When I look at my life today, I often wonder how I got here.
I can say without a doubt that I have made
many more than my fair share of mistakes.
I have genuinely hurt people who truly loved me,
and I have also been hurt deeply by some I loved as well.
But... I can tell you that over the course of the last couple of years
(since I began understanding the power of the BRAIN)
I put forth a daily continual effort to change the way my brain
thinks, responds, and more importantly... I have a frequent
careful reckoning of those things I allow
to hold space inside my mind.
And because of it.....
I feel a sense of peace
that I never dreamed possible.
There have been times over the last several years that it has taken everything in my power to just get up and move forward....
and I know first hand the overwhelming pain of heart break.
But with my broken heart, I also gained a valuable opportunity to accept, with genuine
clarity, how it truly feels
to BE THE ONE who has also
caused great pain to another.
Knowing that pain has given me a sincere desire to understand
the brain's power of FORGIVENESS, as well as its evil siblings...
grudge and resentment.
When we hold a grudge based on our resentment toward another,
we often don't even know
that we are using valuable mental resources to keep that loop of pain, resentment and drama running in OUR own head.
Holding a GRUDGE is literally
holding cortical space in OUR minds.
You have to learn to
"let go" of the pain
in order to use those neurons to GROW
in a more positive direction.
I know this is easier said than done,
but.... your brain cannot do both!
Most of us have heard the phrase... "It's good to vent." or "You need to let it out so you don't hold it all inside." Well that is NOT what modern NEUROSCIENCE says is most beneficial as it relates to holding a GRUDGE. In fact, Dr. Brad Bushman, previously of Iowa State University, performed a great deal of psychological research into the areas of aggression and violence. He states that his studies show clear evidence that "Venting, while deeply thinking about the source of provocation keeps aggressive thoughts and angry feelings active in memory and only makes people MORE angry and aggressive."
Think of the last time you told someone a story about something that upset you- whether it be political, emotional or financial, then stop and think about how you felt afterward. By reTELLING the story, you also reactivated the anger, frustration, anxiety or sadness within your body. All of which CAN and HAVE been measured to show significant increases in sweat production, heart rates, facial tension, stomach acid, and blood pressure....just by the mere reTELLING of the incident.
I am NOT AT ALL saying that it isn't good to talk about your pain with someone you TRUST like a therapist, friend, or family member.
In fact, it is extremely beneficial to have someone
you deeply TRUST to express your feelings with.
However..... there is a huge difference between talking
to someone you TRUST with the intention of taking advice,
improving the situation, relieving stress, or to receive comfort vs.
those who just TELL ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN
about their hurt, anger, etc. so they can
feel better...by making someone else LOOK BAD.
WOW.... talk about a "gut check"
It is probably the hardest thing you can ever do..... because
1. it does make you feel better momentarily
2. it does give you a quick hit of dopamine when you feel as though the person you're telling is "ON YOUR SIDE"
3. it does give you a temporary sense of security that your pain is in trusted hands
4. it does make you feel empowered to reveal in great detail about those who have hurt you and show their TRUE COLORS
BUT....... you can't see the real damage you are DOING, is TO YOURSELF!
In the fMRI imaging above you can see how brain scans reveal different emotions activating and using different parts of the brain. (image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University) Because our mind's emotional connections are linked together with memory, these connections are some of our brain's VERY STRONGEST networks. In fact, these emotional/memory links are so strong they also form associate networks throughout OUR ENTIRE BRAIN. Therefore, each time we reTELL our story to a willing ear... we are rewiring THOSE painful connections making the pathway stronger and larger and more easily accessible for DAILY use.
A recent study by Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, one of the world's leading experts on forgiveness, says "The failure to forgive weakens one's own health." In several case studies where participants were asked to reTell a story for which they were angry and held a GRUDGE, data showed that long after the participant was asked to STOP the experiment, their body's negative responses remained strong due to an increase in their release of the stress hormone- cortisol. High levels of cortisol in people whose emotional states are frequently angry, sad, full of anxiety or frustration, also showed significantly higher levels of:
sleep related issue
Learning to let go or forgive another person is NOT the same as putting yourself back into a harmful situation. It is simply making a choice to move on with YOUR BEST life without wishing harm on another. It is finding the strength to decide for yourself that YOU will NO LONGER ALLOW another person's negative behavior to live RENT FREE in YOUR mind.
Nelson Mandela said it best, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Start today finding GRATITUDE in the face of pain. It took me many prayers and a whole lot of tears to be able to LOVE the gift without holding resentment for the GIVER... but look into the faces of your children and know that without that "giver" you would not have some of the very "gifts" you hold most dear. May you look at each situation with a fresh perspective and see that hurting people are all over the world with many different faces, and many times they often hurt others too. Each moment of hurt is an opportunity to see a drop of wisdom you could have never gained otherwise. Use it to help yourself... then you can offer help to someone else, AND... remember forgiveness is the gift you give YOURSELF.
Staci is a one-of-a-kind mix of JOY and Neuroscience who is teaching people all over the world to BUILD a BETTER BRAIN by using Gratitude to create a BRIGHTER future. She has a Master's Degree in Educational NEUROSCIENCE and 25 years of teaching experience where she developed a reputation for being able to uncover potential in others like no one else could. Let her teach you how to live a HAPPIER Life by using the neuroscience of GRATITUDE to rewire your brain and build a better future!