Forgiveness: At More Selfish Act than a Noble One?

The term forgiveness is familiar to virtually all people, yet it is very likely that few truly understand its real meaning. Most individuals tend to regard forgiveness as being a truly magnanimous gesture on their part: one that is undertaken on behalf of the other person. Moreover, those individuals who, as rule practice forgiveness in their lives, tend to be viewed as upstanding human beings of great moral or spiritual fiber. While some folks may merit such lofty praise, the startling truth is that at its most fundamental level, forgiveness is more a selfish act than a noble one.

Now it wouldn’t surprise me if you are somewhat shocked by the preceding statement, as it clearly runs contrary to conventional teaching on this topic. So for clarification purposes, it should be noted that the word ‘selfish’ when used in this context does not have a negative meaning. Extending forgiveness to someone is selfish in the sense that it is actually more beneficial to the person doing the forgiving, than it is to the person being forgiven. The reason for this is quite simple – a sincere act of forgiveness allows us to release negative energy (i.e., excessive levels of adrenaline, other stress hormones) that can literally become toxic to the cells within our bodies. The following passage from “Discover the Power Within You” by Eric Butterworth supports this very point:

“Actually, forgiveness is the simplest way to lighten our burdens. The man who forgives is no more saintly than one who insists upon keeping clean. In reality, the act of forgiveness constitutes a mental bath—letting go of something that can only poison us within.”

Whenever we are unwilling to forgive, what we are doing is wasting a portion of our valuable present moment energy on something that no longer exists, except within the confines of our own mind. This backward ‘time-traveling’ is not the least bit empowering, for by drawing our attention from the ‘now’ it prohibits us from actually healing these outstanding issues and moving forward in life. Within Western culture, it has only been of late that the medical establishment has begun to acknowledge that a connection does actually exist between the mind (and emotions) and a person’s physical health. In Eastern tradition this connection has been an accepted truth for centuries.

Among modern day personal/spiritual growth authors, Deepak Chopra has done an excellent job of bridging this gap between Eastern and Western medicine. This excerpt from his book “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind” is just one example of many that substantiate the impact that state of mind has on physical health:

“Although the image of the body as mindless machine continues to dominate mainstream Western medicine, there is unquestionable evidence to the contrary. Death rates from cancer and heart disease are provably higher among people in psychological distress, and lower among people who have a strong sense of purpose and well-being.”

Holding on to resentments (i.e., not forgiving) is also a form of psychological distress, for it is obviously a mental process rather than a physical one. Yet as you persist in clinging to your hurts by refusing to forgive, what you are actually doing is unconsciously storing negative energy within your body that may ultimately develop into some form of illness. While some may doubt this, remember from Chapter 3 that every thought or feeling has within it the potential to manifest in some physical form. Unfortunately, because of the time it normally takes for the symptoms of a disease to develop, the vast majority of people have no clue that their own habitual negative thinking and feeling (or emotional) patterns may be at the foundation of their illness.

Some of the most compelling work in this area can be found in the writings of Louise Hay, an inspiring woman who literally healed herself of life-threatening cancer. Ms. Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” is truly a classic book about the mind-body connection as it relates to physical health. Its basic premise is that human beings unconsciously create the ‘illnesses’ in their bodies, and that diseases originate from a state of unforgiving. As the following passage illustrates, Louise Hay makes it very clear that the key to healing is, in fact, forgiving:

“We need to choose to release the past and forgive everyone, ourselves included. We may not know how to forgive; but the very fact we say we are willing to forgive begins the healing process. It is imperative for our own healing that “we” release the past and forgive everyone.”

So, if forgiveness does have such a positive effect on both emotional and physical health, why is that most people have difficulty practicing it? One reason is that many continue to cling to old admonitions such as, “an eye for an eye’ or similar teachings. A second, and perhaps more prevalent reason is that by forgiving, one appears to condone whatever inappropriate behavior occurred. As for the former reason, if you are a person that maintains ‘an eye for an eye’ philosophy, you might want to give some serious thought to this powerful Chinese proverb: “The one who pursues revenge should dig two graves.” With respect to the latter reason, consider this insight from the best-selling author Caroline Myss:

“Forgiving does not mean saying that what happened to you doesn’t matter, or that it is all right for someone to have violated you. It simply means releasing the negative feelings you have about that event and the person or persons involved.”

When you do opt to forgive a person or persons that have harmed you, or one or more of your loved ones in some way, you are by no means condoning what they did – not at all. What you are demonstrating by practicing forgiveness is that you will not allow your psyche and/or your body to be poisoned by the negative energy associated with holding on to resentments or grudges.

(The preceding article is an adapted excerpt from Spirituality Simplified, Copyright 2002 & 2014, by Jeff Maziarek.)

About the Author

Jeff Maziarek is an inspirational speaker and author. His first book, Spirituality Simplified is an easy-to-understand and entertaining work that provides an ideal starting point for anyone with a sincere desire to pursue a path of personal and/or spiritual growth. His second book, Codi’s Journey, is a memoir about his beloved Border Collie who passed away in 2005.

Spirituality Simplified is available on in both print and eBook formats. Codi’s Journey also can be purchased on in both print and eBook formats and on in eBook format . To subscribe to Jeff’s free daily inspirational emails called “PONDER on THIS,” please visit his Pondercentral website.