Friday, September 23, 2011

This is Your Brain on Forgiveness

September 23, 2011

Last week, the Coach Poppy Newsletter focused on reframing tragic events, and repurposing our stories that continually shape who we are. One of the most important aspects of any reframing is to have both the awareness and the willingness to let go of negative emotion: grief, anger, blame, resentment, shame, guilt, contempt, despair, fear.

In my Ringling College of Art and Design Psychology classes this term, we explore what is going on in our actions, our hearts and our minds. There is countless neuro-scientific data that examines how thoughts and emotions drive our human behavior. Dr. Ellen Weber offers us this: “The brain’s basal ganglia stores every reaction to severe disappointments.” I believe it’s time to clear out and restock our own ganglia shelves.

When we don’t mindfully Choose (and I mean Choose with a capital “C”) to override our sad experiences, let up on blame and resentments we may hold, and hang onto negative events, our brains become stymied and our neuro pathways remain lined with hostility. Our serotonin drops off a cliff when we blame another or hold onto a grudge. Worse, because of the wonderful plasticity of our brain to continually rewire and re-pattern itself, we can actually become really adept at embedding deep-seeded hostility, anger, and sadness into our minds.

This is where forgiveness comes in. Weber explains that our brain has an incredible “ability to embrace genuine reconciliation.” Ahhhh. Can’t you just feel the relief in that statement?

There really is no catch to this rewiring; we can have happy, happy, emotions, reveling in hope, gratitude and joy. This seems simple enough: a quick DIY rewiring. So why don’t we do it?

I have a daily mantra when I sense that my neural pathways are jammed. I ask myself a simple question: “Do I want to feel good, or do I want to be right?” Smiling, I sometimes catch myself wanting to be right, and I even go so far as to say that: “I feel good because I am right.” But it really doesn’t work that way.

The neural pathways cannot be fooled. Being right is not about forgiveness; rather, being right holds our neural pathways hostage from healthy rebuilding and growth. Weber says, “Forgiveness literally changes the brain’s wiring…builds new neuron pathways into physical, emotional and spiritual well being.”

“Forgiving brains fuel unconditional love,” Weber claims. Rather than replay experiences where we feel the bitter sting of being wronged or hurt, focus instead on how we authentically appreciate and value others. When we make forgiveness the order of the day, and offer graciousness to others, Weber says we “rewire the brain from victim modes, into habits that default to healthy relationships. Forgiveness is measured in health and well being.” Furthermore, research indicates that when we forgive, we lower our risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and stress.

An old maxim is “Giving starts at home.” I believe forgiving starts at home too. Beginning with us, for many of us are our harshest critics, leave behind any flaws and errors from the past and lay new neural tracks.

Be a “neuro-retrofitter.” We do not need a license or an engineering degree to do this kind of re-wiring; simply a willingness to let go of those crossed wires that block and no longer serve us.

Mindfully Yours,


1 comment:

  1. Love it! So true.
    I've had friends in my life who couldn't understand how I can just let things go and not be bogged down by the negative aspects of certain situations while they held on to that negativity and hostility for months and months.

    It's certainly not a state of mind that you can have takes a lot of practice. A lot of people don't realize how much work and focus goes into being consistently and genuinely optimistic and positive, but once you get the hang of it and see the rewarding results in your improved wellbeing, it's all worth the effort and it gets easier to forgive and move on to the good things with every new challenging situation or person you encounter.

    Thanks for this post Poppy!! I miss your classes I wish I could still take them!