The notion of forgiveness is not new and has been upheld by many of the world’s religion. In Christianity it is embodied by Jesus who practiced and preached it all the way to the cross. “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” he said about his killers. In Judaism, Yom Kippur is a day to atone for the sins of the past year. One must first seek reconciliation with any person that one has wronged, righting the wrongs that have been committed against him or her if possible. It must be done before Yom Kippur. The angel Gabriel exhorts the Islamic prophet Mohammed to set aside his vengeful anger against an enemy, and leave justice to God.
Forgiveness is freeing – for yourself as well as for others. It frees you from carrying the burden of past resentments. It allows you to release the past so that all your energy can be fully available for the present. Forgiveness is the ultimate gift you can give yourself.”
Forgiving oneself may be even more difficult than forgiving others. Over the years, I have seen many patients who present difficulty concentrating, depression, digestive problems, high blood pressure, muscle tension, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer to name a few. After probing, it is not uncommon to find out that they were being consumed with guilt about something they had done many years ago. It could be as simple as saying no to a friend, or as more complicated as having an affair or an abortion, or buying a car or a motorcycle for a loved one resulting in untimely death . With tears in their eyes, they would admit that they have not been able to forgive themselves. They would go so far as saying that “I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.”
One of the biggest obstacles to self-forgiveness may be an unconscious decision to punish ourselves. By doing so we not only hurt ourselves, we also make those around us suffer along with us. When you don’t forgive yourself not only it affects those around you, it can also be detrimental to your body and your mind.
Here are the steps to take to forgive yourself.
- Write down everything that you are ashamed of.
- Write down everything that you feel guilty about.
- Write a letter to yourself: saying that you forgive yourself for it all.
Forgiving someone is recognizing you have been wronged, giving up all resulting resentment, and eventually responding to the offending person with compassion and even love. Forgiving does not mean that you deny that you have been wronged, nor is it condoning or excusing your abuse.
I have noticed that many of my patients who were abused physically, mentally, or sexually, carry that burden throughout their lives. This burden may stop them from having healthy relationships with their children, peers, and intimate partners. I learned first-hand that in order to be free, a victim has to learn to forgive, or they will continue to be a victim for the rest of their life.
Studies have documented the psychological benefits of forgiveness: reduced anxiety, stress, and depression. Individuals who harbor anger increase their risk of heart attack, and decrease the response capacity of their immune systems. Once you forgive, anger is decreased, you feel better about yourself, and personal relationships are enhanced.
New studies are suggesting that forgiving can boost the physical health of the forgiver. According to said Lydia Temoshok, director of the behavioral-medicine program at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology, “A lot of times with (lack of) forgiveness, you’re keeping the system stressed and putting out a lot of stress hormones,”
The University of Wisconsin, Madison, researchers recruited 36 male veterans with coronary artery disease plagued by a painful issue whether war-related, childhood memories, work conflicts, or domestic problems. They were divided into two groups. One group underwent ten weeks of forgiveness training and a control group that did not. They found that those trained in forgiveness showed improved blood flow to the heart compared with those in the control group. According to Robert Enright, an educational psychologist on the research team, “this is the very first indication … that forgiveness actually can induce a positive change to a vital organ.”
There are now many studies underway including one that is looking into how forgiveness affects the immune-system function in people with HIV; and the patterns of blood flow in the brain associated with forgiveness and unforgiveness.
The key to true forgiveness is letting go of the anger and negative feelings associated with yourself or others. Forgiving yourself is coming to grip that you cannot undo the past, that what is done is done. In order to grow and live in balance, one must be committed to positive self-teachings, such as self-love and self-esteem. Self-forgiveness should then be like a natural extension. Being self-condemning, or self-righteous is the wrong way to live. Forgiving oneself is just one more symptom of self-love.
Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? Here are the steps that I take when I need to forgive someone. I hope they help you.
How it works:
- First write down everything you feel that the person has done wrong to you. Get it all out — be as specific as possible.
- Now practice telling the person everything that you want him or her to know. If the hurt was done when you were a child, then the confident grown-up you – who is not afraid of that person – takes the shy, scared child onto your lap and has the child tell it all.
- Write down positive things that the person who hurt you has done for you. If there are none, that’s okay. If you keep thinking, you may remember something kind that this person has done for you.
- Lastly, practice telling the person that you forgive him or her, because they did not know any better.