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Forgiveness

October 1, 2015

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“You’re forgiven!” was a private Facebook message I recently received.  “Oh, no”, I thought.  Did I inadvertently post something that offended one of my friends?  I reached out to him quickly to inquire and to offer my apologies.  He assured me I’d done nothing to offend him, he was just reminding me that it was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and the supreme day of forgiveness.

This sacred day, following the Jewish New Year, is a day of fasting, reflection and prayer, asking God for forgiveness, promising to do better in the coming year, and asking that our slates be wiped clear. Jews also seek forgiveness from those they have offended or hurt over the past year.   It is a day of gratitude and of hope for the future.

Catholics have the sacrament of Confession, to obtain forgiveness of their sins and reconcile with God and the Church.

Those in recovery and in a 12 step program have Step 8:  “Make a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all”.  One of the biggest obstacles to making amends, of course, is forgiveness – of those who have harmed, and also of ourselves.

As an integrated behavioral health program, working with individuals to improve overall wellness in mind, body and spirit, we at Vista Hill SmartCare know that the research now clearly shows that forgiveness improves our health.   Holding on to the anger and resentment of past wrongs or injustices increases blood pressure and heart rate and compromises the immune system, as well as increases overall stress, anxiety and depression. It creates general physical stress on the body, accelerates the aging process, leads to over eating, poor sleep and other health issues.

Forgiveness not only improves these areas of health and well-being, it increases contentment, improves relationships and connectedness, and increases gratitude and kindness, not only for others, but for ourselves. It has also shown to extend our lifespan!

We have this misconception, however, that by forgiving, we are somehow condoning poor and abusive behaviors, or excusing undeniably terrible and even at times horrific acts.   I suggest that forgiving the actions of others, and even our own actions that have caused pain is not about accepting or tolerating these behaviors.   It is about letting go.  We cannot undo the past.   This is a gift that we can give ourselves, to our health and wellbeing, even if we don’t directly ask the other person for forgiveness, or even if that person is no longer alive.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects,  has written  Nine Steps to Forgiveness. They include being able to articulate what happened to trusted people in our lives, make a commitment to yourself to your wellness, changing your “grievance story”, incorporating stress management techniques and looking within yourself for your health, wellness and joy.  This process is about personal empowerment.

Other models of forgiveness include recognizing that one has suffered because of the injustice of another, and using that as a motivation for change – mourning and moving behind the hurt; developing an understanding that the perpetrator is human, and why the perpetrator may have done what he/she did (understanding their pain); and then moving beyond the past and embracing a story of hope for the present and the future.

This is a gift so worth giving, to ourselves, to our wellbeing.

Pamela Sachs, LCSW

“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”.  Nelson Mandela

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. capple32 permalink
    October 1, 2015 4:59 am

    Good to remember. Well said.

  2. Gary permalink
    October 1, 2015 10:39 pm

    How eloquently put, Pam! I’m so proud that you are my friend 😘

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