Here's a new vocabulary word for you: epidemiology. One of the many topics epidemiologists have put years of study into is how unresolved personal conflict can contribute to a myriad of chronic diseases. Research has consistently shown that neglecting unsettled emotions towards someone in your life can result in long-term consequences, while resolution and reconciliation can actually boost your physical, mental and spiritual health. Here's a closer look at how practicing forgiveness can benefit your quality of life.
At some point in your life, you've probably gotten into a heated argument with a family member or perhaps felt slighted or dismissed by a close friend. Interactions like these can really leave a bad taste in your mouth and maybe even influence you to do or say something you later find difficult to forgive yourself for. If not resolved, the resulting feelings of guilt, shame and resentment create cognitive patterns that can have negative psychosomatic effects — meaning, your brain and body begin to argue as well.
These physiological consequences can manifest in a multitude of ways; in order to understand them, you must first and foremost analyze the concept of forgiveness on a societal level. For many, forgiveness is not purely a moral issue but also a deeply rooted relational and psychological issue. When an individual feels they've been wronged, this often leaves them with an unpleasant sensation of vulnerability or exposure. The severity of this state of exposure is determined by two predominant factors:
In other words, if you believe somebody in your life has wronged you on numerous occasions, or even just once in an exceptionally grievous way, this can massively impact on the way you understand everything about your interactions and relationships with those around you. At this point, forgiveness is no longer a purely moral issue for you but also a societal one because your brain perceives your social solidarity as being compromised.
In one particular study, 81 adults were interviewed about an instance of hurt or betrayal in their lives. The participants' heart rates and blood pressure were observed and recorded during the interview, as well as during the 10 minutes prior and a post-interview recovery period. The results made it easy to see how forgiveness was statistically associated with improved sleep quality and cardiovascular health; participants who forgave more naturally or readily were found to be significantly less stressed and have lower blood pressure levels, steadier heart rates and better social skills.
However, perhaps forgiveness is something you personally find difficult, especially if perfidy and deception has been a prevalent theme in interpersonal relationships throughout your life. If so, it's essential that you first and foremost understand and accept this fact; secondly, it's important to learn more about different methods of forgiveness, as this can help you learn yourself on a deeper level and train your brain how to let go.
Decisional forgiveness is a method of exhibiting tolerance in which the individual develops a more compassionate understanding of their offender. When practicing decisional forgiveness, you consciously resist an unyielding attitude and try to adopt one of leniency and empathy. In doing so, you're essentially challenging your brain to not antagonize or vilify the individual who wronged you, perhaps because you feel they didn't understand the severity of their actions at the time or you've made mistakes that were equally grave.
Emotional forgiveness involves recognizing the impact of negative thoughts and bitter feelings and making the conscious decision to let go of the past. Practicing emotional forgiveness demands a certain modicum of mindfulness and insight, as you must delve into the deeply rooted ruminations that foster vengefulness, bitterness and hostility within you.
Regardless of which type of forgiveness is the most effective in helping you let go of the past, it's important to remember that forgiveness is a process, not a singular event. Like any other emotional skill, learning how to liberate yourself from the pain and hurt that others have caused you takes time and continued practice. One particular exercise that has been proven to help people implement more forgiveness in their day-to-day lives is prayer.
The scientific reason behind why prayer is so effective in promoting healing and forgiveness is actually relatively simple: Praying for others regularly actually trains your cognitive functioning to shift its focus from yourself to others, therefore increasing feelings of compassion and understanding and assuaging feelings of resentment and anger. By utilizing prayer to shift their cognitive focus, participants found they were able to more readily empathize with and forgive their distant loved ones.
Similarly to virtues such as patience and self-control, forgiveness can be a difficult quality to master, but it's well worth the effort and sure to benefit your long-term physical, mental and spiritual health. At Bethesda Gardens in Arlington, our staff is here to support residents who may be struggling with painful emotions and help them implement the cognitive and spiritual practices necessary to improve their daily lives. If you're feeling lost in negativity or stuck in a detrimental mindset, take time to reach out to your caretakers and have a conversation with them about it. We're here to listen and help you in any way we possibly can.
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