Forgiveness: The path to emotional freedom


February 1, 2011
Tracey L. Chavous
Health and Wellness Writer
Healthy Living

Most people have had one reason or another to foster a feeling of bitterness, anger or resentment over a period of time.  For many, forgiveness is like a four-letter word; foul, hellacious and quite frankly, unforgiving in nature.  If you sat down and wrote a list of all of the things people did or said to and about you, you may run out of space to write.  You may have been hurt by a loved one’s words or actions, fired from a job, criticized by a friend or left to deal with emotions at the end of a relationship.  However, if left unresolved, these bitter feelings can poison more than a new relationship; they can ravage your emotional as well as physical health.

Forgiveness is by no means an easy endeavor.  It is, however, a conscious decision that requires a unified commitment of the mind and the heart.  The act of forgiving does not remove the other person’s level of accountability for what was done or said; however, it empowers you to accept permission to move forward with your life and to begin to heal.  A variety of situations can lend themselves to planting the seed of an unforgiving disposition: rape, war, murder, lying, stealing, cheating, corruption, incest, abortion and more.  Yet, there comes a time when the spirit begins to unravel in a way that shatters the calibrations of ones emotional health. Despite the feelings of pain and despair that a person may experience as a result, reconciliation can be a possibility with much time and the appropriate guidance and support.

Katherine Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, shares some medical benefits of forgiveness.  Forgiveness can lead to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse

How do you know it’s time to forgive?

You may find yourself having difficulty with most of your relationships with others (family or friends) on a regular basis.  You may have a challenging time embracing the moment due to living in past hurts.  You may be depressed or unhappy on a regular basis.  A dependency on drugs or alcohol may exist in order to numb your pain. You may feel that your life has no direction and feels empty.  Dr. Piderman further shares that “as you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt.”  As a result, a new found level of clarity will emerge.

What do I do if I need help getting started?

Despite your best intentions, you may feel worse contemplating the idea of rustling the feathers of someone who hurt you.  Consider speaking with a counselor or therapist about your roadblocks and fears.  A spiritual advisor or minister could provide insight on forgiveness as it relates to biblical principles.  Reach out to a trusted friend or supportive family member who understands your history and can give you unbiased input on how to approach your process.  Practice role playing the possibilities until you feel confident enough to act further on your intentions to forgive.

What if I tried everything and I still can’t forgive?

Find ways to draw nearer to peaceful living.  For instance, if the person you want to forgive is no longer living or refuses to speak with you, consider speaking with them as if they were in your space.  In other words, talk to yourself.  Express what your intentions are and why.  Acknowledge how you are feeling and how what was done or said affected you.  Ask for what you want as a result of this, whether it is a fulfilling life, peace of mind, more meaningful relationships and so on.  Pray or meditate seeking ways to crowd out the pain in order to make room for understanding and clarity in your process of moving forward.

Consider keeping a journal to chronicle your past and all of its details as well as the changes you encounter on your journey to forgiveness.  Try writing a letter and burning it up.  This exercise puts a definite end to past feelings as the ashes signifies what is gone and can not be brought back.  The other person doesn’t need to know you have chosen to forgive.  The choice is more for you than the other person.  Choose to accept the unresolved and live without needing the answers all at once, because over time, hopefully, the answers will come.  In reality, you must embrace the fact that you are worthy of love.  You are worthy of joy.  You are worthy of happiness.  You are worthy of forgiveness.  You are worthy of being forgiven.  You are worthy of not judging yourself and you are worthy of peace.


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DC Spotlight Health Writer

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