We all know forgiveness is a good idea. Like exercise and meditation, you don’t find too many voices speaking up against them. But, do you know why forgiveness matters? How, on a practical level, does forgiveness heal us?
There are many well-researched benefits to forgiveness. According to the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University, among the physiological pros of releasing resentments, we live longer lives, have stronger immune systems, better heart health, and more energy and focus, just to name a few. That is pretty powerful information to motivate us to forgive, yet we still resist.
Part of the reason we resist is that we don’t truly understand the mechanisms behind forgiveness. We don’t understand the process itself.
Forgiveness is not a declaration. We don’t just get over it and move on. If we could do that, we wouldn’t need to explore forgiveness at a deeper level. It is a process. Specifically, it is choosing to move through hurt feeling such as shame, anger, and resentment in favor of self-compassion, self-love, and empathy.
Part of the challenge is in how we are raised and in a lack of clarity around healing. We are taught to deny our negative feelings. Yet, forgiveness demands that we honor our hurt feelings first. Awareness of how we feel is the first step in the process and an important skill we need to strengthen to become forgiving. Let me put you at ease about this because there is a common myth out there that if you allow yourself to feel the pain of trauma or bad experiences you will fall apart. But, it isn’t the feelings that cause us to fall apart, it is our judgments about how we feel that do. We say, “This is not okay,” and we believe it. But, it is okay. In fact, it’s good because all feelings have purpose. When it comes to pain, the feelings are there to teach us and guide us toward a deeper experience of life.
So, start there. Start by allowing yourself to feel what you feel. Or, what you felt those many years ago when the injury occurred. Respond to the discomfort with the same compassion you would for a child or your best friend. Just this one simple step goes a long way towards healing our lives and liberating us from the past.
Another powerful skill we have at our disposal is empathy. To understand empathy, ask yourself this question, “If I had lived that person’s life might I have made the same choices?” With open-minded inquiry what you might find is that you can’t know. We cannot possibly know why others do the things they do. But, here’s the thing. We don’t need to know. This is where acceptance enters the equation. Once we accept the past as it was, and allow ourselves to have empathy for the players in our narrative, we are free to move on.
These two skills – emotional awareness and empathy – are a great start. Let the benefits sink in (and there are many, many more). Are you willing to do a little work to live a longer, healthier life? If so, begin today with these simple yet powerful tools.
Emily is an author and founder of the Forgiveness Academy™.
Her first book, The Power of Forgiveness: A Guide to Healing and Wholeness, is now available for pre-order HERE. It will be out on Amazon and Kindle in January 2017. In addition, Emily facilitates workshops, provides group training in person and online, and coaches individuals through the forgiveness process. The mission of the Forgiveness Academy™ is to teach individuals, practitioners, and organizations to become forgiving, compassionate entities. To find out more please visit Emily’s website here.