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To forgive is healthy

Forgive and forget so that the mind and body can heal.

IN life, we encounter all kinds of people and situations that can make us angry, disappointed, or hurt. You may have lost count of the number of times you have fought with your spouse, family members, friends, or colleagues over all sorts of issues, small and large.

Perhaps the situation even incited deep rage, such as being betrayed by your partner, or being attacked and injured by someone with bad intentions. As the years go by, we may store these incidents in our hearts, letting the resentment and anger build up. Or we could learn to forgive, forget, and let our bodies and minds heal from the pain.

Getting sick from grudges

Holding on to a grudge, or harbouring unresolved anger over an issue, can actually make you sick. When you do not forgive someone for their transgressions, you will constantly be thinking of that person negatively. Every time you see that person, or are reminded of the event in some way, you will feel the anger bubbling to the surface. You may even start thinking about revenge and eventually become obsessed with the thought.

How do these emotions affect your health? As we all know, emotional health is just as important to your well-being as the physical aspects. Anger, frustration, bitterness, and vengeance are all negative emotions that affect your psychosocial well-being, and could even trigger anxiety attacks, depression, and substance abuse (such as alcohol or drugs).

Physically, these emotions can also lead to high blood pressure, body aches, and chronic pain due to the high stress levels you are constantly experiencing. When you forgive the people in your life for whatever problems may have arisen, you will find yourself feeling much happier and healthier. Here are a few health benefits of forgiveness:

  • Reduces stress: Just like any other stressful event, such as a personal or work crisis, holding a grudge can cause the same symptoms of stress, such as tense muscles, elevated blood pressure, and increased sweating.
  • Good for your heart: If you can let go of grudges, your stress levels and blood pressure will reduce

and this will inevitably have a good effect on your heart. It is well acknowledged that prolonged levels of stress can be bad for heart health.

  • Reduces pain: If you suffer from chronic pain, such as back or muscle pain, your anger and negative emotions may be contributing to the pain. Research suggests that meditation, which focuses on converting anger to compassion, may help to relax and reduce pain levels.
  • Improves relationships: By refusing to forgive your spouse, friend, or family member who has “wronged” you, you are damaging your relationship with him/her. Do not go down the road of divorce, separation, or estrangement from your loved ones – learn to forgive and your relationship will be stronger than ever.
  • Makes you happier: By forgiving, you are letting go of the negative emotions and allowing yourself to be happy. You are also in control of your happiness – if you don’t forgive, nobody else will be able to make you happy.

The art of forgiveness

Forgiving someone is easier said than done. It is tempting to hang on to the grudge and the self- righteous feeling of being wronged. Some people don’t want to forgive because they think that it means they’re condoning the wrong act, or allowing the other person to “get away with it”.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring the implications of the act. But it does mean that you are letting go of the past, and you are not allowing it to colour your present and future anymore. The first step to forgiveness is making the decision to pardon the other person. You must come to this decision on your own, and not be forced into it. You must also recognise the value that forgiveness will bring to your own life.

This process can take some time, especially if the other person committed a particularly hurtful or bad act against you. The pain may never go away completely, but by forgiving, you are essentially saying that the other person does not have control over your life.

Getting another person to change his/her actions, behaviour, or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. It is also not about embracing the other person and becoming best friends again. Forgiveness is more about finding inner peace – even if you don’t say “I forgive you” to the other person, forgiving still helps you achieve peace within yourself.

You can get someone close to you to help you forgive. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, religious advisor, or mentor figure, especially someone who can be unbiased in assessing the situation. Describing your feelings out loud can help you to look at it objectively and your friend can help you to see the way.

Forgiving yourself

None of us are perfect – sometimes, we are the ones who commit wrongdoing to others, whether deliberately or inadvertently. In such cases, we would want the other party to forgive us. But we also have to forgive ourselves, or we will live with guilt forever.

First, you have to admit your mistakes and acknowledge the hurt you may have caused the other person. You also have to commit to changing your behaviour – do not repeat the same faults that caused the wrongdoing in the first place, and resolve to treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Do you have to seek out the other person to apologise? In some cases, this may be possible and is the right thing to do. Simply extend your sincere apologies, but do not make excuses for your behaviour. If the other person does not want to forgive you, you cannot force them. But you should find peace in yourself because you have already acknowledged your bad behaviour.

Sometimes, we look so hard for the answers to good health in all sorts of places – but we forget to look within ourselves. Forgive and move on – life is too short to dwell on the negative things in life.

The Star Newspaper, Sunday December 5, 2010

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