Day 17 – Spiritual
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” -Buddha
Offense, hurt or pain. These are emotions experienced when feeling wronged in one way or another. Associated with that, you have also likely been on the receiving end of an apology. If so, you’ve been given an opportunity to forgive. Someone says they’re sorry and you (hopefully) choose to give up anger and resentment for kindness and compassion. Giving and accepting apologies, in a life filled with human error, is a common occurrence.
Recently I learned something very interesting about the order of forgiveness. The above scenario has always been how I would describe the forgiveness process. However, that is actually an example of what is called conditional forgiveness. Meaning that compassion comes only on the condition of the request— an intriguing distinction.
In a 2011 article called Forgive to Live: Forgiveness, Health and Longevity, it was shown that those who could only forgive if others said “sorry” first were more likely to die earlier, compared with those who practiced unconditional forgiveness. This positive correlation was evident through healthier endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems for those that extended higher levels of empathy. You read that right. Your ability to offer unsolicited grace may actually increase your mortality!
If you’ve ever held onto anger towards someone as punishment for their wrongdoing, you were likely unaware of the physical (not to mention, emotional) harm you were actually causing yourself. Below are 5 physical health benefits of forgiveness:
1. Lowers stress levels
According to a study done by Hope College reseachers, one of multiple health benefits of forgiveness is lower levels of cortisol. (Remember that cortisol is our body’s stress hormone. Chronically increased level of cortisol lead to elevations in blood sugar, depressed immune response, increased fat accumulation and loss of cognitive function). Seventy-one participants’ physical responses were monitored when speaking of past grudges compared to responses when discussing compassion. Those who displayed more forgiving perspectives had lower cortisol levels and resulting less physiological stress.
2. Keeps your heart healthy
Forgiveness is good for the heart—literally. One study suggests that people who hold on to anger have higher heart rates, while those who are more empathetic and able to forgive tend to have lower heart rates.
3. Lowers pain
Letting go of anger may help your body better adapt to pain. According to a study done by Duke University Medical Center, the ability to empathize and forgive boosted the physical and emotional ability to process pain. Out of 61 subjects who suffered from chronic back pain, those who were more likely to forgive reported lower levels of pain.
4. Lowers blood pressure
In an interview of 108 college students, multiple measures were taken of blood pressure and other stress responses while discussing past betrayals. Those more inclined to forgive had lower blood pressure levels. Multiple studies continue to show the link between lower blood pressure and forgiveness.
5. Extends life
In the previously mentioned study, Forgive to Live, adults ages 66 and older who were more forgiving in nature, tended to live longer. If this isn’t the most compelling reason to give up a grudge, then I don’t know what is!
If the above evidence isn’t enough for you to starting letting past grievances go, there is also a connection between the ability to forgive others and the likelihood of forgiving yourself. Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology showed that people who made amends with a friend for a wrongdoing were essentially giving themselves an okay to make and accept their own mistakes in the future. Forgive others of their guilt to let go of your own.
If you’re reading this and recalling wrongdoings that hurt you, let them go. The damage only goes deeper the longer you hold such grievances in your heart. Without condoning such actions, we as human beings can extend compassion. We can forgive. Not because forgiveness is requested or deserved but because we require and deserve the peace of body and soul that comes with the offer of unconditional, God-like grace.
I often find when I choose to discuss certain topics it is myself that needs that particular instruction. In writing this, I must admit that I had two particular pains from previous relationships continue to come to mind. Even though their occurrence was years ago, the cuts were still fresh, inflicted now by my own hand.
Look inside yourself today. It likely won’t take long to remember a relationship or interaction where you felt wronged. Examine your feelings in regard to this situation and truly ask yourself if you have let this go. Now, choose to forgive. Understanding that in doing so you are not excusing the action but giving yourself the freedom to move on, both in body and spirit. Forgiveness… do it for you!
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