How Forgiveness Affects Your Health: 8 Steps You Can Take Now

Forgiveness is critical in this life and even more crucial when working towards health goals! Asking for forgiveness is huge and offering forgiveness is equally important. When we let either of these hang onto us our bodies struggle. This adds a lot of stress causing excess cortisol release, which makes your body think it needs to hold onto weight -literally. Furthermore, this can lead to compromising your immune system, mood, and so on!

I am grateful for people in my life who forgive me. I’ve had to ask for both small and huge forgiveness. When people have forgiven me I feel more motivated to do my best in life. Receiving and offering forgiveness is a gift that allows both parties to move closer to their fullest potential. That said, it can be hard to work towards!

I want to speak to a specific piece of this for a minute…

I’ve noticed that when I hold onto grudges I feel stuck in my own life. I also have noticed that when I am not working towards forgiving others I start to experience this messed up thinking that I’m better than them or they are lesser than me- totally inappropriate and harmful on all accounts. Besides, we don’t know where other people are at in their lives. Often times we don’t know how hard others have worked to correct the wrongs. It’s not our place to hold them back.

NOW, forgiveness has to be genuine. And, sometimes things have happened that are very hurtful and you still dislike that person.. maybe really, really, really, dislike the person that hurt you. You don’t have to pretend to forgive. First, forgiving is NOT agreeing with the behavior. Second, simply working towards forgiveness is good enough. Just making the decision that you want to eventually forgive is a great path to start down. You don’t have to decide to forgive and then just quickly say I forgive. Instead, work towards it.

Sooooo… don’t underestimate the power of forgiveness. I’m sure stuff has happened in your life this week. Look to start down the path of forgiveness and don’t let it hold you back and don’t let it hold others back!

Let’s take a deeper look into forgiveness, after all I often hear the question, “How can I forgive when it hurts so bad?” In order to understand forgiveness, we must first look at what forgiveness is NOT.

Forgiveness is…

    1. NOT signifying that you want, or need, to include the person in your life.

 

  • NOT forgetting what happened.
  • NOT meaning you no longer feel something nor excusing the hurtful behavior
  • NOT always telling the person they are forgiven. That’s correct, you don’t have to tell them. Forgiveness is not really for them. It’s for you. Don’t take me wrong here… there is great power in personally forgiving someone in a direct manner BUT it is not always necessary!
  • NOT signifying that everything is returned to normal and there aren’t further things to workout in the relationship (assuming it’s a relationship that continues).

 

I want to reiterate the idea that forgiveness is NOT for the person who caused the pain, or made the mistake. Yes, it is a gift that someone receives when they are forgiven… but it really is for you.

You see, when we forgive we are acknowledging what happened and creating a way to find resolution with the situation. But, sometimes you don’t want to forgive because :

  1. When you get angry you experience adrenaline and that becomes addicting. I know, it sounds so odd but its true.
  2. You want revenge. You want the other person to hurt.
  3. You might feel unsafe or exposed if you forgive. This especially happens when you have the false belief that you have to admit forgiveness to the person.
  4. You over identify with the “victim” mentality. That sounds rough- but it can sometime be true.
  5. You don’t feel like the person is actually sorry, which might be the case.

***Remember, forgiving is a new opportunity to free up all that energy that has been used in all the internal battles regarding the pain.

Sooooo… how do we start forgiving?

  1. Forgive yourself: You might not see this discussed elsewhere. HOWEVER, I see way too often when people struggle with feeling like they are to blame for some of whatever happened. Most of the time, it’s probably not your fault.

 

One main problem we have here is when someone who you turn to doesn’t really understand trauma, or traumatic situations. It’s not okay to respond to someone who was assaulted by questioning what they were wearing, where they were at, and why they were there at a certain time. This all suggests that someone made a mistake that contributed to them being harmed. Questioning someone like this will only leave someone believing they are partially to blame for someone else’s behavior. Not appropriate!

Even if no one has questioned you, it’s likely that you are going to scrutinize yourself for whatever happened. I hope you can actively work towards letting go of this thinking. Sometimes this requires professional help. Furthermore, you can work on your own forgiving yourself and ridding yourself of self-blame.

  1. Accept the past as the past and not something still happening: When someone has been hurt it’s normal for the brain to hold the memory of the event/s in the emotional memory area of the brain (bottom of hippocampus). The idea is to help the memory shift to the upper part of the hippocampus, which is the narrative memory area… this means one can say “it’s something that happened and not still happening.” It’s key for memories to shift to narrative memory. We are able to detach from the experience and not become activated when stimuli related to the events occur.

Helping the memories shift can sometimes require professionally advance therapy. For some people it just happens naturally. We cannot predict how our brains will react to varying experiences.

In order to help the memory shift, it’s important to look at how you have control over your life at this point. Look at when the event actually happened. Does the person who hurt you still have any power in your life? Is there something you need to take back in your control? Continuing to look as the past as the past is vital.

  1. Acknowledge the behavior isn’t always the person: we don’t have to agree with any behavior, in order to forgive. Nonetheless, we can benefit from understanding that people do crappy things because of situations, habits, and limited perspective. We might not ever know why someone behaved as they did. Or, the more we try to figure out the more confusing it becomes. It’s imperative that we separate the person from the behavior.
  1. Write down your intention to forgive: Saying you have forgiven someone when you really haven’t is not healthy. I like to look at forgiveness as a spectrum. You just need to initiate the process. The best place to start is simply writing down on paper that you want to start working towards forgiveness. If this is all you can do for weeks, months, or several months then it’s okay. Sometimes it might take years, but you writing down that you are working towards it will start the process.
  1. Don’t allow the actions of the other person to hold you back: Sometimes we fall into the trap of “I can’t do this because that person did that to me.” Without minimizing the pain, it’s important to look at the fact that you can now control your future. The more we let that person’s actions stop us the more power they have.
  1. How is it for the other person: Ouch! This one can be hard. But, sometimes we get stuck in our thoughts and emotions and we don’t realize how the other person might be trying to work through the actions. In some circumstances it can be useful to take a step back and consider where they are in their process.
  1. Notice without judgment: Hear me out here… it’s so powerful to simply notice the thoughts that come up. You don’t have to get caught up in them nor act on them. This type of mindfulness takes a lot of work. However, just noticing is crucial. It’s important to notice your emotions and feelings without feeling like you have to blame them on someone or something.
  1. Make it objective: Writing down your thoughts, emotions, and sensations regarding what has hurt you can be very helpful. It’s important to have a private journal, or notebook, where you can freely write down what hurts and any corresponding experiences. As you spend time writing you might notice the intensity of emotions lessening.

 

I hope this will bring you more happiness and health!

 

-Dr. Drew

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