Why Forgiveness Is Better Than Bitterness

Image via  Creative Commons with modifications

Image via Creative Commons with modifications

What is forgiveness?

Somewhere along the way, we started equating “forgiveness” with “it’s fine/it doesn’t matter.” That stops here. Forgiveness is the conscious decision to acknowledge your pain, discomfort, annoyance, or disrespect caused by a person or situation, and to release the control it has over your life. Forgiveness is not only an action, but a state of mind.

But, like so very many things in life, forgiveness is easier said than done.

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What’s the big deal?

Aside from awkward run ins and the few extra pounds put on by the occasional pity pint of Ben & Jerry’s to eat instead of feeling your emotions, what’s the harm in holding grudges? Glad you asked!

Not forgiving, or choosing to hold onto a grudge can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress-induced panic attacks. Study after study indicate that those who hold grudges have higher blood pressure, depleting immune function, and more general physical stress on the body. When asked why, Fred Luskin, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University said it’s because not forgiving is the root cause of a lot health issues – from over eating, to not sleeping, and everything in between.

Okay, fine. So what are the benefits?

1. Healthier relationships over all. Having the habit of forgiveness frees you from the past mistakes of others, and lets you enter each new relationship and situation with a clean slate.
2. Greater psychological well-being. Studies show that forgiveness not only restores the relationship in question to its previous positive state, but the benefits of forgiveness pour out into other relationships.
3. Less anxiety, stress, and hostility. Living out forgiveness in your daily life reduces the power that stressful situations have on you, therefore allowing you roll with the punches rather than being knocked down by them.
4. Forgiveness is good for your heart – literally. A Study from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine associated forgiveness with lower heart rate and blood pressure. And we all know those things lead to long term benefits for your overall health.
5. Not as likely to be depressed. It’s not rocket science; if you can forgive and allow yourself to be forgiven, not a whole lot can get you down.
6. Forgiveness can extend your life. According to one study after testing adults ages 66 and older and determining their ability to forgive, those who were more forgiving in nature tended to live longer.

How do I forgive?

It is important to remember that forgiveness is a commitment to a change of heart, mind, and attitude towards a person or situation. It’s messy, but worth it. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Figure out what you want out of that particular relationship. Do you still want to be close friends, or is the end game to cut off that particular relationship?

2. Express yourself. If you’re staying close, have a face to face conversation with the person. The goal should be to be open and genuine, and let them know they hurt you, and how you two can work toward restoration. If you’re choosing to end that relationship, face to face confrontation probably isn’t necessary, but you do need to get your feelings out there. Write out your thoughts, how it hurt, why it hurt, etc., and then tear it up or burn it. Your pain needs to come out.

3. Cultivate empathy. Don’t just end on how much it sucks or why the other person is the worst. Taking time to put yourself in their position or at least attempt to take some of the responsibility for why things got out of control will make you seem more approachable and may lead to a quicker, less messy resolution.

4. Move On. Make the conscious decision to let it go. Some confrontations may end in hugs and words of affirmation, but a lot of them will not. You have to be ok with that. You have to be at peace with the fact that you did everything you could to resolve the situation, and everything else is out of your control.

Remember: forgiveness is a process, not a moment.

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