Finding peace through forgiveness

December 21, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Forgiveness. It could be the greatest gift you give yourself this holiday.

We can all relate to having been wronged by someone. We may be able to forgive a family member, friend or partner for a minor slight somewhat easily. It can be a lot more difficult to let go of a major wrongdoing. You might think the other person doesn’t deserve it, but YOU do.

Unforgiveness can put your health at risk. Continually harboring negative feelings keeps you stressed out and anxious. You get so wrapped up in past wrongs that you can’t enjoy the present. People who hang on to grudges are more likely to experience a number of health issues.

The act of forgiving, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool to your well-being. Research has shown that forgiveness is good for the mind and body. It can help to:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety – Forgiveness can protect against stress and the toll it takes on your health.
  • Protect you from depression – Allowing yourself to forgive others can help protect you from depression.
  • Calm your anger – Unforgiveness is often associated with anger, which can have negative effects on your heart rate, blood pressure and immune system.
  • Extend life – Some research suggests that people who can forgive may live longer.
  • Improve heart health – Forgiveness has been show to have effects on lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of heart attack.
  • Improve sleep Forgiveness is linked to improved sleep quality, which has many health benefits.

One misconception about forgiveness is that it’s a sign of weakness, or that it means you’re letting the person who hurt you off the hook. Forgiveness is not the same as justice. It’s not about being a better person. And it’s more than just moving on.

When you forgive someone, you make the choice to give up your negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. You don’t forget that the offense occurred nor do you excuse it. You don’t need to make up with the person who caused you harm either (e.g., victims of abuse should not have to reconcile with their abuser!).

Instead, you make a conscious decision to release your negative feelings of hostility, resentment and revenge — and replace them with positive ones such as compassion, understanding and empathy. The act that hurt you might always be with you, but forgiveness can help lessen its grip on you.

It’s not just about forgiving others. Maybe you need to forgive yourself for something. If we feel unforgiven, it can wreak havoc on our well-being too.

How do you learn to forgive? First, don’t wait for an apology from the person who wronged you. Sometimes a response won’t ever be possible. Also, be aware that forgiveness is a difficult process that takes time and hard work.

Here are a few tips to help put you on a path to forgiveness:

  • Try journaling, meditation or prayer. Reflect on the event itself, how you reacted, and how you felt. Write a letter to the person who wronged you—you don’t need to send it but expressing your feelings can help you let go of the hurt and disappointment.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you can see the culprit as a wounded person who isn’t capable of more, it may help you replace feelings of anger with empathy.
  • Talk about it with someone else who you trust. If you need some help, a professional therapist or support group can help you work toward forgiveness.
  • Try relaxation or stress management techniques like deep breathing or yoga to calm your mind.

When you put in the time, you can learn to forgive. And when you learn to forgive, you may then find your peace.

Need help moving toward forgiveness? Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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