12 Practices of Optimal Healing: Forgiveness

ChangeLife is an adventure in forgiveness.” – Norman Cousins

 Anyone need forgiveness? I do. Over the course of my life, I’m sure I’ve done things to others that have been hurtful, and I’d like to ask for forgiveness. How about you? How about forgiving others for the wrongs I feel they have done to me. How about you? For Optimal Healing, learning to forgive, forgive well, and ask for forgiveness is an essential tool. Medical research confirms this, with strong evidence that forgiveness heals physical and emotional illness.

So what is forgiveness? To forgive someone, requires a conscious decision to let go of resentment, emotional hurt and thoughts of retaliation or revenge. The events that lead to pain cannot be undone. The feelings of pain, anger, hurt or resentment; often legitimate, continue to occupy ones mental and emotional being until the choice is made to actively let them go and move on. It’s not that these feelings are unhealthy, rather, it’s more a matter of how much our thoughts influence our reality. Research in positive psychology ForgivenessCouplecontinues to reveal how much our health depends upon positive thinking. Painful thoughts if continued for long periods of time reinforce negative emotional states like depression. Feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion can emerge through the process of learning how to forgive.

How do I forgive? Fred Luskin, PhD of Stanford University offers nine steps to forgiveness

  1. Know well your painful experience, own it and share it with trusted friends.
  2. Commit to yourself that you want to forgive. It’s for you.
  3. Recognize that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation. Rather, it is the “peace and understanding that comes from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.” (Luskin)
  4. Get clear on your own feelings, your own distress, rather than the events that caused this hurt feelings. Forgiveness heals these feelings.
  5. Use mindfulness practices to help sooth your physical responses to hurt feelings—breathe and be present!
  6. Relax your expectation of others, the feeling of,  “if they would only do something to change”. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your own healing and well-being.
  7. Investigate other ways to gets positive feelings met besides the experiences that hurt you.
  8. Keep in mind that you can have love and kindness, forgiveness allows you to take back your power.
  9. Adapt the wounding story to include how you made the choice to forgive.

Adapted from http://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/

What are the healing benefits of forgiveness? There are many, improved psychological well-being, reducing anxiety and hostility, lower blood pressure, less depression, lower risk of substance abuse and healthier relationships. This last benefit, healthier relationships, have been shown in many studies to be significant for healing and longevity.

On the other hand, our health suffers when we are the ones who are responsible for causing pain in others. Inflicting wounds on others, guilty feelings, anger and misplaced judgments are just as detrimental to our health. My actions are not always skillful and I know I’m not always at my best. How do I forgive myself for causing pain in others? Twelve step programs such as Alcoholic Anonymous offer aspects of this in there model. Step five involves recognizing the true nature of our actions and the pain we have caused. Step eight requires making a list of those we have harmed and the specific actions we took. In step nine, we admit to our wrong doing and ask for forgiveness directly with the person who has suffered from our actions. These are all steps that can support our own healing as well as to those we loved.

ClaspedHandsAnother step beyond the twelve step model requires taking that same inventory with a focus on one is treating him or herself. How have you been unkind and unskillful with own actions toward you? Similar to the Buddhist work with compassion, is there room inside of you to forgive yourself for your imperfections? For specific acts you have perpetrated on yourself? And for those things you have done to others consciously or unconsciously? Using the same nine steps forgiving yourself is a powerful tool for healing.

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