Forgiveness is a Form of Self Care

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts of love– for yourself and for the other person.

Carrying on to pain, hurt, resentment and anger causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. The body, when under constant fight, flight, and freeze stimulation suffers and you may start to see an increase in blood pressure, a worsening of memory, heart problems, poor sleep, panic attacks, depression, trauma, headaches and much more.

Have you been hurt, or wronged and is that pain living inside of your heart and mind?

Perhaps it is time to take those old packages out of storage and return them to the sender. They were never yours to begin with. Forgiveness is not for the other person but it is for you. It is an act of taking back your life. It is an act of self care. Aren’t there other things you’d like to use that storage space for?

Forgiveness is letting go of the negative feelings that are occupying real estate in your mind and body. Forgiveness is turning the page on the chapter that has been holding you captive. Forgiveness is starting your NEXT ACT.

What would you like that act to look like?

Psychologist Robert Enright teaches us 8 steps for forgiveness. They are described in detail in his book Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, Dr. Robert D. Enright PhD published in 2001 by APA LifeTools.

Let’s go over these steps together.

Forgiveness in 8 Steps:

  1. Know what forgiveness is and why forgiveness is important
  2. Develop your forgiveness-fitness
  3. Address your inner pain
  4. Cultivate radical empathy
  5. Search for meaning in your suffering
  6. When forgiveness is difficult, call upon your strengths
  7. Forgive yourself
  8. Develop a forgiving heart

Journaling Prompts

Know what forgiveness is and why forgiveness is important: Forgiveness is important in releasing the bonds that are holding you in the past, and freeing you for the future you long for. Where do I need to call upon forgiveness in my life? How is this issue holding me back from starting my next act?

Develop your forgiveness-fitness: One of the first steps in becoming forgivingly-fit is to change your language about those who have hurt you. You don’t have to say good things about them, but start to omit negative talk whether aloud or in your mind. What are some examples in your life that you can identify where you would like to adjust your language and how would you like to respond instead?

Address your inner pain: As you become more clear on your story by doing the deep work in the ACT Model, you will begin to notice changes in how you see yourself and the world. What are the most profound changes you have observed thus far?

Cultivate radical empathy: Radical empathy is when we give empathy to those who do not “deserve it.” Brain research has shown what happens to the brain when we intentionally begin to cultivate forgiveness, that there are neural circuits responsible for empathy that multiply and grow. Begin to examine the wounds of the person who harmed you and without absolving them of their indiscretion, begin to examine what events and circumstances may have occurred in order for them to become the way that was harmful for you (and likely others). What comes to mind as you think of this?

Search for meaning in your suffering: Viktor Frankl wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning” after his time in the Holocaust, where he witnessed the horrific slaughter of his family and friends. In this book, Dr. Frankl explored how mankind can choose to create meaning from suffering and purpose from pain. One of my favorite quotes is: “Smooth waters a skilled sailor does not make.” What kind of rough waters have you been through? What meaning and growth do you see?

When forgiveness is difficult, call upon your strengths: When experiencing a deep injustice or witnessing the injustice of others, we can feel powerless and unequipped to manage our emotions and the circumstances. In these times it is necessary to call upon our other strengths. What are your strengths? Have the traumas in your life prepared you to contribute to this world in a unique way? Remember, you are uniquely and miraculously you. There is no other like you.

Forgive yourself: So many of us are harder on ourselves more than on anyone else. Before we can forgive others, we must first learn to forgive ourselves. There is a truth, that I believe floods through the veins of all humanity and that is this: You are worthy of love, forgiveness and joy. Despite your actions. Self-loathing has no constructive value. You need to recognize this and cultivate self-compassion. Soften your heart towards yourself, your past, your actions, and your imperfections. How can you forgive yourself today?

Develop a forgiving heart: Creating a forgiving heart means to create a life and atmosphere of forgiveness. As you overcome suffering, forgive, heal, grow and triumph, share these skills with your loved ones. Every word can be a word of life or a word of destruction. How can you make changes in your day-to-day actions to create an atmosphere of forgiveness?

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.