Now that the holidays are over and the weather has turned to winter cold, January is the perfect month for mindfulness and reflection. This month, I would like to look at one small aspect of being mindful – that of forgiveness.
How do we begin? First, we need to recognize that forgiveness is a conscious choice. Before we can forgive others, we have to forgive ourselves for judgment, insensitivity, or holding onto excessive anger. The process of forgiveness is as much about making room for our own hearts to heal, as it is about letting go of blame and resentment towards others. Through forgiving ourselves, we develop self-empathy, which transcends us and leads to compassion for others.
Simple reasons you should forgive:
• According to a study by John’s Hopkins University, forgiveness can significantly reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
• Forgiveness has actual physical health benefits, including reducing your blood pressure and heart rate, and increasing your immune response.
• Forgiveness is a key to longevity. People who are able to forgive are reported to live longer, according to a study in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine by Loren Toussaint.
• By forgiving you are letting go of anger, which can be both mentally and physically toxic, especially after long periods of time. The hostility associated with “Type A” behavior is a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease according to Psychology Today.
Logically understanding how forgiveness can help us is one thing, but actually taking the steps to grant that forgiveness is an entirely different hurdle. It is central to building a successful relationship and requires time and attention to each of the following phases:
• Understand that by forgiving you aren’t admitting that what the person did was okay. You were still hurt, and you don’t have to relinquish your feelings of being hurt.
• Forgiveness is not an indication of weakness, but rather a clear indication that you bear the strength to put your relationship over the hurt you experienced for the sake of both parties.
• Understand that forgiving is part of having empathy for other people, and that you benefit more from recognizing that shared experience, rather than just forgiving in an attempt to “save the relationship”.
• In some cases, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the person who hurt you in order to provide some perspective on the situation. Frequently though, this type of perspective shift is more successfully accomplished while in therapy, with the support and participation of someone who is truly objective.
• Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once and sometimes taking small, incremental steps in that direction is the fastest way to achieve the goal.
Don’t let mistakes which take a moment to inflict take forever to forgive. As Demi Moore’s character in Indecent Proposal states, “The things two people do to each other, they remember. If they stay together it’s not because they forgot, it’s because they forgive.”