Psychological research and my own research and observations of over 4,000 trainees show that forgiveness, true, heart-centered forgiveness, leads to happier and healthier people and the ability to achieve high levels of alpha. Do you think there might be a connection? There is a high emotional cost of holding a grudge and refusing to forgive. Every time you have contact with someone who has done you wrong, upset feelings arise anew.
Continuing to feel angry and holding a grudge only hurts the person holding on to the anger. The person with whom you are angry may be dead or far away, or the event you are angry maybe long ago, but if you generate and harbor anger and resentment, you are continuing to suffer. Your anger harms you physically with the release of toxic stress chemicals into your bloodstream and elevation of your blood pressure, and it harms you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually too.
Anger is a death trap for the one who is angry. On the other hand, forgiveness releases you from victim-hood.
We once had a client, an adult woman, repeatedly raped as a child by her father, a KKK clan leader. The rapes began when she was 3 years old. She had also been repeatedly raped and beaten by her father and by members of his clan, in ‘rituals’ that her father designed. The abuse was so constant and so severe that she had fractionated into multiple personalities with 12 alters, some of the males. When she was being prepared for the rapes and beatings, the male personalities would show up to ‘take’ the abuse, and the female personalities would run away and hide. This abuse started when she was 3 years old and continued until she was 15, at which time some of the male personalities got together and helped her run away from home. But her father pursued her, finding out through relatives where she had gone, and would continue to threaten her with more abuse.
When the details of this intense abuse came out, I immediately suggested that she forgive him. She leaped up out of her chair and started hollering and yelling, turning beet red as her blood pressure skyrocketed, and she was waving her fists and shouting. ‘That @X%@!&! doesn’t deserve my forgiveness!’ I waited until she calmed down and then smilingly said, ‘Well, I didn’t say you should tell him.’ She looked relieved. I added, ‘I want you to forgive him for you, not for him. In fact, don’t even tell him because he’ll take it as a sign of weakness.’ She was in the midst of a lawsuit against him, and he was completely unrepentant and was still threatening her with kidnapping and more rapes.
I told her that the forgiveness process was for her benefit, not his. I also told her that he would be quite happy if he knew how much damage he could still be doing to her if he knew how just the mention of his name could make her angry and afraid. The refusal to forgive, holding on to a past hurt, is extremely damaging to one’s psyche, emotional and physical health, and puts a lid on the ability to produce alpha waves.
According to Richard Fitzgibbons, author of Anger and the Healing Power of Forgiveness: A Psychiatrist’s View,‘ forgiveness works directly on the emotion of anger (and related constructs such as resentment, hostility, or hatred) by diminishing its intensity or level within the mind and heart.’ Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that forgiveness was linked with better self-reported mental and physical health, especially for adults over 45. Subjects who reported high forgiveness levels were more satisfied with their lives and less likely to experience symptoms of psychological distress, such as nervousness, restlessness, and sadness. A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that letting go of anger and forgiving others benefits the heart. They studied 36 men with coronary artery disease who had unresolved psychological stress related to childhood experiences, war, domestic conflicts, and work problems. Those who were trained to forgive this past sincerely hurt showed improvements in their hearts’ blood flow.
Psychiatrist Fitzgibbons cites the following benefits to the one who forgives:
Colin Tipping, the author of Radical Forgiveness, notes that repressed emotional baggage can literally show up as physical baggage-excess body fat. According to Tipping, body fat protects from generalized hurt and rejection, but most frequently, it is used to protect the individual from imagined or real sexual attacks. ‘The sexual abuse of children by their parents, grandparents, stepparents, mother’s boyfriends, siblings, babysitters, and others is rampant in our society. It is estimated that one in five adults were sexually molested in their childhood years,’ Tipping says. Forgiveness is necessary to neutralize and dissolve the energy pattern that keeps guilt, shame, and fear frozen in the body and surrounded by fat.
It’s not just the horrific experience of sexual abuse that can lead to emotionally caused obesity. A huge (tall and heavy) woman, who could have played Brunhilda in a Wagnerian opera, was in training with us, and in working the Mood Scales, she denied every single item that was flagged with sigmas. When a word, an emotion would come up flagged with a sigma, suggesting a buried emotional trauma, she would never own the item. Every time, she would dismiss the computer’s finding by saying the same thing, ‘My finger slipped.’ It is not uncommon for people to be out of touch with their suppressed feelings and emotions. People routinely engage in various evasion levels in working with the Mood Scales, and this woman would use the excuse that her finger slipped, or she made an error. For several days, every single item I asked her about would not take responsibility for that emotion. And, naturally, she was not making much progress in the chamber, increasing her alpha scores. So it went day after day. Finally, at the end of Day 5, as I was going through her Mood Scales, rapidly because for every item I mentioned, she would say her finger slipped, and then I came to one of the last items on the mood scale. It only had a one sigma, and I almost didn’t even ask her about it because it seemed likely that she would deny responsibility, but I was diligent, and I asked anyway. The phrase was ‘sick to the stomach.’
She actually stopped breathing and looked at me. Her face started to change color; then, her breathing changed to shallow, rapid breathing. Fear flooded into her face. She stammered a little and said, ‘You, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t expect me to tell you my worst fear, would you?’ I said, of course, I would, and I went on to tell her how lucky she was to have identified her worst fear, and having done this, she would find her best work in the chamber was yet to come. So she told me her greatest fear.
Her worst fear was of throwing up in public. As a child, she had done this a few times, and her mother had made a huge embarrassing spectacle of it and then continued to harp on it, seemingly forever! So whenever she felt the slightest stomach motility, anything at all, she was so afraid that she would throw up that she’d calm herself down by stuffing food in her mouth. In this way, and for this reason, she had ballooned up to become a huge, obese woman, not because she was driven to overeat, or liked food too much, or couldn’t control her eating, it was because she was avoiding this fear.
I asked her to go into the chamber the next day and forgive herself for vomiting in public as a child and forgive her mother’s reactions. I also told her to imagine all the people most important to her surrounding her in public, with her vomiting voluminously and repeatedly in front of them, and then forgiving herself for that and being OK with it. Gasping at the prospect, she reluctantly agreed to try this the next day. And she did it, and she was transformed. She lost her reason to be eating all the time, and her weight normalized.