By Peter Marcantel
“He ruined my life.”
“I’ve tried to forgive her, but I just can’t!”
“That person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.”
“I’ll never forget what they did to me.”
If any of these phrases sound like things you may have said to yourself or to others, you’re certainly not alone. All of us tend to carry a certain amount of unforgiveness toward others in our hearts. What we often don’t stop to consider is what that unforgiveness is costing us, and the price of that grudge in terms of our health can be surprisingly high.
Holistic healing is about getting to the root causes of physical problems. Sometimes those root causes may lie in genetic tendencies we’ve inherited or in the foods we’re eating. Very often root causes can be traced back to emotional and spiritual issues that need to be dealt with before long-term healing can take place. Those issues may be things that we’ve buried deep within us and we aren’t even aware are holding us back. Until we’re willing to allow those emotions to surface and deal with them, we may never be able to find the physical healing we’re seeking.
Most of us are keenly aware of the mind/body connection. Mental stress can lead to a sore back or a migraine headache and can weaken our immune systems to make us more susceptible to colds or flu. But that’s only a small fraction of the power the mind holds over our physical well-being. The bitterness that accompanies grudges, for instance, may have a link to physical illnesses including obesity, arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, and countless other problems.
So how do you start the process of healing? The first thing, of course, is to acknowledge that there is a specific person that you feel has wronged you. You may even think that you have already forgiven that person for their offense, but try this test: if you can’t encounter that person or think of her without feeling anger, fear, or any other strong negative emotion rising inside you, then you haven’t truly forgiven her. Now let’s deal with each of the statements from the opening lines of this article.
“He ruined my life.” The next step is deciding to forgive that person. Why should you do that? Because as long as you hold any kind of grudge against another person, you give that person power over you. Suppose you are driving down the street one day and a person cuts you off in traffic. You get angry, honk your horn, scream obscenities at your windshield, and reaffirm your belief that lousy drivers should be banned from the roads. You’re very tense when you arrive at your appointment and proceed to tell anyone who’ll listen about the idiot who cut you off in traffic. You are allowing that unknown person to control your thoughts, mood, and even the type of conversations you’re having with others. The irony is that the person who cut you off never even realized what he did and has had a great day.
Of course, the offense you are dealing with is much greater than inconsiderate driving. It may well have been a life-altering experience. But the principle remains the same–by continuing to harbor bitterness against the person who wronged you, you give them the power to control not only how you think, feel, and act in many ways but also to some degree power over your physical health, as well. By choosing to forgive, you are taking back the power to control your own health and destiny.
“I’ve tried to forgive her, but I just can’t!” Once you’ve decided that it’s in your best interest to forgive a person, how do you move forward with it? To start the process of true forgiveness it’s critical to understand exactly what forgiveness is–and isn’t. Simply put, forgiveness is the unilateral cancellation of a debt. “Unilateral” means that it is an action taken by one party; the person receiving your forgiveness really has nothing to do with your choice to forgive. This is something you’re doing for yourself, not as a favor for the other person. Which brings us to our next point…
“That person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.” Of course they don’t; if you felt they deserved it you would have forgiven them by now. The most frequent arguments against forgiveness are, “If they would only admit what they’ve done to me” or “If they would just apologize.” When someone has offended you, you feel that they owe you a debt. You might be willing to take a discounted payment on that debt (an apology), but if you are requiring any action from the other party you are still requiring payment. Remember that the release that you are granting requires nothing from the other person–not even an admission of guilt.
This is an obstacle many people have trouble getting past. For one thing, they feel that forgiving someone is the same as saying that what they did was acceptable. That’s not the case at all. When you choose to forgive someone unilaterally you are saying, in essence, “What you did to me was not okay, was not right, was terribly wrong, in fact. Still, I’m choosing to release you from any retribution I feel I deserve from you.” That decision can be incredibly freeing.
“I’ll never forget what they did to me.” And that’s okay. The old adage “forgive and forget” is really impractical. If someone has injured you in a significant way there’s little chance that you’re going to forget about it. In fact, it may be healthier not to forget it; you certainly don’t want to invite the same type of injury again by allowing it to be repeated by that person or someone else. The goal is to reach the point where, as I said earlier, you can think of that person or incident objectively and without the accompanying negative emotions that have dominated you in the past.
We have seen many clinical examples of patients who have found a path to physical healing by starting the journey with forgiveness. Since this is the holiday season, it may be a good time to reflect on your own situation. Is it time to let go of some of the hurt and allow yourself to heal?