The Hobart

Forgive For Good Health

by Annia Baron
Forgive For Good Health

You can feel it. That sudden flush of burning heat rushing through your body. Your muscles stiffen, your eyes widen, and your hands tighten their grip on the wheel. That damn driver just cut you off! Before you know it, every profanity under the sun comes out of your mouth and your hands emphatically gesture towards the sky.

Let’s be honest, most of us have been there. Immediately after someone’s inconsiderate manoeuvre, try this game of one, two, three. First, acknowledge what you’re feeling and take a few slow breaths in and out. Then come up with a possible reason for that person’s actions. For example, 1) they were on their way to the hospital, 2) they’re trying to get to the airport to tell the love of their life not to board that plane, or 3) they’ve had too many coffees and are desperate for the loo! Pick your favourite and choose to make this your reality. By taking a minute to reset and broaden our perspective, we can see that although we may feel hard done by, we can decide not to take things personally. As soon as we change the narrative, our blood pressure lowers, adrenaline subsides, and we can get on with our day without letting it ruin our mood. Perhaps it can enable us to let go of future transgressions more easily too.

The science is showing that people who are open to practising skills of forgiveness have far less medical and psychological problems; basically, they’re happier and healthier. Interestingly, forgiveness has been found to have positive effects on conditions like heart disease1, chronic pain2 and breast cancer.

But why is forgiveness hard to do? Dr Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, says we’re afraid to forgive because we think we won’t be able to seek justice. Sometimes people think forgiveness means we forget what happened, excuse someone’s behaviour, or have to force ourselves to ‘move on’. But this is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is a mental shift or a change of the heart that happens gradually. It’s a process that can start at any time, even if the person who wronged you is no longer in your life. Forgiveness means even though you’ve been wounded, you are choosing to suffer less. Forgiveness is a tool to take back your own power and continue being accountable for how you feel.

Another way to practice forgiveness, if that feels right for you to do, is proposed by Professor Everrett Worthington, a clinical psychologist, and leading expert on forgiveness. The following tool is based on his R.E.A.C.H technique.

R = Recall the hurt. Give yourself permission to feel everything. Don’t hold back here. Then, decide that you’re not going to be unforgiving and rather, try to view that person as another imperfect human.

E = Empathise. This step may feel challenging but it’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Perhaps imagine them sitting across from you. Share how you feel with them. Let loose and say everything you need to. Then pretend that you are them, responding back to you about why they did it. Perhaps considering factors that contributed to their behaviour may allow space for compassion – either for them or yourself.

A = A gift. Each of us can remember when we ourselves, also did something wrong to another –a friend, parent, or teacher – and how that person forgave us. Recall that feeling of when they forgave you. It was like a gift. If we can see forgiveness as a gift to pass on, it can remind us of our humanity, and can be an empowering release.

C = Commit. Once you’ve chosen forgiveness, solidify this decision by writing it down – it could be something as simple as “Today, I am forgiving (insert their name) for hurting me.” You can keep the note, scrunch it up, or throw it away. Do what feels right for you.

H = Hold it gently. It’s okay if some days you revert to anger towards the person who did you wrong. Be gentle with yourself when this happens. Then choose to do something that honours your efforts to hold forgiveness – whatever that looks like. You can re-read your note, you can take your anger with you on a walk, or you can share how you’re feeling with a trusted friend, partner, or a psychologist if you need.

Remember, forgiveness is not excusing what happened or forgetting that you were hurt. Ultimately forgiveness is a tender invitation to release anger or resentment and open space for you to continue living your most meaningful life. You deserve that. But perhaps the next time you’re on the road, consider a quick 1,2,3 and see how that feels. Personally, I love the idea of someone rushing to the airport to embrace the person they love!

Annia Baron is a Clinical Psychologist and Mindset Coach. Want to learn more about mindset tools to create a life you desire and deserve? Get in touch on Instagram @anniabaron or visit www.remindyourself.com. Full references are available at www.thehobartmagazine.com.au.

Did you know that red-necked wallabies have been found to demonstrate signs of forgiveness after a fight? Researchers note the wallabies showed reduced anxiety levels after making up and even engaged in grooming and play behaviours. Crows on the other hand may appear to hold a grudge. Researchers found that a population of crows they had been capturing, tagging, and releasing would recognise and harass their former handlers, even a year after seeing them.

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July 2024

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