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Forgiveness: Letting Go Of Grudges And Bitterness

When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.

Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance — but if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

What is forgiveness?

Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:

• Healthier relationships
• Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
• Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse

Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

When you’re hurt by someone you love and trust, you might become angry, sad or confused. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

What are the effects of holding a grudge?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.

How do I reach a state of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. To begin, you might:

• Consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at a given time
• Reflect on the facts of the situation, how you’ve reacted, and how this combination has affected your life, health and well-being
• When you’re ready, actively choose to forgive the person who’s offended you
• Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life

As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.

What if I have to interact with the person who hurt me but I don’t want to?

If you haven’t reached a state of forgiveness, being near the person who hurts you might be tense and stressful. To handle these situations, remember that you can choose to attend or avoid specific functions and gatherings. Respect yourself and do what seems best. If you choose to attend, don’t be surprised by a certain amount of awkwardness and perhaps even more intense feelings. Do your best to keep an open heart and mind. You might find that the experience helps you to move forward with forgiveness.

What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?

Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.

What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?

The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how those wrongs have affected others. At the same time, avoid judging yourself too harshly. You’re human, and you’ll make mistakes. If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and specifically, ask for forgiveness — without making excuses. Remember, however, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.

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Improved Mental Health Tied to Quitting Smoking

In a new study from Washington University, researchers find that quitting smoking does more than improve physical health as stopping the habit also improves mental health.

Typically, health professionals who treat people with psychiatric problems often overlook their patients’ smoking habits, assuming it’s best to tackle depression, anxiety, or substance abuse problems first.

However, the new study shows that people who struggle with mood problems, or addiction can safely quit smoking and that kicking the habit is associated with improved mental health.

The study is published online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Ph.D.

“The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

In the study, Cavazos-Rehg discovered that quitting, or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes.

Specifically, quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook.”

Naturally, the serious health risks associated with smoking make it important for doctors to work with their patients to quit, regardless of other psychiatric problems.

“About half of all smokers die from emphysema, cancer, or other problems related to smoking, so we need to remember that as complicated as it can be to treat mental health issues, smoking cigarettes also causes very serious illnesses that can lead to death,” she said.

Researchers analyzed questionnaires gathered as part of the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

This survey was administered in the early 2000’s and just under 35,000 people were surveyed. As part of the study, participants answered questions about drinking, smoking, and mental health in two interviews conducted three years apart.

The researchers focused on data from 4,800 daily smokers. Those who had an addiction or other psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were less likely to have those same problems three years later if they had quit smoking.

And those who hadn’t had psychiatric problems at the initial survey were less likely to develop those problems later if they already had quit.

At the time of the first interview, about 40 percent of daily smokers suffered mood or anxiety disorders or had a history of these problems. In addition, about 50 percent of daily smokers had alcohol problems, and some 24 percent had drug problems.

Forty-two percent of those who had continued smoking during the years between the two surveys suffered mood disorders, compared with 29 percent of those who quit smoking.

Alcohol problems affected 18 percent of those who had quit smoking versus 28 percent who had continued smoking.

And drug abuse problems affected only 5 percent of those who had quit smoking compared with 16 percent of those who had continued smoking.

“We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too.”

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Study Finds Cigarettes ‘Trick’ Smokers’ Brains

New research shows that smokers are more susceptible to positive images of smoking, while more biased to negative images of smoking, including the health risks.
Researchers at the Institut Universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and Université de Montréal found that chronic smokers have altered emotional reactions when they are exposed to images — both negative and positive — associated with tobacco.“We observed a bias depending on how smoking is portrayed,” said Le-Anh Dinh-Williams, a student at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut Universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and the study’s first author.

“For example, the brains of the smokers in our study were more aroused by images that showed smoking in a positive light than by images that encouraged them to stop. They were also more affected by aversive non-smoking related images than by images of the specific negative consequences of smoking.”

In Canada and the U.S., approximately 20 percent of adults smoke cigarettes despite knowing its adverse effects, according to the researchers.

“We wanted to understand why knowing about the negative health impacts of tobacco does not prevent smokers from lighting up,” she said.

Using neuroimaging techniques, the researchers compared the emotional reactions of 30 smokers as they looked at aversive smoking-related images, such as lung cancer, compared to other aversive images — like an old man on his deathbed. They also had the smokers view positive smoking-related images, such as a smoker satisfying the urge to smoke.

The study helps explain why 70 to 95 percent of smokers who quit will, despite their best efforts, start smoking again within one year, according to the researchers.

“Many factors make it difficult for people to quit. Part of the explanation could certainly be because cigarettes ‘trick’ the brains of smokers,” said Stéphane Potvin, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and researcher at the Institut Universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Université de Montréal.

“Specifically, we discovered that the brain regions associated with motivation are more active in smokers when they see pleasurable images associated with cigarettes and less active when smokers are confronted with the negative effects of smoking.”

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