Learn to let go

Forgiveness: A tool for a healthier and happier life.   | Photo Credit: Silvia Izquierdo

Each time we witness an act of forgiveness, we marvel at its power to heal, to break an unending cycle of pain. All spiritual teachings talk about imbibing the quality of forgiveness, but few actually practise or offer it. If we want a lighter heart and more love, we have to set our prisoners free. Creating space in our minds and hearts for vibrancy and joy, requires letting go of excess emotional baggage. How does one achieve this? Through forgiveness: the power of letting go.

Research suggests that grudges, hatred, anger, resentments are all emotions that physically manifest as a disease and destroy mental health. People who consciously make a choice to forgive report better health in the long-term. Specifically, blood pressure, heart disease, stomach ailments are improved, due to less stress, unhappiness and anger. Forgiveness also heals relationships, increases marital satisfaction, and stops crime at its source.

Despite increasing evidence of forgiveness being a tool for a happier and healthier life, people struggle with the concept. Perhaps this is because forgiveness is something we don't fully understand. As Nietzsche said, we associate it with weakness. In fact, the opposite is true. Forgiveness is a sign of strength and requires courage, compassion and strength of character.

Some believe that forgiveness requires special spiritual prowess. Not only is it a very human quality, but displays of forgiveness and reconciliation are common among monkeys, apes and other primates, and suggest that this behaviour has been around for over 30 million years. Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin in 1997 indicates forgiveness can be taught and with positive results.

Many view forgiveness as a way of condoning wrong. We think forgiving an affair means supporting it. In fact, we can only forgive what we know to be wrong. Forgiving does not mean continuing in a relationship with one who has wronged us, but rather, to let go and stop dwelling on revenge or harbouring hate. We need not reconcile in order to forgive.

Another misconception is that it depends on whether the person who did wrong apologises, wants us back, or changes his/her ways. If another person's poor behaviour were the primary determinant for our healing then the unkind and selfish people in our life would retain power over us indefinitely. Forgiveness is the experience of finding peace inside that can neither be compelled, nor stopped by another.

The other person may have justified their actions in their minds but if we hold on to it, we carry negative energy in our life, which eventually turns into bitterness and anger.

What to do

Forgiving is a gift to our own mental and physical health. So how does one go about “forgiving”?

l Talk to someone about the emotions surrounding what happened, be it a counsellor or a trusted and mature individual. Part of healing is being heard, understood and validated.

l When you start to dwell on the event, remind yourself that the anger and hate that well up only harm you, causing disease and leave you in a foul mood. They do not impact your perpetrator, but impact you.

l By not letting go, you give the person power over your life and mind and continue to let them hurt you. Many get stuck in unhealthy, abusive relationships, with a constant desire to take revenge.

Try to recognise that all humans make the best choices in a given situation. Only with experience and wisdom can we say whether an action was wise or unwise. You cannot control people, but you can take personal responsibility.

Anger results from the fact that we believe no one should hurt us, or personal relationships should be perfect. This won't happen. We hurt people and people hurt us. Accept this.

Often people land up hurting us unintentionally. Try to think from the other person's viewpoint. What would you have done in their place? Could they have a reason for their action? What emotions could have made them react the way they did? Can you view them with some compassion? This does not mean what they did was justified; it only loosens the knot of anger and hate within you, and opens channels for authentic communication, if the opportunity arises.

Anger can be useful in motivating action towards a better life, but once the situation is past, it loses this potential. Is your anger at what happed helping your present life or our future? How does the anger impact your current situation or relationship?

Take responsibility for your own emotional state and choices. If you choose to be in a relationship with the person, remember you made a choice to continue. Forgiveness is important for both of you to live peacefully.

Sometimes people act out of instinct more than sense, and sometimes from a place of fear. Where did he/she come from?

People's ideas of right and wrong differ; however much we try to harmonise ethics, we can never speak for another, only ourselves.

Harm is not justice. Talk to others before harming another individual. Justice differs from useless revenge.

Forgiveness has nothing to with anyone else, but us. It's very difficult to let go of past pain, but by accepting its existence and being committed to releasing the past, we can gain some freedom from the pain that binds us.

The writer is a Mumbai-based Psychotherapist. Website:

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:28:24 PM |

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