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Forgiveness is a skill that improves with practice. It is also a commitment. In many instances of deep regrets, we may not be able to forgive completely the first time we try. We may have to forgive over and over, with each effort producing a longer period of forgiveness until the periods run together into permanence. Each time will be easier, however, as we master the art of forgiving.
The Benefits of Forgiving
The benefits of forgiving far outweigh the imagined benefits of withholding forgiveness. There is no comparison between the two. Forgiving is a bold and enterprising act. It is neither passive nor weak but an expression
STEP EIGHT: FORGIVING OTHERS
of courage and power. Only the strong and the brave can truly forgive. Forgiving is one of the most freeing of all human actions, because it is grounded in love. It releases us from the domination of unhappy memories, disturbing events, hostile people, and bitter regrets. The benefits of forgiving are rich and real. They include the following:
Forgiving Brings Health Benefits
In addition to the substantial psychological and spiritual benefits of forgiving, medical research indicates that forgiveness conveys physical health benefits as well. It lowers heart rates and blood pressure and gives people a greater sense of control over their lives. It reduces anger, stress, and depression, and it increases vitality and optimism. In contrast, withholding forgiveness leads to higher stress levels and greater feelings of sadness and anger. The bitterness, rage, fear, and resentments that come from withholding forgiveness raise the level of cortisol, a fight-or-flight hormone. Over time, elevated cortisol levels can lead to heart attacks, strokes, coronary disease, ulcers, colitis, and immune system problems.
Forgiving Frees Us from the Captivity of the Offender
When we refuse to forgive, we turn control of our emotional life over to the very people who hurt us in the first place. Once again, they victimize us but this time with our permission. We are no longer just the victim; we have become our own tormentor. By forgiving, we sever our emotional and psychological ties to the offending events or parties. They lose their power to hurt us or to affect our behavior or emotional life in any way. They no longer absorb our energy or our thoughts, which we can devote to happier and more productive purposes.
Forgiving Allows Us to Pursue Practical Approaches to Resolving Difficulties Involving the Offender
Forgiving allows us to take the most practical and productive approach to resolving issues that still involve the offending party. Jos?, for example, was
involved in a prolonged and bitter divorce, with court fights over custody and alimony dragging out for months and months. The angrier he became at his former wife’s behavior, the more desperate he grew to hurt her. Then he devised an ingenious plan to get back at his ex-wife, which, unfortunately, required him to use his children against her. Jos?’s slow realization that he was willing to hurt his children to get to their mother shocked him into rethinking his approach to coping with the divorce.
Jos? finally decided he needed to cool down and come to terms with his own actions. In the process, he tried to forgive his ex-wife and let go of the regrets associated with their divorce. When he was finally able to forgive her, he was freed of his resentments and his desire to hurt her. Jos? could then act in the best interests of his children and himself, regardless of the positive effect of his actions on his former spouse. He was free.
We Get On with Our Lives
When we free the energy trapped in the anger and hatred of our regrets, we can use it for productive purposes that further our personal relationships, our career, and our lives. While we are stalled in our regrets, consumed by resentments and thoughts of revenge, the people who hurt us may well be moving on. By forgiving them, we regain the energy and focus we need to concentrate again on making our lives rewarding and fruitful. A rich, meaningful life is, after all, the best “revenge.”
When Natalia’s long-term boyfriend found out she was pregnant, he agreed to marry her but only on the condition that she abort the child. Tormented by the impossible demand of having to choose between her boyfriend and her baby, Natalia reluctantly agreed to the abortion. After it was over, her boyfriend left her. Devastated by the loss of the child and the betrayal of the man she loved, Natalia fell into a depression, then into blaming, and then into rage. Only after she forgave her boyfriend, which she had to do in order to let go of the regret, could she also let go of the anger and the rage. When she did, she was able to seek a new romantic relationship, recapture the joie de vivre she had lost after the breakup, and carry out her work with the same degree of competence she had once exhibited. She was able to move on with her life.
STEP EIGHT: FORGIVING OTHERS