If You Seek Emotional Health, There is No Greater Nourishment Than Forgiveness
Stress is responsible for 75 percent to 90 percent of Americans'
doctor visits, according to the American Institute for Stress.
It is no mystery why this insidious biological response has
been called America's number one health problem.
Chronic stress -- the type that eats away at you little by
little over time - is the worst variety. Having no redeeming
qualities (unlike acute stress, which may rev you up when
you need the extra energy boost), chronic stress has been
linked to a host of major illnesses, including heart disease,
cancer, depression, autoimmune diseases and reproductive problems,
along with more minor maladies like stomach upset, back pain,
headaches and fatigue.
Three Words to Live By: "I Forgive You"
Most of us will harbor (or are harboring right now) feelings
of pain, anger, resentment and hurt against someone we feel
did us wrong. If they are not released, by way of forgiveness,
these negative notions will slowly drain your energy while
fanning the fires of chronic stress.
Forgiveness is supreme at reducing chronic stress, as evidenced
by the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, which is examining
the role of forgiveness in mental health.
What exactly is forgiveness? According to Frederic Luskin,
Ph.D., the project's director, " ... Forgiveness consists
primarily of taking less personal offense, reducing anger
and the blaming of the offender, and developing increased
understanding of situations that often lead to feeling hurt
In the project's first study, participants who had experienced
unresolved interpersonal hurt (not including physical or sexual
violence) attended six weeks of forgiveness training. After
the sessions, most were more willing to use forgiveness as
a coping method and:
70% had a decrease in feelings of hurt
13% had a reduction in long-term experience of anger
27% had a reduction in physical symptoms of stress
(back ache, dizziness, sleeplessness, headache, stomach
15% had a decrease in emotional experience of stress
34% experienced an increase in forgiveness for the
person who hurt them
As Luskin pointed out, holding on to anger over past hurts
is counterproductive. "All the huffing and puffing and
groaning and moaning you might do isn't going to make somebody
love you more or be fairer or kinder to you," Luskin
said. "It's a poor strategy that people don't give up
easily, but it is something that can be learned."
Helping people to focus on the positive aspects of mental
health, and exploring their relationship to our emotional
and physical health, is part of an emerging field known as
Now researchers are identifying people's positive traits,
like creativity, fairness and curiosity, rather than
just the negative ones.
"For the past 60 years, psychology has approached people
through victimology and a disease model of fixing broken things,"
said Marty Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor
who is a leader in the new field.
To complement the field of psychology's "Diagnostic
Statistical Manual," which classifies mental illnesses,
a new manual called the "Classification of Strengths"
has been developed. The manual identifies positive characteristics
including fairness, creativity and curiosity.
"We want to show that many of these positive qualities
are health-enhancing, both mentally and physically,"
Achieving the "Impossible:" Learning How to
Forgiveness is not easy. But doing so will make you feel
better, not only by freeing you of negativity but also by
increasing your own sense of self control. Once you know how
to forgive, it will give you confidence that you can get through
other tough situations that may arise without panicking or
Keep in mind that forgiving doesn't mean you have to forget,
or suddenly approve of or befriend someone who has trespassed
against you. But it does mean that you forgive them, fully
and without lingering resentments (this also includes forgiving
yourself for mistakes!). This is a learned process, and Luskin
believes there are nine steps http://www.learningtoforgive.com/steps.htm
that must be taken to get there. Here is a summary of each.
Determine what about the situation was not OK with
you. Talk about this with a few close friends.
Allow yourself to do what you need to to feel better.
This is for you, not anyone else.
Don't feel that you must reconcile with the person.
Instead, seek "peace and understanding that come
from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the
life experience less personally, and changing your grievance
Recognize that your distress is coming from hurt feelings,
thoughts and physical upset, not from the actual offensive
event that occurred in the past.
Use a stress management technique when you feel upset
to temper your body's "fight or flight" response.
Let go of expecting things from people or your life
that they choose not to give you.
Rather than mentally replaying the hurtful event,
focus your energy on finding alternative ways to get what
"A life well lived is your best revenge." Focusing
on the hurt allows the person to have power over you,
so instead set your sights on the good things around you.
Change your grievance story so that it reflects your
honorable choice to forgive.
So if you have been holding anger in your heart against someone
(or yourself), for months or years or decades, give yourself
the ultimate gift this holiday season ... try to forgive them.
Powerful Influencing Effect of People's Faces on Your Behavior
to Make All Your Relationships Work
Campaign for Forgiveness Resources
Francisco Chronicle: Psychology's Positive Spin
Just Say No to Stress