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Coaching Corner: Forgiveness – Good For What Ails You

“Forgiveness is choosing to love. It is the first skill of self-giving love.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

I often talk with clients who are mad at themselves—because they ate something they wish they hadn’t, didn’t get to the gym as intended, gained a pound instead of losing two, etc., etc. We all make mistakes, and we let ourselves down from time to time. What’s important is how we view our “transgressions.” Confession is good for the soul, but the next step is to forgive ourselves and move on.

Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean you are free from the consequences of your actions. Yes, there will be consequences, but those consequences don’t have to include feeling guilt, shame and depression—emotions that will only weaken you and make it harder for you to recover.

The ability to self-forgive is closely related to the ability to forgive others. So let’s start there. Who are you mad at today? Has someone done you wrong? Doesn’t matter if it happened 50 years ago or five minutes ago, if you’re walking around with a bee in your bonnet, you are not living your best life. Whether you’ve been cut off in traffic, slighted by a friend, badmouthed by a co-worker, or betrayed by a spouse, the resulting anger is like poison to the system. The antidote? Forgiveness.

I experienced this recently when a conversation with my sister-in-law blew up in my face. My good intentions were obviously misinterpreted and, as she spewed her venomous words, I became defensive, angry, negative… Guess whose day was ruined?

Not only did it ruin my day, it interrupted my sleep for weeks. I finally decided to write her a letter. In the first draft, I let it fly. With no intention of mailing it, I spewed my own brand of venom, but yet still felt no sense of real relief. Over the course of about a week, I revised and refined my letter until it reflected a spirit of understanding, empathy for her position and a sincere apology for anything I might have said that hurt her. I mailed it with no expectations of a response, and I never got one. But you see, it doesn’t matter, because guess whose heart is lighter today?

Did you know that forgiveness is good for your heart? Literally! A study cited in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that forgiveness is associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress relief. A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints. It seems that the reduction in depressive symptoms, strengthened spirituality, conflict management and stress relief all have a significant impact on overall health.

“Forgiveness means giving up, letting go. It has nothing to do with condoning behavior,” said author Louise Hay. “It’s just letting the whole thing go. We do not have to know how to forgive. All we need to do is be willing to forgive. The Universe will take care of the rest.”

If you’re having trouble forgiving someone, remember that forgiveness is what we do for ourselves, not for the forgiven. Can you take a step back and put yourself in the other person’s shoes? Maybe he or she had a bad day—or a bad year, or a bad life. Whatever that person’s transgression, it’s not about you. And when we freely forgive others, we can more easily forgive ourselves.

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