Are you are still holding on to a grudge, whether from yesterday or years ago? Are you still beating yourself up for some bad decision(s) you made in the past?
“If so, find compassion and forgiveness in your heart (it’s actually in your brain) and you will be healthier and happier.”
That’s the advice of 90-year-old Dr. Natasha Josefowitz, an internationally-known author and consultant who has spent her life educating herself and others.
“This issue (holding on to past hurts) can impact our own health,” Dr. Josefowitz wrote in a recent HUFFPOST article. “We know that anger is stressful, and stress releases cortisol which narrows our arteries, which in turn can cause heart problems.”
Behind every destructive behavior is some unresolved pain that is then acted out. Dr. Natasha Josefowitz,
“It is only when we can feel compassion that we can forgive,” Dr. Josefowitz adds. “Studies have confirmed that forgiving increases optimism and elevates mood whereas lack of it correlates with depression and anxiety. Forgiveness even increases blood flow to the heart.”
– How to let go if you are you still holding on to an old grudge, HUFFPOST, Sept. 11, 2017.
– How to Forgive; the Four Phases of Forgiveness, International Forgiveness Institute website.
– Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, Dr. Robert Enright.
At the beginning of this year, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2017.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2017 so far.
Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague.
Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because 2017 is about 25% over. Have you engaged in 25% of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?
This exercise is meant to show you this: You know love. Now the key is to persevere and deliberately strive to love on a daily basis.
Tempus fugit. If you have not yet deliberately left love in the world this year, there is time…..and the clock is ticking.
When you self-forgive you are struggling to love yourself when you are not feeling lovable because of your actions. You are offering to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense that you have inherent worth, despite your actions, that you are more than your actions, that you can and should honor yourself as a person even if you are imperfect, and that you did wrong and need to correct that wrong done to other people.
In self-forgiveness you never (as far as I have ever seen) offend yourself alone. You also offend others and so part of self-forgiveness is to deliberately engage in seeking forgiveness from those others and righting the wrongs (as best you can under the circumstances) that you did toward others. Thus, we have two differences between forgiving others and forgiving the self. In the latter, you seek forgiveness from those hurt by your actions and you strive for justice toward them.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about self-forgiveness in either of Dr. Enright’s books 8 Keys to Forgiveness or Forgiveness Is a Choice.
In the process of forgiveness that we have outlined in two different books (Forgiveness Is a Choice and The Forgiving Life) there is one part of the process in which we ask the forgiver to “Do no harm” to the one who has been unjust. This idea of “Do no harm” is actually transitional to the even more difficult challenge to love the one who has hurt you. Yet, “Do no harm,” even though an earlier and supposedly easier part of the process, is anything but easy.
To “Do no harm” means three things: 1) Do not do obvious harm to the one who hurt you (being rude, for example); 2) Do not do subtle harm (a sneer, ignoring at a gathering, being neutral to this fellow human being); and 3) Do not do harm to others. In other words, when you are angry with Person X, it is easier than you think to displace that anger onto Persons Y and Z. If others have to ask, “What is wrong with her (him) today?” perhaps that is a cue that you are displacing anger from one incident into your current interactions.
It is at these times that it is good to take stock of your anger and to ask, “Whom do I need to forgive today? Am I ‘doing no harm’ as I practice forgiveness? Am I being vigilant not to harm innocent others because of what I am suffering?”
My challenge to you today: Do no harm to anyone throughout this entire day…..and repeat tomorrow…..and the day after that.
Do you realize that your practicing forgiveness now may pay unexpected dividends for you decades from now? As an example, look at how the Amish community handled the tragedy in Pennsylvania in 2006. The world wondered how the community could stand in forgiveness after 10 girls were shot and 5 died. The answer: Forgiveness is part of their daily culture.
Please realize that each decision and each act of forgiveness now may pay great dividends for you and others 20 years from now. Forgiveness today is an investment in your future.
It takes steadfast courage to finally decide, “I will forgive.”
So often we know in our mind, through reason, that forgiveness is the right path. Yet, we are hesitant to begin the journey. What if it proves to be too painful? What if I get lost along the way and do not know how to forgive? What if it comes out all wrong?
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
We at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. are here to support you as you begin the life-giving journey of forgiveness.