I’m sure you’ve all heard about how healing forgiveness can be. But did you know that there is actual research to show that it extends beyond the mind, and can heal your body too? For example, a group of New York researchers found that cardiac patients who were able to forgive had lower levels of cholesterol (both good and bad) amongst the already predicted outcomes of lower anxiety and lower depression. Another study showed that HIV positive patients who forgave at higher rates had a higher functioning immune system! Forgiveness has even been shown to help with sleep issues like insomnia – even if you’re insomnia ISN’T due to being up all night thinking about who did you wrong.
Forgiveness is an important human interaction for our own health that has helped our species evolve. Without healthy social interactions in our “herd/pack” mentality, we wouldn’t have come so far. We use it not only to heal painful memories and relationships, but also to heal the physiological attack that the pain has inflicted on our bodies. The thing is, when you look at the definition of forgiveness, it becomes easy to understand why this is the case:
As many of you know (through Oprah and her “aha’s!”), forgiveness is NOT:
- minimizing the hurt you felt or are feeling
- telling the other person what they did is okay
- forgetting what happened
- dependent on an apology
- a conversation that has to happen with the other person
Forgiveness is simple. In my mind, it’s two things:
1) Letting go of the desire that the past could have been different (Very poignant. Some of you have heard this definition from Oprah).
2) Acknowledging AND letting go of the pain associated with the incident in question. It is a way for you to accept that something painful happened, but that you are now ready to live your life in the context of now, not in the context of the pain that incident caused you.
The second point is actually really interesting. For me, a lot of the time I don’t want to forgive because I don’t want to let go of the pain. It serves me. It allows me to feel rage for justice because I was “right.” In fact, the more rage and passion, the more “right” I feel. The more I hold on, the more I have to remember should I want to confide in a friend. They can then affirm that I was done an injustice! It doesn’t even matter if I’m in the right or not, this holding onto pain is literally junk food for the ego.
Now I don’t mean to say we can NEVER confide in others or feel right in situations. I will be the first to admit that I don’t think I can completely abstain! But when this pain and this feeling of “rightness” drives us through our day; when it dictates our emotions and sucks us back into the memory of something that has long past, then it starts to become a problem.
I realized this when I had a falling out with a friend. It was one of the worst falling outs I’ve ever had, and I had no idea where it came from. I started to question a lot about our friendship and about myself for a long while after that. One thing I was sure of though – I never thought I’d see her again. Almost a year later, however, I got a text from her that she wanted to meet. We met and she apologized profusely, and in her apology and reasoning for her actions, I realized that our falling out had not just caused pain for me, but IMMENSE pain for her too, even though she was the one who wanted to end the friendship. She must have been dwelling on this a LOT to want to reconcile a year later when things ended so bitterly. In that moment of her apology, I realized that I had the choice to forgive her and the privilege of helping to heal BOTH of our hearts was in my hands. She could have healed and forgiven herself without me. I could have healed without meeting her. But we met. And it was now my choice whether or not I was going to help both of us move on. So I did. That was one of the first times in my life I truly let go. It was powerful, magical, and instantaneous. I felt an immediate sense of relief, relaxation, and inner peace the INSTANT I said “I forgive you.” My attachment to the pain was gone. The memory was still there, but I didn’t view it with the same lens. It was truly different than any other time I’ve forgiven someone.
As experts in psychology say, forgiveness is actually a learned skill. As you practice, you get better and better at it, just like meditation. Forgiveness allows you to walk with yourself and savor each moment, instead of being chained to the emotional heartbreak of the past. (Tweet-worthy!) I encourage and challenge you to learn this skill with me. We all need to forgive a little more, and to be forgiven as well.
Dr. Rahim Kanji is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for evidence-based natural medicine, specifically empowering his patients to make nutritional changes which create dramatic impacts to their health. For more information, visit his website at www.rahimkanjind.com.