If you've ever been dumped by a lover, demoted by a boss, or hurt or bullied by an old classmate, did you hold onto hateful thoughts or even carry revengeful actions out on them to get even or even feel better? It wouldn't be surprising if you did either of them, since we watch so many movies and feel so good when the good guy gets even with the villain.
However, new research is shining light on who actually gets hurt the most by carrying grudges and having prolonged hateful thoughts. According to Duke University, Univ. of Tennessee, and Stanford University, "Holding onto hurts, grudges, annoyances, pet peeves or old wounds hurts the body, especially when the memories are triggered by current life events." They confirmed a physiological link between negative emotional states like revengeful thinking and actions and how it produces stress on the body. They found that stress from revenge or hateful thoughts also lowers the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness and asserts that, "People who are able to forgive can actually modify their heart rate, lower their blood pressure, decrease physical pain and even relieve their depression." Harvard Women's Health Watch also reported findings on how forgiveness instead of hate or holding on to grudges can benefit your mental and physical health.
Two people who know a lot about the healing power of forgiveness are authors Master Charles Cannon and Will Wilkinson, who wrote a revolutionary new book, Forgiving the Unforgivable, How Survivors of the Mumbai Terrorist Attack Answered Hatred With Love.
Cannon, a Vedic Monk with a nonprofit foundation based in Virginia, told me about how he chose forgiveness over hate in Mumbai when he and 24 of his associates, visiting ashrams throughout India, found themselves under siege in the Oberoi, a five star hotel in Mumbai. "We all could have died," he admitted, " and two in our group did. Another four were injured. But, still, that didn't mean we couldn't forgive the terrorists."
He explained why they chose love instead of hate. "It wasn't about denying what we felt," Master Charles explained. "It was horrible. We were afraid and terrified! Who wouldn't be? And when we learned the fate of our dear friends, we were deeply, deeply saddened. But the question remained, How would we choose to be in relation to what happened? Would we assume the role of victims who wanted our attackers to be punished? Or, could we make another choice? We did. We chose to answer with love, instead of hatred. We refused to let the terrorists control us and make us be just like them and we felt better for that choice"
News reports of other recent disasters have featured similar extraordinary gestures of forgiveness that made the victims feel better. When gunman Charles Roberts killed five young girls in an Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania, Amish community members chose to comfort Roberts' widow and even set up a charitable fund for the shooter's family. Azim Khamisa's son Tariqu was murdered in a gang-related incident but Azim chose to forgive rather than to seek revenge. He has since written four books and now offers public presentations and corporate seminars around the world on the power of forgiveness.
Is there a secret to forgiving the unforgivable? "It's all about who we choose to be in response to violence," Cannon believes. "If we retaliate with anger and vengeance then we've let another person control how we act and feel."
While most of us will never need to match the heroics of the Amish community or Cannon or Khamisa, we can learn how to forgive in our everyday lives. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy and let go of stress, anger and pain you may be holding onto. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of improved physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.