September 14th, 2011

A Way to Peace

I was speaking to a woman recently, and she mentioned to me that she is unable to “hold a grudge”.  She said if she really tries, she is able to hold a grudge for, at the most, one day.  What a gift I thought.  What a wonderful way to find peace in one’s life.  It seems that forgiveness will most likely never be an issue with her since, at the very most, one day after a “difficult event” any emotional energy connected to that occurrence is gone

Forgiveness is a process by which we release ourselves from the pain that we have experienced at the hands of others.  And the good news is, forgiveness is optional.  It is not something that we do for other people, but rather something that we do for ourselves so that we can get well, move on with our lives and free ourselves from the continuation of pain and anger. It is a gift to our own peace of mind and self esteem.

It does not mean you agree or condone what others may have done.  That event cannot be erased.  What is done is done.  But you can release yourself from being “owned” by that event. Hanging on to resentment is letting someone that you believe has wronged you, living rent-free in your head.

At times the inability to forgive, and even perhaps to seek revenge can literally “eat you up alive”.  One’s sense of what is just and fair may handicap one’s ability to forgive.

Letting go of resentment and animosity can make way for compassion and peace.

Present day medical research has shown that holding anger and bitterness can lead to a chronic stress response in one’s body with increased blood pressure, decreased immunity to illness and numerous other possible health issues. In this frame of mind we are also more prone to depression, anxiety, chronic pain and at much greater risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

In most instances the optional process of forgiving may be accomplished, but forgetting what happened may be impossible.  This does not mean that the benefits of forgiveness should be overlooked.  In relationships, forgiveness can often allow the relationship to continue, whereas otherwise it may not have survived.

Perhaps even more difficult than forgiving others, is to forgive ourselves.  Practically none of us have avoided making missteps in our lives.  Often we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards.  However we are human, and subject to all of the human frailties.  How often have we said or done things that created real damage or ill feelings with others.  There is a rule in our culture and in life, and that is you most of the time cannot take back your words, once they are spoken.  However you do have choice of sincerely apologizing if you choose, and hopefully for your own mental well-being, the apology will be accepted.

At times the process deciding to forgive can be a difficult. The “violating event” may have occurred many years ago, and the offender may even be deceased, but the thoughts and feelings of it still crowd your mind.  It is a conscious process whereby one must ponder the advantages of forgiveness and determine if it is best course of action for one’s own mental well-being.  From my experience, it usually is.

As a therapist, I have seen the miracle of this process in my clients, and in my own life.  My advice is do not overlook the possibility of the gift of forgiveness and what it might do for you.

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