning smoothly. This tactic reduces our hostility, but it doesn’t necessarily cool the stress response, because there are still negative feelings toward this person floating beneath the surface of our actions.
- Emotional forgiveness: Only when we can acknowledge our troubling emotions and then let them go can we get to this third stage of forgiveness. In this state, we create an emotional shift and are able to develop genuine compassion for the person or persons who wronged us. We can see how the situation may have looked from their point of view, and we can genuinely forgive them for how they handled things. Once here, we create a positive emotional state when we reclaim our power from the past and let go, freeing our mind and heart to focus on the present.As we discuss this topic, and as you consider where in your life you need to forgive, it’s important to keep in mind that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting an offense or condoning it. This is an especially important truth for people who have experienced a traumatic event inflicted by someone else.The Importance of Self-Forgiveness
It’s important to note that forgiveness doesn’t just extend to other people. Being able to forgive yourself for your mistakes and missteps is just as important as forgiving your mother-in-law for criticizing your parenting style. In fact, without being able to develop compassion for and extend forgiveness to yourself, it’s much more difficult to do so for other people. Interestingly, studies show that there’s a connection between self-forgiveness and health: Higher levels of self-forgiveness were directly associated with improved mental health status, lower levels of chronic pain and higher levels of healthy lifestyle choices.
The Cleveland Clinic’s Stress Free Now for Healers Program.
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