Forgiveness Is A Selfish Act!

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Now that I have your attention, let's talk about forgiveness. Believe it or not, in some cases, a person's happiness solely depends on it!

An elderly lady, whose mother passed away a couple of decades ago, has hurt all her life and is still hurting because she feels her mother never loved her. We will call the elderly lady, Mrs. "A."

Mrs. "A" has hurt all her life because she could never get it out of her mind that her own mother hated her. She is absolutely sure of her mother's hatred for her. She says the mother never forgave her for being born and after being born, not disappearing from the face of the earth. Continually haunting her are memories of being constantly put down by here mother while her sister was raised on a pedestal for the sole purpose of shaming her.

It is understandable that Mrs. "A" had no choice or escape when she was totally dependent on her mother for her survival. But who is hurting Mrs. "A" NOW more than twenty plus years later after her mother's death? The only way the mother can hurt Mrs. "A" now is by "living "in her head.

The mother undoubtedly perpetrated emotional abuse on Mrs. "A." Mrs. "A" quite understandably developed hatred for her mother. However, Mrs. "A," even after mother's death, has not let go of that deep hatred which now resides only in memories and thoughts. It is as if Mrs. "A" is not in-charge here; the mother is the one who is in charge of Mrs. "A's" head!

This is in spite of the fact that Mrs. "A" is well aware of the mind-body connection and the potential effect of chronic emotional stress on her immune function and overall health. She can't help but worry about dying of cancer because she can't let go of that hatred and resentment.

"Had it not been for my (adult) children, I would have taken my own life," she sometimes says. She resents that she couldn't even die in peace. Her premature death would amount to an ultimate victory for the mother; a "satisfaction" she couldn't stand her mother to enjoy!

During my teen years of folly and misadventure, I bought Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The Brothers Karamazov for a leisurely reading. I never had the leisure (or pleasure) to read it beyond the first few pages. However, my recent research on forgiveness led me to an interesting piece of conversation in the book, pertaining to the unwillingness to forgive.

Fyodorovitch Karmazov, talking with his son, expresses his displeasure against forgiveness merely for the sake of harmony. In his protest of the idea of forgiveness, Karmazov goes on to say, "I don't want harmony…I would rather remain unavenged with my suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony."

Don't you wonder why one wouldn't swap one's suffering with forgiveness?"

Perhaps, Dostoevsky has the answer. Elsewhere Karmzov says, "Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering."

Please forgive the extremity expressed in the above statement. But, don't you think the author may be on to something? We do get attached to our own suffering, sometimes inexplicably. There is some truth in the adage that we really don't want to swap our problems for someone else's.

The positive implications of forgiveness have stimulated tremendous interest in medical and social research. By 1997, there were only 58 studies on forgiveness. Seven years later, in the year 2004, there are more than 1200 studies documented the psychological and physical impact of forgiveness.

Confucious once said, "If you devote your life to seeking revenge, first dig two graves."

So, the heading of my article, "Forgiveness is a selfish act" is not just a ruse to grab your attention, it may well be a medical fact. Dr. Dean Ornish, the world famous cardiologist says, "In a way, the most selfish thing you can do for yourself is to forgive other people."

Here is the explanation given by Ornish: "When I talk about forgiveness, I mean letting go, not excusing the other person or reconciling with them or condoning the behavior…just letting go of your own suffering."

Resentment and desire for revenge regarding betrayal or abusive treatment by a partner or hurt over the actions of parents or siblings appears to be the greatest source of pain caused by relationships.

By forgiving the person who wronged you, you can reduce the stress caused by anger, bitterness, resentment or fear.

Many studies show that negative emotions are associated with increase in blood pressure and heart disease and impairment in immune function, cognitive function and memory.

Return to Forgiveness
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Copyright 2004, Mind Publications 
Posted October 2004


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