Emotional pain lasts much longer than the initial event

A large portion of the human brain has been developed to store memories. We have the ability to recall positive and negative events. Most people find that they can remember negative events better. In fact, there is lots of evidence that it was important to our very survival that we remembered negative events.  The quicker a species learns from negative events, the more likely that they will survive to produce offspring. It was, and still is today, important that we learn quickly from dangerous situations. If our ancestors had not learned about the dangers, they would have been easy dinners for predatory animals.

Our minds recall negative memories with great skill. Most of the time this is probably a good thing, but sometimes we spend so much time remembering the negative, we forget to have a life. We live with one foot stuck in the past.

Emotional pain influences your health

Research has shown that the process of thought influences the body at the system and cellular level. It is well documented that your thoughts influence your immune system, which in turn influences the way your body fights off disease.

Researchers at Ohio State University studied caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. The female volunteers agreed to have a large hole punched into the skin of their forearms. Another group of similarly aged woman, who did not take care of relatives with Alzheimer’s, had the same procedure done. It is fair to say that taking care of a relative with Alzheimer’s is abnormally stressful. The caregivers (abnormal stress) healed in 49 days, whereas the control group (normal stress) healed in 39 days. It took ten more days for the women who were taking care of their ill family member to heal.

In another study researchers talked dental students into having a gash put into the roof of their mouths, twice. The first cut was placed days before the dental students took their final exams, the hardest and probably most stressful exams of their lives. The second cuts were placed weeks later, after school was out. The researchers found that it took 40% longer, on average, for the pretest cuts to heal.

Another study found that when researchers deliberately squirted a cold virus into the nasal passages of volunteers, the volunteers who reported high stress levels developed the most colds. The volunteers with the lowest life stress stayed cold free. The researchers noted that test subjects that had an “avoidant-coping” style of dealing with stress stayed healthy. Positive self-talk is an avoidant-coping skill, which distracts one from the negatives in life and helps one to focus on the positives in life.

On a side note, how do researchers talk people into allowing them to cut them or stick cold viruses up their nose? I’m glad that people volunteer for scientific studies, but pity the scientist who has to ask, “Can I stick a cold up your nose, please!”

Fortunately, the immune system is less intrusive to test. Researchers at the University of New York at Stony Brook found it took only a few minutes for illness-fighting cells to decrease when college students were placed in a stressful situation. Other researchers have found that illness fighting cells are lower in people who are taking care of ill relatives, people who worry about living next to nuclear power plants, and medical students during exam week.

It seems reasonable to assume that if you are lingering in emotional turmoil you are not supporting your own overall good health. I bring this up specifically because, if you are unable to forgive, you are allowing yourself to continue the abuse ... daily. That is an awful lot of power you are giving to the aggressor from your past. Power that you are taking from yourself. Life energy that you are wasting.

Forgiveness is about you

Forgiveness is all about you. It is about you taking control of your present and future life. When Ali decided that she was not going to allow her life to be controlled by her pain and misery, she regained her life. When Ali took her pain and made it into a positive action, she started the road to self recovery.

When she was being consumed by hate she said:

My life was stolen from me. I wish I could find the bastards who raped me and tell them what they did was wrong ... show them that they ruined my life. That they deserve to burn in hell. I hope they will.

When she forgave:

Once I realized that forgiveness was for me, that I deserved not to feel the hate any longer, I started to look at ways I could take control of my life. I decided that I needed to feel safer. I made a rule for myself that I would never drink to where I was out of control. Now I will have a beer or two, but I am always aware of my surroundings. I took a self defense class at the YMCA and thought a lot about how to be aware of my surroundings. One interesting thing about the self defense class I took was learning all the ways I can protect myself way before having to fight off an attacker.

I also had a heart to heart talk with my sister. She is three years younger than me and I wanted to make sure that she didn’t get into the same trouble I got into. We took the class at the Y together.

Forgiveness needs to go from a thought to a behavior. You never say what the aggressor did was OK with you, you just know, deep within yourself, that you will not let them continue to control you through your own fears. The types of forgiveness behaviors are very personal. Some find that the behavior must be grand; while others find that subtle behaviors work best for them. It will depend on your personality. Forgiveness behavior is never revenge.

Forgiveness behaviors that have worked for others

The following is a list of forgiveness behaviors that others have found to work for them. It is in no particular order. Forgiveness needs to become a behavior, but that behavior is very personal.

Smaller issues such as when someone wrongs you:

  • Avoid the offending person. Know that they don’t warrant your attention.
  • Learn to recognize this type of person so that they can be avoided sooner.
  • Forgive and then forget, move on.
  • Write a letter—mail it or not.
  • Talk to the person who wronged you, calmly explaining that you do not allow people to treat you that way.

Bigger issues such as when someone violates you:

  • Call the police and make a formal report.
  • Attend a victims’ group.
  • Write an article that will help others.
  • Talk to a loved one, sharing what you have learned.
  • Help others who are less fortunate than yourself.
  • Take a self-defense class.
  • Write a letter—mail it or not.
  • Talk to the person you are focusing on and tell them that you forgive them (with or without them understanding what this means).

Write down what you can do for you?

Your goal

Your goal is to obtain emotion closure. This is shrink speak for bringing an end to your emotional involvement. When you are emotionally done with the individuals who hurt you, the hurt stops. You no longer have an emotional need to focus backward, freeing you to focus on you and your future. Emotional closure is emotional freedom.