|It bothers me even now to see him laughing and fooling around with others. I almost feel a physical pain in my abdomen when I see him. I feel angry and suffocated..."|
Supriya was talking about her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her; they broke up two years back. She has since been unable to be in a relationship or move on. She is preoccupied with what had happened in the past, and in the process she finds herself unwilling to enjoy her life. On probing further, she said that the only way she can ever be peaceful is by avenging her humiliation and " teaching him a lesson".
Our instinct for revenge has a strong evolutionary background.
When confronted by predators it was necessary for us to make the offender see or learn that attacking us was not " profitable". So we would seek revenge, often at the cost of sacrificing our own lives to serve the greater good of the herd.
Revenge, retribution, retaliation have an underlying agenda of "teaching a lesson". This instinct of revenge may have helped deter predators and offenders within or outside the tribe from committing repeated acts of aggression against our ancestors.
Research in some primates shows that in a group, the offender is likely to get severely punished in order to make its members rule- abiding. Similarly, revenge may have evolved as a teaching tool owing to its ability to teach that crime, offence or wrong- doing does not pay.
So, is it possible for Supriya to overcome this vengeful bitterness, regret and hurt? Is it possible for her to let go of this responsibility of teaching her ex a lesson at the cost of sacrificing her own life? Can she choose to forgive her ex- boyfriend? Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning an act of offence. In fact, it often involves taking a strong stand against it. Forgiveness does include letting go of the feeling of retaliation and retribution in the personal space.
Innumerable studies have been published suggesting the long- term health and relationship benefits of forgiveness. In contrast, unforgivingness can take its toll on physical, mental and relational health.
Contrary to popular belief, it has been found that people who are forgiving in interpersonal relationships are better able to uphold justice.
Evidence showed that friendly behaviour is actually quite common after an aggressive conflict between chimpanzees. Frans de Waal, an evolutionary biologist, and his team of researchers observed 350 aggressive encounters in chimpanzees and found 179 in numbers or 51 per cent of the total observed encounters were followed by friendly contact. There was more friendly contact after conflict than it was during conflict- free periods. Chimps kiss and make up in the same way as humans. It turns out that as we are hardwired to be motivated to seek revenge so are we to forgive and reconcile. In fact newer evolutionary evidence suggests that empathy, compassion and reconciliation are what gave us the edge in the evolutionary process.
In group workshops for emotional healing and personal development or individual therapeutic set- ups, we've observed that one of the most common reasons why people are bitter and unhappy in life is because they hold on to past grudges, be it against parents, friends, partners, business associates, relatives and in some cases life itself. It is sometimes very crucial to reset our mental set- up and choose to let go and forgive. The challenges people face in doing so are...
Willingness to forgive:
It is not that people are unable to forgive, but they are so driven by the motivation of " teaching a lesson" that they are unwilling to do so. If one understands that forgiveness does not mean agreement with or approval of the act of offence, people can choose to set themselves free from the hurt and bitterness.
Perception of forgiveness:
Contrary to the evolutionary evidence, people are often culturally conditioned to see forgiveness as an act of weakness. " Come what may, I am never going to forgive him/ her" is the common sentiment. In fact, people hold on to the grudge and pain as a reminder to this resolution at the cost of great personal suffering and sacrifice.
If one chooses to, forgiveness can be learnt and one can choose to release the past hurt and trauma and be open to receiving more from life.
Supriya attended one of our workshops and came for a couple of follow- up sessions where we helped her with the forgiveness process and reconciliation of the past. She is now in a happy, fulfilling relationship.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com
Saturday, 6 December 2014
Forgiveness and letting go : T2 article dated 7th Dec'2014