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Ask Ellie: Trauma is terrible, but the power of forgiveness can be the ultimate healing balm

The salve of forgiveness is a healing behaviour, and it can ultimately soothe both the mind and the heart.
Advice columnist Ellie Tesher.

For many people, the act of forgiveness is not an option. This may be due to a belief that repeated wrongdoing by others has ended any trust that a relationship with those hurtful people can exist.

Consider the possible reasons for their deep mistrust: a harshly critical parent, a nasty neighbour, a previously close friend who’s told others of your deepest feelings. These are just some of the cruel slights and revelations that can cause someone to shut down any chance of further slings and arrows aimed at their very existence.

Yet, forgiveness can become the solution to such deeply emotional pain and anger. And it can also provide the soothing comfort of healthy response.

Of course, you might think that an angry/hurt person can simply walk away from people who are nasty and mean-spirited. Or they can take the steps forward that lead to a better solution. The salve of forgiveness is a healing behaviour, and it can ultimately soothe both the mind and the heart.

I’m reminded of the remarkable book written by Fern Schumer Chapman, about her long-painful distance from her brother Scott Schumer, bearing its poignant title Brothers, Sisters, Strangers.

The two had each lived in homes just walking distance apart, but for reasons never discussed together, they remained silent and distant over many years. Until finally their mother begged her daughter to break down the wall between her adult children. And that’s what the two siblings finally did.

While that’s only one example, a remarkable study of the need for being able and willing to forgive someone comes from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, with the straightforward advice to “let go of grudges and bitterness.”

I’m not minimizing the effects of trauma, which can cause someone to feel perpetual bitterness. But the Mayo Clinic’s strong and studied view on “grudges and bitterness” is that the unfortunate result can harm you far more than the person who caused your resentment and anger.

Instead, the experts’ advice is that we “embrace forgiveness and move forward.” It isn’t easy, that’s clear, but it ends the torment one can feel when locked into a feeling of perpetual anger.

Fortunately, the Mayo Clinics’ psychological and other studies on deep-rooted anger have concluded that, instead, forgiveness “involves an intentional decision” to let go of negative responses and anger.

Addiction specialist, Ken Wells, has written “traumatic relationship experiences have a way of recycling throughout a life.”

Yet, we have the ability to intentionally decide to let go of our own anger.

Mayo Clinic research scientists have discovered some of the healing benefits from forgiving someone: “less anxiety, stress and hostility, fewer symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure and improved self-esteem.”

Fortunately, there have also been wise and thoughtful considerations over the years of the human need to embrace forgiveness, rather than remain seized by deep anger and emotional pain.

Consider this quote from Alexander Pope (1688-1744), an English poet, translator and satirist: “… to err is human, to forgive, divine.”

We all can let go. And it’s clear that many of us who repeatedly anguish over past hurts, may discover that it’s worth far more than just a try, to purposefully cast aside the anger and pain we may feel from a past rejection and hurt.

For those people who have only occasionally suffered a deep hurt, put your feelings into perspective: The studies done by the scientists involved in the Mayo Clinic’s “forgiveness project,” have raised hope for all of us.

There’s neither reason nor helpful cause for repeatedly carrying the burden of negative feelings, all on your own shoulders, suffering through your own bitterness.

Instead, you can take perspective on what’s really at stake when you succumb to the most negative feelings. Choose to leave anger and bitterness in the past, for the benefit of your own well-being, and bring calming forgiveness to the fore.

I’ve personally experienced — and I’m sure many readers of this column have too — an incident involving a totally unexpected and very negative occurrence that periodicaly hurt and upset me, especially while in my teens.

But, over time, as the scientists have noted, living with the constant pain of angry feelings can pass. Bring a new perspective to today and to your future mindset, with a view of consciously embracing the health benefits of forgiveness.

Ellie Tesher is an advice columnist based in Toronto.