Asking For ForgivenessForgiveness is one of those concepts that sounds admirable and everybody agrees that it is a good thing and wants to give it, but when it comes right down to it, it is not that easy.

Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself.  You do it for you, not the other person.  The receiving individual does not have to deserve it, need it or want it for you to reap the benefits.  Research has determined forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints (those pesky things that  have no real medical explanation, such as gastrointestinal problems, constipation, nausea, headaches, skin disorders, etc…) Studies have shown forgiveness to be associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms, blood pressure, and heart rate.

To hold a grudge, harbor hostility, resentment or anger creates stress within your brain and body.  Stress actually shrinks your brain, decreases serotonin levels, and plays a part in almost every disease.

From a brain’s perspective, forgiveness requires making a deliberate decision to move beyond feeling hurt or wronged.   It takes consciously shifting your perspective and attention, thought reframing, and pairing sad or disappointing memories with more positive, better feeling thoughts.  This practice, done repeatedly, over time actually rewires your brain and builds new neuronal pathways through a process called neuroplasticity. (See blog: Pulling Weeds And Planting Flowers)

Forgiveness may even play a role in healing.  Many believe that holding on to unforgiving feelings contributes to the inability to heal. Carolyn Myss, in Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, says “Forgiveness frees up the energy necessary for healing.”  The Buddha said, ” If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn.”

Elizabeth Lesser, in her book The Seeker’s Guide (previously published as The New American Spirituality), says “Humans are just inches away from paradise, but that last inch is as wide as an ocean.  That inch is forgiveness.” She goes on to say “….[F]orgiveness is an action, not an idea.  We understand karma; we practice forgiveness.  Like any difficult task we undertake, forgiveness requires both understanding and skill.  And like any skill, it takes time and practice to strengthen our ability to forgive.”

After my suicide attempt five years ago, I had a lot of forgiving to do.  First of all, I had to forgive myself.  That was a hard one.  I was disgusted that I was seriously brain injured and that I had DONE IT TO MYSELF!  I couldn’t even blame it on anyone no matter how much I wanted to. Forgiveness must be extended to yourself before you can give it to anyone else.  I began reading and practicing forgiveness meditations and exercises to offer compassion to myself for the first time in my life.  I began to feel lighter and happier.  It was as if I had set down weights that I did not even know I had been carrying around for a long, long time.

I continued by sending long emails to the major players in my life forgiving them for “whatever I felt that they needed to be forgiven for” and asking for their forgiveness for “whatever they felt that I needed to be forgiven for.”  I did not expect or need a response. It was not necessary for forgiveness to take place.

I sent emails to family and friends apologizing for disrespecting our relationships by trying to check out of here and for my behavior immediately after the suicide attempt/brain injury when there were no social controls working in my brain and I, sometimes, acted hurtfully.  Some people responded with compassion and understanding.  Some people responded with judgment and “How could you?” I understand both.

I had honest, open talks with my sons and apologized profusely for being ready to completely abandon them and for throwing their lives into a blender and pressing the “ice crush” button.  They were forgiving and, understandably, had some anger.  I have a feeling that we are going to have many talks in the coming years as they confront the wounds around this event and give words to feelings as adults.  I am prepared and want to help them to heal in any way I can.  I know that we are, by no means, finished.

Forgiveness is a process.  It is a practice.  It really is the gift that keeps on giving in so many ways to you and others.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/

8 Comments

  1. Debbie,

    You’ve really hit the essence when you talk about how challenging it can be to forgive. Even when we consciously wish to forgive, it takes diligence to rewire the long held brain patterns. It’s eminently doable and you so beautifully articulate all the benefits.

    Whenever I read your comments about stress and the brain, I have to have a laugh. I’m sure my brain must be the size of a pea and I know my serotonin levels are less than optimal. But I’m growing that pea into a big ball of glowing light!

    Another outstanding article.

  2. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Sandra, thanks for making me laugh with the pea analogy. The more you practice forgiveness you are consciously giving the pea some fertilizer and growing it into a big, glowing light, as you said!

    I really do not have a hard time forgiving anymore. It is my default these days to reframe thoughts, not assume, and to not take things personally. I have come a long way! (This does not mean that I want the opportunity to test just how far I have come!)

  3. Thanks for sharing Debbie. I enjoyed the Lesser quote you included. Forgiveness is so easy and close to paradise but difficult and wide as an ocean. What gets in the way of our desire to not want to forgive? Anger, ego, wanting to be right, etc despite all the benefits you mention.

    Your ability to forgive is an inspiration for the rest of us – thanks for sharing such a vulnerable part of your life.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      The Lesser quote really speaks to me also. Her book is extraordinary and her other book, Broken Open, is even better! Both are among my very favorites.

      Thank you saying that my ability to forgive is an inspiration. I never thought of it that way.

  4. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Your pea has grown to an unbelievablly huge size and is still growing. How can I express how proud of you I am and how humbled I am to be the mother of such a remarkable woman? Beautifully written, as always, and truly from your heart.

    Love Light Peace
    Mom

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for the kind words. I have been giving the pea some good fertilizer lately.

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