(HealthyResearch.com) – Have you ever heard the saying, “Forgiving is the best gift you can give yourself?” As it turns out, it’s true — literally. When we hold onto anger, resentment, regret, bitterness, or any other negative emotion over a period of time, those feelings can cause us psychological damage. Believe it or not, research has shown holding grudges can literally shorten your life by raising levels of c-reactive proteins in the body, increasing our likelihood of dying from heart disease.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it’s the best thing we can do for our bodies and minds. Practicing forgiveness has been shown to:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Lower anxiety and stress levels
- Reduce depression symptoms
- Improve mood
- Strengthen the immune system
- Improve heart health
So, given the potential health benefits, forgiveness seems like a logical choice. While it may be logical, it’s not always simple.
What Does Forgiveness Entail?
There are a lot of axioms about forgiveness, and there’s plenty of colloquial advice about what we should or shouldn’t do in the process. What is forgiveness? What does it mean? Who does it affect?
In a nutshell, forgiveness is about letting go of your pain, anger, resentment and/or need for vengeance so that you can move on with your life in a healthy way. It has absolutely nothing to do with forgetting what caused you pain. It does not mean accepting or condoning the other person’s actions, nor does it mean that you need to choose to continue a relationship that has been broken.
Forgiveness is all about you healing you. It’s a process that takes time, reflection and a conscious decision on your part because you want and deserve peace in your life going forward.
Forgiveness does not mean that you can’t or shouldn’t seek justice, but it allows you to let go of any need for revenge. You aren’t dependent on the other person admitting their guilt or apologizing because you make the decision — you are in control. And forgiveness is not reconciliation. There may be times you choose to reconcile with someone, depending on your prior relationship, what the transgression was and how they reacted after — but you are not obliged to reconcile even if you forgive.
Forgiveness is a unilateral decision, not a conversation. Forgiveness works when you decide to forgive, regardless of whether the other person ever knows about it. It’s not for the other person — it’s for you to heal and move forward.
What If You Can’t Forgive the Other Person?
Sometimes, a person finds themselves in a place where they are unable to forgive the other person or people who hurt them. If you’ve experienced abuse, domestic violence or rape, for example, you might choose not to forgive — though you can choose not to forgive someone for any reason. If you choose not to forgive, will you be doomed to poor physical and psychological health? Not if, after examining the situation and your reasons, you give yourself express permission not to forgive your perpetrator.
How Do You Forgive?
If you recognize the value of forgiveness but need a roadmap to get there, consider these steps:
- Figure out who needs to be forgiven and for what.
- Sort out your feelings about what happened and acknowledge to yourself the damage you took emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Validate your injuries. It’s not about wallowing in self-pity, but rather about being honest about the degree of damage you sustained so that you can truly move on.
- With your choice to forgive, you are taking back your power and control in this situation and consciously deciding how you will move into the future. Consider meditation to increase your inner peace.
- If you find yourself in conflict with yourself, consider seeking out professional help to assist you in coming to a resolution.
Extending forgiveness may improve your physical health, as well as your mental health. It may help you boost your immune system and your self-esteem, increase your peace and your life expectancy.
~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!
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