Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe, medical doctor and author who specialises in natural medicine, workplace wellness and stress management.
“Forgiveness recognises what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view all your sins are forgiven.”
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. To us, revenge can seem right and even taste sweet, but it comes at a great cost to our health, especially the health of our hearts and our souls. Letting go of anger, resentment and bitterness against those who wronged you, your family, or challenged your belief systems, can be the best thing you’ll ever do for your health. We find it hard to forgive even the little things, like the idiot who takes the parking spot we wanted, or a business partner, lover or parent who wronged us. How much more difficult then, to forgive someone who killed a loved one, who threatened our very lives, who stole our precious belongings? An inability to forgive even ourselves, lies at the root of many of our health problems. When we’re on a spiritual journey, we often grapple even more with the concept of forgiveness, trying to find congruency within our inner journey toward unconditional love and enlightenment, and our human deep felt sense of how wrong it feels to forgive someone or something for misdeeds against ourselves, our nearest and dearest and even humanity and our beloved Mother Earth.
Persistent unforgiveness is part of human nature, but more and more research is showing what we already intuitively know in our hearts, that the inability to forgive, is detrimental not only to our spiritual wellbeing, but also to our physical health. More than 1200 studies on this topic have been published over the past 10 years. Dr Dean Ornish, America’s wellknown cardiologist and developer of the world renowned ‘Heart Disease Reversal Program’, regards forgiveness as the tofu of the soul, a healthy alternative option to the red meat of anger and vengeance. According to him, the most selfish thing we as human beings could do for ourselves, is to forgive ourselves and others.
Research shows that the inability to forgive works in many ways, one of which is it’s connection to the stress reaction, and the other to our social wellbeing. The state of unforgiveness leads to a tremendous amount of stress inside our body-minds. The strong brew of bitterness, anger, hatred, hostility, fear and resentment ferment and stir constant stress reactions inside us, with specific physiological consequences: increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increased cortisol and blood sugar, linked to insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus and heart disease, as well as immune suppression, impaired memory and mental processes, even leading to depression.
Research also shows that people with strong social networks with friends and family are healthier than loners. Of course, someone who bears a grudge, stews in resentment, anger and bitterness, will not be inclined to have many close relationships. Poor interpersonal relationships and an inability to communicate on a feeling level, are the most constant findings in those with heart disease. This also happen with people who manifest strong type A behaviour traits like perfectionism, workaholics, inability to forgive, manipulative control, and addiction to success in the material world. Forgiveness should become an ingrained personality trait, even transcending into a deeply soul or transpersonal level. It cannot simply be a learned response to specific insults, but truly a way of being and living in this world.
Our biggest issue with forgiveness is that we think to forgive is to condone the misdeed or wrongdoing. This is simply not so. Choosing to forgive doesn’t mean others do not have to eventually take responsibility for their misdeeds and wrongdoings against others. We’re all on our own journey of soul lessons. It means that you choose to let go your vengeance, bitterness and anger, to surrender, to sense the tremendous relief of simply throwing off the heavy burden of unforgiveness you carry in the rucksack on your back. You let go of your own suffering. Human beings have a natural tendency to want to redress a wrong, or seek revenge and justice. Forgiveness needs to be cultivated and learned. That’s why getting help can assist you with this process. Transpersonal psychology, hypnotherapy, talking to soul friends or a spiritual director and heartfelt prayer, are some ways to heal the hurt and suffering deep inside your soul, to really feel it inside your cells. That’s where disease takes a foothold, inside the spirals of your DNA. That’s also where the heavy rocks of unforgivenessultimately destroy the fine tuning of cellular function. You don’t even have to confront the person or situation directly, if that seems too painful or difficult right now. You can write a letter and send it or even keep it to yourself. The most important thing is for you to let it go, to make peace. Address the wrongs you did to others in the same way. Let it go, forgive yourself first!
Forgiveness is a complex process. There’s a ‘decisional’ forgiveness where one makes a conscious mental choice to forgive a perpetrator. Then there’s ‘emotional’ forgiveness which is an internal process of developing a state of acceptance. This seems to be the more healing option, leading to changes right into a cellular memory level. Linking true feeling to a conscious decision is the crucial link our cells require for true forgiveness and letting go.
Dare to forgive! It’s good for your heart and your soul! Confucius once said: ‘If you devote your life to seeking revenge, first dig two graves’.