Q: If holding negative emotions inside affects our health, it would be a good idea to forgive people when they hurt us. But tell me, how do you forgive? I’ve never been able to.
A: This is a tough one! Forgiveness is so difficult for all of us, even though I suspect it’s probably the most powerful spiritual practice on the planet and, when genuine, very good for our health. Most people hang on to resentment because they believe that if they forget, they’ll be open to hurt again. It’s the psyche’s way of trying to stay safe. So let me first say that you can forgive and still not be a chump. It doesn’t mean you’re going back for more abuse. Those are two separate things.
Second, let me say that it takes a lot of resentment to translate into an actual, physical health problem, and that too depends on the constitution and genes of the resentment holder, so it’s not a good idea to try and scare yourself, health-wise, into forgiving!
Negative emotions aren’t necessarily bad for you; it’s important to acknowledge and own all our feelings. Denying feelings is potentially worse for your health. But, yes, generally speaking, it’s best to acknowledge emotion, feel it for a while, and then release it if at all possible.
Forgiveness is usually a slow, gradual process, so it’s best not to expect an instant, magical transformation! Here’s what I suggest.
Every day, state your intention to let go of your anger and resentment. Don’t push, demand, or harangue yourself about it. Just state your wish and resolve, even if you feel ambivalent about it.
You can even state it as a daily affirmation. Believe it or not, these work, hokey as they can seem. You could say something to yourself like, “More and more, I can imagine the possibility of forgiving so-and-so.”
You also want to make it clear to yourself that you are doing this for you–to make your heart freer and your life lighter.
Your mind will want to keep returning to the original offense. But it is important to remember that every time you go back to thinking about the offense, you are re-injuring yourself. So you need to redirect your attention to something else–an image, symbol, idea, or memory of something nourishing and sustaining to you. You can use words like, “I choose to focus my mind on that which nourishes me.” Keep redirecting your attention away from the injury, not because you’re in denial over it, but because it no longer serves you to dwell on it.
Ask for help with this from all your sources–friends, guides, spiritual helpers, God, ancestors, teachers–visible and invisible, alive or long gone. Some people call this prayer. But if that word isn’t in your lexicon, that’s OK, too. Just call it “asking for help.”
One day, forgiveness will tiptoe in and take up gentle occupancy in your heart. Be patient. Forgiveness happens.
Do you have any questions about healing, intuition, or guided imagery? Ask our expert, imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek, the creator of the Health Journeys tape series and founder of The Guided Imagery Resource Center. Contact her at email@example.com.