Senior Living: Finding forgiveness can fuel a happier life
By David W. Hart, Ph.D., Contributing writer
Nearly all of us have experienced injustices.
These real or perceived slights might include lack of parental love, being treated unfairly in the workplace, or being disappointed by friends. Victims are frequently left with feelings of anger, sadness, despair, and maybe even the desire for revenge.
Negative feelings aren’t necessarily unhealthy.
Feelings are meant to motivate us to behave in certain ways to attain specific outcomes:
- Anger may motivate us to take action and set boundaries.
- Fear limits potentially unsafe behaviors.
- Sadness may open the door to receiving help from and connection with others.
- Disgust drives us to avoid unpleasantness.
- And joy compels us to engage in pleasurable activities.
Negative emotions may have a genuinely positive purpose: to keep the organism safe, sane, and whole.
But chronic exposure to negative emotions related to interpersonal transgressions can have a deleterious effect on the mind, body, and spiritual self. Studies consistently demonstrate that the phenomenon of unforgiveness may result in holding grudges, feeling resentful, and ruminating on plans for revenge – all of which have been consistently related to poorer health.
How do we go about forgiving our own transgressions as we forgive those who transgress upon us?
Why discuss the value of forgiveness as we age? Retrospection is the final developmental task of our lives and older adults have an innate desire to review their existence and find good. Forgiveness of self and others can transform personal grudges and resentment into neutral or even positive feelings.
Also, older adults are actually better at forgiveness, when compared to their generational cohorts.
Older adults attempt to maintain emotional well-being by keeping and cultivating close relationships. Forgiveness may be a useful strategy.
What tools can be employed to promote forgiveness?
- Building empathy and compassion for your transgressors. Attempt to feel, to understand, and to relate to their experience.
- Understand that the outcome of an individual’s behavior is often not connected to their intent.
- Find the growth factor. How did the experience of pain evoke insight about yourself and life?
- Gratitude works. Find what you’re grateful for in an effort to control your anger and desire for revenge.
- Engage in life review that prioritizes the positive memories over negative ones.
- Psychotherapy can also be useful in facilitating forgiveness.
- Find a book that might inspire you. Google the topic for more options. I recommend the “Book of Forgiving” by Desmond Tutu.
If you need information on long term care planning for your loved one with memory impairment, please join us for a panel discussion at the Redondo Beach Main Library on Tuesday, May 21st from 530p-7p. To RSVP, call (310) 374-3426 ext. 256.
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In the meantime, be well.
David Hart, Ph.D., is the director of clinical services at Always Best Care Senior Services in Torrance and is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. Hart, founding chair and member of the South Bay Dementia Education Consortium, specializes in working with older adults with dementia and their families. For more information, go to alwaysbestcaresouthbay.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (310) 792-8666.