One of the heaviest emotional burdens we carry is a lack of forgiveness — for others and especially, for ourselves.
The Healing Power Of Forgiveness
When we hold onto a resentment, grievance, shame, guilt, or pain from the past, our entire body-mind suffers. Our body produces excessive amounts of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can compromise our immune system, and potentially contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Hostility is an inflammatory emotion and, as researchers have found, the number one emotional risk factor for premature death from heart attacks and strokes. Hostility is also linked to autoimmune disorders. It’s not a coincidence that we speak of people “dying from a broken heart,” or describe a betrayal as “a stab in the back,” or say that a deep loss was “gut wrenching.”
As we’ve known for more than three decades, the body and mind are inextricably connected.
Fortunately, this body-mind is incredibly flexible, and when we let go of the emotional toxicity, our body immediately begins to return to homeostasis, which is a state of self-healing and self-regulation. On an emotional level, the benefits of forgiving and releasing the burden of judgment are valuable beyond compare. In forgiving, we free ourselves from attachments to the past, and we clear encumbrances that constrict our heart and accelerate the aging process.
When we lend our energy to forgiveness, we increase our capacity for compassion and love for everyone around us, including ourselves.
Forgiving, Not Condoning
It is common for people to resist forgiving someone out of the belief that forgiveness in some way condones that person’s actions. But forgiveness isn’t about condoning an action that caused pain for us or others. It doesn’t imply that we tolerate a thief who has stolen, our partner who has cheated, or the child who told a lie. We can forgive even if we refuse to tolerate someone’s behavior and no longer want that person to be part of our life.
Ultimately forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. We can benefit from forgiving even if the person we forgive isn’t aware of our feelings or is even no longer alive.
Consider the inspiring words of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned by the South African government for 27 years, yet emerged without bitterness for his captors. He stated, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison.”
Even knowing the value of forgiveness, many people doubt whether they will ever be able to forgive and fully let go. But rest assured, we all have the ability to forgive, for it is the nature of life to release toxicity and return back to wholeness.
At the same time, forgiveness often doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Particularly in cases of deep violation, forgiveness is often a process that requires you to forgive one layer at a time. Sometimes you have to forgive someone many times before you finally let go of all the emotional residue of the past.
Yet as you take steps to restore peace in your heart, you will feel a shift. Every act of forgiveness and letting go is an act of healing your own self. As you practice it on a regular basis, you will feel lighter as you expand your capacity for flexibility, love and compassion.
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