When we think about stress, most of us think about our job, our foot long to-do list, and money. These are the monuments to stress that cast a shadow across our lives. They are ever present and we are acutely, even painfully, aware of them. But what about the small things that slip under our stress radar? The criticism we received at work, the person who cut us off in traffic, or the glib, yet hurtful comment from our partner. While these are seemingly insignificant, they build up and add to our stress load. And most of us have no idea about how to handle this stress. Well, here is the answer. We need to practice forgiveness.
Let's explore the connection between stress and forgiveness. When our feelings are hurt, when we feel angry, upset or bitter about a wrong done to us, we experience a physiological response. Yes, you read that right. Your feelings are connected to your physical body. Many of us believe that our minds exist in a vacuum and do not affect how our body functions. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our minds are intricately linked to our body. But I digress. One study found that when people think about a past offense, they experience the same physical response as they do when under stress. Their heart rate increases, their blood pressure spikes, and they start sweating. Another study took this one step further and found that people who are less willing to forgive had higher cortisol levels than those who practice forgiveness.
So, here is the bottom line. The less forgiving you are, the more stressed you are. The more forgiving you are, the less stressed you are.
And if you need to be reminded of how detrimental stress is to our health, watch my full presentation about stress here.
So, in order to banish the stress created by our feelings of hurt, anger, bitterness and resentment when a wrong is committed against us, we need to practice forgiveness. But what does forgiveness even mean? Many of us harbor misconceptions about forgiveness that result in us casting it aside as a useless tool. We view forgiveness as weakness, a sacrifice, or a burden. We believe that in order to be strong, we must harden ourselves with our anger and resentment. But nothing could be further from the truth. To explore this topic of forgiveness, we are going to reference The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu.
What forgiveness is
Forgiveness is freedom. Forgiveness is cutting the chains that bind us. Forgiveness is healing. Forgiveness is putting the broken pieces back together. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is a gift. And forgiveness is difficult.
Perhaps the best definition of forgiveness is this poem found in The Book of Forgiving:
What forgiveness is not
Forgiveness is not weakness. Forgiveness is not forgetting your pain. Forgiveness is not forgetting the deed that was done to you. Forgiveness is not condoning the deed. Forgiveness is not permissive. Forgiveness is not a subversion of justice. And forgiveness is not easy.
The path to forgiveness can be long and difficult. Thankfully, Desmond and Mpho beautifully outline the process of forgiving for us in their book. Words cannot describe how highly I recommend this book.
- UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center: The New Science of Forgiveness
- The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu
I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.