Self Improvement — 12 July 2013
Forgive and heal thyself

Keeping a grudge, being indignant and unforgiving of another’s wrongdoing is a common self-preservation mode. It is believed to be a self-protective mechanism that provides refuge from future assault, betrayal or harm. But is this mode of self-protection helpful or harmful to you?

From early childhood we are taught to avoid objects or situations that can physically harm us. Parents teach their young children to stay away from the hot stove, sharp objects, unsteady surfaces and avoid aggressive friends. The wisdom of these edicts is clearly propelled by a healthy protectiveness for the child’s self-preservation.

Avoiding those who cause us emotional harm, shame or humiliation in adulthood may not have been part of our parental edicts but our instinctive warning system guides us to do so.

Once an object or person is deemed unsafe, avoidance is the natural tactic. Forgiveness may appear to be an invitation for further harm or abuse. So it became quite perplexing when in recent years the new field of Psychology of Forgiveness espoused its unique perspective. Forgiveness was found to provide significant medical and psychological advantages that actually enhance, rather than threaten one’s survival and wellbeing.

The American Psychological Association’s “Forgiveness: A sampling of Research results” defined Forgiveness as “a process (or the result of a process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender… This process results in decreased motivation to retaliate or maintain estrangement from an offender despite their actions, and requires letting go of negative emotions toward the offender.”

Dr. Frederic Luskin, Director of Stanford Forgiveness Project and the author of “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness” used his own pain of having been badly hurt by a friend to explore forgiveness and enrich us with his research findings and recommendations.

Dr. Luskin validates that “Our neurology is wired to look for things that are wrong in order to keep us safe.” Yet, recent studies confirm that forgiveness lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves sleep and enhances our immune system. Psychologically, people who forgive have lower incidence of depression, anxiety and anger, and are more optimistic and happier.”

The process of forgiveness, Dr. Luskin adds, is easier when the offending party is truly regretful and apologetic and inquires about how he/she can right the wrong. For the injured party the task of forgiveness “comes down to redirecting energy from a preoccupation with helpless resentment to finding a better way to live one’s life.”

It also appears that as people age, more wish to re-orient their lives in a way that allows them greater interpersonal ease and deeper emotional comfort. Freeing themselves from harboring negative emotions facilitates their greater tranquility and peace.

Mahatma Gandhi affirmed those who can forgive. He stated, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”

Forgive and be strong and healthy:

  • Accept that forgiveness eases your emotional burden and improves your health.
  • Forgive the offender and enjoy your wellbeing, serenity and peace.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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