The Paradox of Forgiveness
by Anna Barbosa, MA, CHt
"If you devote your life to seeking revenge, first dig two graves."- Confucius
To forgive or not to forgive?
Your decision could affect your health and the quality of your life. Studies prove that people who choose not to forgive have more stress-related illnesses, lower-functioning immune systems, and are more prone to heart disease than people who forgive.
A study by Kathleen Lawler, P.Hd. at The University of Tennessee measured noticeable differences in the increase of blood pressure; heart rate and muscle tension between forgivers and non-forgivers when participants were asked to tell a story of betrayal. Results showed that the forgivers had a lower resting blood pressure and smaller increases in blood pressure rate than "low forgivers or non-forgivers. High forgivers reported fewer visits to their physicians for physical ailments. 1
In his book, Forgive for Good, Dr. Frederic Luskin states that unresolved anger resets the internal thermostat. This low level of anger begins to feel normal but it actually burns out the body.2 Anger is a secondary emotion that masks hurt feelings. Forgiving helps us to give up the hurt and allows us to heal.
Lets take a moment for a quick experiment. Focus on someone or some event that has caused you hurt or pain. Close your eyes for about 15 seconds and feel what is happening in your body as you maintain that focus. Do your muscles tighten up? Does your heart beat and breathing rate increase? Does your body feel like it is on alert? Now imagine how that physical response plays out over and over again anytime and for any reason that you have an experience that is similar to or reminds you of that person or event.
To forgive does not mean that the offense is condoned. Whether the offense was done with 1) malicious intent, the violator was abusive; 2) unintentional harm, the violator was unaware of the harm caused by his/her actions or word, or 3) by inappropriate positive intent, the violator criticizes or hurts in order to teach a lesson, it is not minimized with forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean weakness. It does not mean surrendering to defeat or avoiding justice. In fact it takes strength to truly forgive from your heart.
Often the greater the hurt the more difficult it is for the injured person to want to forgive. However, there is no offense that is so great that it cannot be healed by the gracious act of forgiveness. Living a life with forgiveness is available to all of us.
The paradox of forgiveness is that the true beneficiary is the forgiver. Forgiving can enhance the immune system, lower blood pressure and reduce secreted cortisol. A study by Duke University Medical Center demonstrated that those who have forgiven experience lower levels of back pain and less associated problems like depression.3
The emotional well being of the forgiver is enhanced. Forgiveness returns the control of your emotions to you. Thinking becomes clearer because the mind is not clouded over with thoughts of anger, hate, or revenge. You live life in a proactive manner rather than a reactive manner.
The benefits of forgiveness are far reaching, however. According to research compiled by A Campaign for Forgiveness, a non-profit organization, forgiveness affects health, marriages, businesses, relationships, communities, and nations.4
Forgiveness work can be done with various therapeutic modalities. One of the more powerful methods of doing this work is through hypnosis. The subconscious mind, which is considered the seat of emotions, is easily accessible in hypnosis. This direct connection to the emotions makes hypnosis a very efficient therapy as well.
In hypnosis, the forgiveness work is done without any interpersonal exchange between the injured and the violator because the violator is not present. This work is especially beneficial when the violator expresses no remorse or willingness to right the wrong, the injured may choose not to interact with the violator or the violator is deceased. None of these possibilities have any effect on the forgiveness work once the decision is made to forgive. The purpose of this process is to free the injured from the internal prison of anger and hurt, thereby opening the heart to a new level of love and freedom.
During hypnosis the injured creates a setting where s/he is able to address the violator with the understanding that the violator cannot interrupt, give excuses or cause any more harm. The ability to verbalize everything that is needed to be said to the violator including painful feelings of hurt, disgust, embarrassment, etc. is a necessary step in the forgiving process. Typically, a great amount of emotional energy is spent during this time. When the injured feels that s/he has expressed every hurt emotion that was available at that time then s/he switches roles and becomes the violator.
In the role of the violator, the injured has the opportunity to perceive the event through the eyes of the violator. S/he may come to believe that the violator also has pain and was lashing out at someone more vulnerable. Maybe the violator didnt know a better way. As the injured continues to speak as the violator s/he may begin to feel compassion for the violator. It is possible that this may take a few turns of switching roles. It is also possible to forgive when the injured can find no logical or fathomable reason for the offense. The work is near completion when the injured, while in the role of violator, is able to ask for forgiveness.
I have seen in my clinical practice several examples that specifically reference how forgiveness in hypnosis has helped my clients free themselves from the past so that they can live and thrive in the present.
One client, Sharon, (not the real name), came for a session because of a feeling of being overwhelmed and over reacting in the workplace. Panic attacks became more frequent whenever she was asked to give a presentation. Her fear of making a mistake and
looking foolish paralyzed her ability to make decisions. In hypnosis she uncovered an incident when as a six year old she was ridiculed and embarrassed by her teacher. She was further able to revivify many more traumatic incidents involving this teacher. After expressing the embarrassment and the hurt feelings Sharon began to consider that the teacher was acting inappropriately and was under tremendous pressure in her personal life. Sharon realized that she was not singled out for persecution but that the teacher treated every student badly. With this new perspective Sharon was able to forgive her teacher. In hypnosis she was also able to give words of protection and support her six year old self. Sharon reports that she now has a relaxed and confident attitude at work and is highly regarded by her peers. She looks forward to leading projects and making presentations.
Another client, Ill call Stan, had been to doctors and chiropractors to rid himself of severe back aches. Tests showed no physical explanation for his pain. His co-worker suggested that he try hypnosis and although Stan didnt see how hypnosis would help, he was willing to try anything. During our hypnosis session Stan became aware of how angry he was with his adult son for moving back home. He was quite surprised by the intensity of his anger and resentment. Stan expressed feelings of disappointment in his son and himself. He felt it was unfair that he was still providing for his grown son and that restricted him from pursuing his own dreams. He also expressed guilt and shame for having these feelings. Through the forgiveness process in hypnosis Stan was able to reframe the situation as a temporary arrangement. He let go of the resentment and guilt by forgiving his son and himself. When Stan emerged from hypnosis he stated how it felt as though a weight had been lifted from his chest. His back felt looser than it has in months. He called me four days later and said he had no back pain and he also noticed that the tension in his household was gone.
Forgiveness is a healing gift that you give to yourself and the benefits are far reaching. By doing forgiveness work through hypnosis or with any other modality, healing happens and your health, your relationships with yourself and your loved ones can improve significantly and forever.
2. Luskin, F.M. (2001). Forgive for Good: A proven prescription for health and happiness. San Francisco: Harper.
3. Carson JW, et al. Forgiveness and chronic low back pain: a preliminary study examining the relationship of forgiveness to pain, anger, and psychological distress The Journal of Pain : official journal of the American Pain Society 84-91. Feb. 1, 2005
4. < http://www.forgiving.org/>
Anna Barbosa, MA, CHt is in private practice at The Healing Nexus in Houston, Texas. She utilizes hypnosis and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) in assisting her clients through the forgiveness process and with other issues. www.thehealingnexus.com