The Art of Letting Go and Embracing Forgiveness


Forgiving someone can be impossibly tough because it requires letting go of deep-seated emotions and pain. On my podcast, Wellness Curated, several episodes offer guidance, providing stories, strategies, and expert advice to ease the journey towards forgiveness. Why should you listen? Because forgiveness is vital for your own peace, health and healing.

“When people are angry and filled with hatred, the body becomes very acidic, which causes inflammation and that starts to damage the organs and the functionality of the physical condition,” says Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma on an episode of my podcast. So, when we talk about forgiving, it's not about saying what happened was okay or forgetting the pain. It's about choosing not to carry that heavy emotional baggage around anymore. Forgiveness is key for anyone looking to live a healthier, more joyful life – and here’s how you can get started down that road.

Why is it so hard to forgive?

Forgiving someone requires wrestling with real emotions, like the hurt from a friend's betrayal or the anger from a family conflict. Our minds naturally want to protect us, holding onto anger as a shield against more hurt. But here's the catch: that shield can become a heavy burden.

Consider SA’s story. When her best friend spread rumours about her, souring her relations with a boyfriend and his family, the betrayal stung. She replayed this over and over, feeling the anger bubble up every time she saw her friend or even heard her name. This is what psychologists call rumination. It's like being stuck in a loop of pain and anger, and breaking out of this is tough. Here’s why: rumination activates the brain's neural networks associated with negative emotion, particularly in areas like the amygdala (which processes emotional reactions), and the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in thinking and analysing). This constant activation reinforces the neural pathways, making them stronger and more automatic. So, the more we ruminate, the more likely we are to ruminate in the future.

Furthermore, rumination is linked to the body's stress response. It can increase the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which, over time, can affect overall health.

According to Nolen-Hoeksema (2000) in her work on the "Ruminative Responses Scale" in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," individuals who ruminate are more likely to develop and sustain depression and anxiety. This is because rumination focuses attention on negative emotions and prolongs their duration, making it challenging for individuals to shift their perspective and find a way out of their negative thought patterns.

Conscious effort and therapeutic interventions like cognitive-behavioural therapy can help to interrupt and alter these patterns of thinking. Here's the silver lining: when we do manage to forgive, it's like setting down a heavy load we've been carrying. Our relationships can heal, we feel lighter, and honestly, life just gets a bit brighter. Says Sheetal Vohra-Gulati, behaviour therapist at Positive Ripples Counselling Services, "Forgiveness may not always come easily or even be attainable at times, yet the rewards of pursuing forgiveness are immense. It has the power to mend fractured relationships and enhance communication, steering your focus towards the present. Additionally, the act of forgiveness is associated with significant health benefits, including better heart health, reduced blood pressure, and a bolstered immune system."

What would help:

With that in mind, here are some techniques to get you to the other side, where there's a whole lot of peace waiting for you.

Mindfulness meditation:

Mindfulness; focusing on the present moment and observing thoughts and feelings without judgement, helps break the cycle of rumination and opens the door to forgiveness by reducing emotional reactivity and promoting a sense of calm. A study by Kearney et al. (2013) in the "Journal of Traumatic Stress" showed that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety even among people with a history of trauma.

Expressive writing or journaling:

Pennebaker and Beall's (1986) landmark study found that individuals who wrote about emotional experiences had improved health outcomes and lower levels of distress.

Cognitive reframing:

This technique involves altering your perspective of the hurtful event or person. It's about changing the story you tell yourself. Instead of viewing the situation with a lens of victimhood or anger, reframing encourages you to see it in a different light, perhaps understanding the incident as a learning experience or recognising the complexities of human behaviour that led to the wrongdoing. The goal is not to excuse harmful actions but to shift your viewpoint in a way that reduces personal distress and resentment, paving the way for forgiveness.

Empathy practice:

Empathy doesn't mean justifying their behaviour but rather recognising their humanity and the factors that influenced the person who wronged you. This emotional exercise can significantly diminish feelings of anger and bitterness.

Seeking professional help:

If the hurt is too deep, therapists can provide guidance and tailor strategies to bring you around to letting go.

In the end, embracing forgiveness is an act of self-liberation. So, while it’s hard to do, remember, letting go of the grudges and pain not only frees you from the cycle of negative emotions but also opens the door to a healthier, more joyful life.

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