I have been mad at my husband since the summer of 2007. Please look at that sentence, think about it briefly, and if you are so inclined say a little prayer on behalf of my husband. He made a horrifically bad financial choice, one I begged him not to do, and the end result was a disaster. And because he didn’t acknowledge my opinion, he deeply hurt my feelings.
Forgiving him seems like I am letting him off the hook. But I am tired of carrying around this anger and am wondering what exactly does it take to move past this gigantic hurt?
Study after study has found that forgiving is good for the body as well as the soul. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce levels of depression, anxiety and anger. People who forgive generally have more and better relationships with others, feel happier and more hopeful.
The trouble is I don’t actually know how to forgive my husband. There’s no manual for forgiveness, no instruction booklet for moving past betrayals, and hurts.
Recently I interviewed Dr. Louis Kosher, author of, A New Language For Life, on my Sunday night blog talk radio show, and I asked his professional advice.
“No matter what the offense, the process of forgiveness is the same: You let go of anger and hurt by being mindful and focusing on gratitude and kindness.”
That’s it? A little mindful meditation and all is forgiven?
“Forgiveness concepts are simple,” he says. “It’s the execution that’s hard.”
But how? Researchers are now using functional magnetic resonance imaging to see if the answer lies within the brain. A team at the University of Pisa in Italy asked people to imagine forgiving someone and then observed changes in cerebral blood flow, which signaled the parts of the brain that became more active. They found that several regions “lit up,” especially areas that regulate emotional responses, moral judgments, perceptions of physical pain, and decision-making. By creating this kind of neural map, researchers hope to learn more about how forgiveness works on both a physical and a psychological level.
Kathleen Lawler-Row, PhD, a psychology professor at East Carolina University, is one of several researchers exploring the relationship between forgiveness and health—physical, emotional, and spiritual. She thinks the effects of forgiveness go beyond lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. According to her, once you forgive someone for something very painful, you never experience life the same way again. She states, “You’re more flexible, less black-and-white in your expectations of how life or other people will be. If there’s one thing that characterizes people who have experienced forgiveness, it’s that kind of larger perspective: I can’t predict what life will hand me, but I’m going to respond to it in this way.”
Lawler-Row believes that forgiveness is at heart, a choice, and one that any of us can make at any time, no matter the “content” we’re wrestling with. How do we do it? Maybe the choice depends in part on how we define the idea. Forgiveness doesn’t mean rationalizing or condoning abuse. And forgiveness doesn’t mean a sudden case of amnesia.
Forgiveness, I begin to see, is not about pretending you don’t feel angry or hurt. It’s about responding out of kindness rather than rage. It’s about letting you feel the full spectrum of emotions—grief and anger and hurt, but also kindness and compassion. Even toward someone who’s hurt you deeply.
Perhaps this holiday season I have finally found the perfect gift to give my husband – my forgiveness. As is usually the case when I give my husband something really wonderful, the gift is really for me.