Frank Farm cc 2.0
As human beings we are hardwired for self-preservation. When we feel physically or emotionally damaged our first instinct is respond in kind, but as rational beings we heed the call of societal strictures and abstain from acts of vengeance. Our only recourse is to internalize our resentment or release it through forgiveness. The first option seems the most common default position. Bitterness and resentment for a wrong done to us is frequently instantaneous. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is far from second nature. It’s not tied to a protective instinct, yet it’s far healthier and far more beneficial to our quality of life.
Why are we not born with a natural capacity for forgiveness? “Forgiveness has been around forever because people have been hurting each other forever,” says CE instructor of The Power of Forgiveness, Colleen Haggerty. “(However) I don’t believe we are born with hate or bitterness in our heart.”
“In my research I’ve discovered that evolutionary biologists suggest that we are both hardwired to seek revenge when we are hurt—as a survival mechanism and that we seek out harmony – again, for survival,” says Haggerty. “I believe that we live in a culture that condones and promotes revenge more than seeking harmony and so, yes, forgiveness can be learned.”
Forgiveness is not an easy path to walk when one considers our Western cultural narrative is comprised of revenge stories. Daily we are treated to an “us” versus “them” dynamic wherein both sides struggle to be the victor. It’s in our films, books, video games and sporting events. Our marketplace and legal process are designed to set one area of interest against, a ultimately above, another.
Haggerty says this dynamic is an aspect of ourselves we can learn to rewrite. “(F)orgiveness is something we do for or to our perpetrator. As such, we assume that our forgiveness indicates that we condone what the person did to us,” says Haggerty. “We believe that if we forgive, we give up any chance of restitution. Neither of those is true. In fact, forgiveness isn’t really about the other person. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. We don’t ever have to understand or like what the person did to us.”
Haggerty also points out that the negative feelings we choose to bear against another will ultimately take their toll. Forgiveness, she says, is far more empowering. “Those negative feelings take an immense amount of energy to carry indefinitely. When we let go of hatred, bitterness and feelings of revenge, the burden of resentment is lifted from our shoulders.”
“When we hold onto a negative experience, replay the experience in our mind, or perseverate over our bitter feelings toward our perpetrator, our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises, our breath becomes shallow, and we go into our Fight/Flight mode, which ignites our adrenal glands. This is not healthy. The physiological benefit to forgiveness is the absence of these taxing experiences. Emotionally, when we hold onto these negative feelings, we are not empowered; we stay stuck as a victim. This is not a healthy way to interact with the world. Forgiveness is a very empowering process.”
Haggerty didn’t come to her place as a Forgiveness mentor and practitioner academically, it followed a traumatic life experience that changed her world. At seventeen years old she was struck by a car, losing her leg in the accident. Resentment for the man behind the wheel became a full-time preoccupation. “I waited for fifteen years for him to apologize, but he never did,” says Haggerty. “Though I had dealt with my amputation physically, emotionally I was very angry with him. He was the target of my fury. After fifteen years, I called him to yell and scream at him. Instead I ended up listening to him. Hearing about what happened from is perspective made him more human to me and less of a monster. After our initial meeting, I realized that I was tired of holding on to my bitter feelings. Exhausted, actually. I couldn’t do it anymore and move on with my life. He and I met a few other times and I made the decision to forgive him.”
Students attending Colleen Haggerty’s class in The Power of Forgiveness can look forward to a mixture of personal reflection, group discussion, a little meditation and collage work. “Each person will come to the class with their own story and this isn’t a time for therapy or baring our souls,” says Haggerty. “I can’t guarantee you’ll forgive a past harm in class, but I can promise to give you the tools to walk the path of forgiveness. There is a step-by step process you can take to create more peace in your heart.”
Learn more about The Power of Forgiveness.