Forgiveness, the topic of our newsletter today is actually the sister to gratitude. Forgiveness may actually be even more useful to you (if it is something you need to do). Being that Christians are in the Holy Week, this message I believe is timely. For 2 reasons.
First forgiveness heals your soul and improves your relationship with God.
Second, is that forgiveness heals the body and returns it to self-regulation (homeostasis) and self-healing.
But forgiveness is not always the easiest thing to do, especially if you have been hurt, wronged, harmed or even let down. Sometimes the hurt is so deep that it seems almost impossible to forgive. And sometimes resentment, anger and feelings of shame make it even harder to forgive. And often the person we are struggling to forgive is ourselves.
I am not here to judge or even try to offer a solution regarding forgiveness, but I would like to share that we now know that lack of forgiveness is probably one of the biggest drivers of chronic health problems and especially those linked with our immune system and with inflammation. Problems such as autoimmune disease, arthritis, skin related problems (such as dermatitis), arthritis of various types, recurrent colds and infections, digestive problems like Irritable bowel syndrome or Inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer are strongly linked to lack of forgiveness. But even problems that aren’t diseases such as headaches and migraines, chronic fatigue, insomnia and poor sleep, poor memory and unexplained skin problems are linked to lack of forgiveness.
Why is lack of forgiveness linked to our health problems?
Like I explained in the article on the power of gratitude, we have a nervous system that is out of our conscious control (the involuntary nervous system), whose role is to manage some of the most vital aspects of health such as immune function, digestion, sexual function and even heartbeat. And while we have no conscious control over this nervous system, our mind can strongly influence this nervous system through our thoughts, emotions and feelings.
Any positive or negative emotion that you have, will enhance or diminish the body systems controlled by this involuntary nervous system respectively through the release of chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. But what is important to note is that the feelings that affect this nervous system depend on the duration that you experience these emotions. Some negative emotions and feelings such as anger, or unhappiness don’t usually last for long when we experience them, and so their effect on our health may not be that big.
But lack of forgiveness together with feelings of resentment and shame literally stay with us every day and for the whole day. And although you aren’t always conscious of them, they are alive in your subconscious which by the way, never rests and never sleeps. So these emotions and lack of forgiveness are very detrimental to your health and are like a poison to your mind and body. People who problems with lack of forgiveness often will struggle with health problems that often seem not to improve much even with medication and sometimes not even with other positive lifestyle changes.
So, being aware of the danger of lack of forgiveness may help you begin to get some insights as to why some of the health problems you or someone you know don’t seem to get better. And this can be motivation to want to get better and possibly to forgive.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is simply letting go of the burden of judgement that you are holding. I am not an authority on forgiveness but forgiveness is very liberating. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. You can still remember (and this can probably save you more hurt or problems in the future) but you want to be able to let go of the burden of judgement.
As I said, I know this can be hard for many of us and many of my clients have often said how they have been let down so many times that they don’t know if they can forgive. Others have said that the people they are not forgiving don’t deserve it. And this is possibly true. But what you want to know is that, in regards to your health, lack of forgiveness harms you and not the person you are not forgiving. Someone once said holding on to any negative emotion like anger, resentment (or anything else that leads to a lack of forgiveness) is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Think about this.
Forgiveness is beneficial for the one forgiving when it comes to health. And lack of forgiveness never harms the other person’s health.
But how do we go about forgiving?
I don’t know if I have the answer to this. But, if you are a Christian, look at the life of Jesus. Easter is a time we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for humanity. But his death at the cross was indeed for sinners who need forgiveness. And I believe all of us are sinners and need forgiveness.
I would like to point to 3 points in the Life of Jesus Christ that have often made me realise that we all need to forgive and that everyone deserves forgiveness. Even non-Christians can learn from this. Please note these are not meant to judge anyone but to raise awareness.
First, as Jesus hung on the cross, having been battered, shamed, mocked, ridiculed, accused innocently, laughed at, nailed (and I know many of us have experienced some of these in our lives too), he said “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they do” – Luke 23:24. The innocent forgave the guilty even as he suffered because of them. Think about this.
Second, Jesus once told a parable of a man who pleaded for forgiveness as he was about to be condemned by his Master for debt. He was eventually pardoned but no sooner had he left, he met someone who was indebted to him for a much smaller amount and forgot that he has just been forgiven and began to choke them. – Mathew 18: 21 -35. Do we want to be forgiven and yet do not want to forgive?
Third, when a woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned to death for her sin, Jesus told the people “Let anyone who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” – John 8:7. Again what does this tell us? We probably all are sinners, we probably all deserve forgiveness and we all probably have been forgiven when we don’t deserve it.
Please reflect on these. Once we realise that everyone needs forgiveness, perhaps forgiving becomes a little bit easier. But, if you feel this is still a problem, you could benefit from reaching out for help.
Who needs to be forgiven?
Everyone needs to be forgiven, including you and me. And forgiving those who seem like they don’t deserve it or who have hurt you the most, will bring you the greatest healing and freedom to your soul.
And don’t forget that the person that you probably need to forgive the most is yourself. Many of us judge, blame and condemn ourselves every day. We ask ourselves many questions. Why did I allow this position? Why did I accept to get into this relationship? How did I end up here? Why didn’t I listen? What is wrong with me?
Always remember, you are human, we all make mistakes but we can all be forgiven and we should learn to forgive ourselves and others. Forgiveness is key for a healthy body and a healthy mind. Please practice forgiveness more and more..