The Benefits of Forgiveness and Letting Go of Anger

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell talks about the process of letting go of anger and forgiveness as a gift to yourself.

Mini Episode 14: The Benefits of Forgiveness


DR. HALLOWELL: Hello and welcome to Distraction, I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell. One of the really good skills you can learn in this life is the skill of forgiving others as well as yourself. Forgiveness is something that everyone recommends, but most of us have trouble doing. You feel much better when you’re not carrying around anger and resentment. In today’s mini episode, we’ll take a quick look at the power of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is Cortical

One of the most powerful tools a person can use to deepen and promote health connection, growth in life is to learn how to forgive. Most people, they’re natural inclination – my inclination, your inclination – when you’re hurt, is to seek revenge. In fact, when people say “I demand justice,” what they’re really saying is “I demand revenge.” You could write the whole history of the world in terms of “I hurt you, you hurt me, you hurt me, I hurt you,” the on-going cycle of hurt following by hurt following by hurt. It’s primitive, it’s bad for you. It’s very human, it’s deeply wired in the brain.

The desire to forgive is cortical. It comes from higher up in your brain. It comes from the part of your brain developed later, after your primitive part got laid down. It’s hard for that upper part of your brain to rule, the primitive passions tend to hold sway, but if you work at it you can override them and it’s in your best interest.

What do I mean by forgive? I don’t mean you condone what was done. You don’t get a get out of jail free card. I don’t mean you’re a doormat and say “Okay, hit me again.” Not at all. My definition of forgiveness is simply that you rid yourself of the anger and resentment that can poison you. Walking around with anger and resentment is poisonous. Seeking revenge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s a magical thinking that only ends up poisoning you. Hurting you, causing you pain and distress in all the cascade of negatives that come from living in such a state. Your immune function is depressed, your basic emotional set point is lowered, your joie de vivre disappears. The more anger and resentment you walk around with, the less healthy, the less happy, the less vibrant you’ll be.

Forgiveness is a Gift to Yourself

If you can realize that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, then you’ll be motivated to do it. To rid yourself of anger and resentment. Anger should be like a sneeze, it comes out and then it’s over. A lot of people, once they get hurt, if the hurt runs deep enough they carry, they nurse, as the phrase goes. They nurse that grudge, they feed that grudge with their precious bodily fluids. They grow it, they just can’t let go of it. It’s like they have to keep visiting it every day, month after month, year after year. Entire families can be split apart for generations because of anger and resentment that gets passed along.

It’s colossally stupid. It’s colossally unwise. It is ever so preventable if you will commit to doing it. If you’ll say “This makes no sense. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life hating my ex, or hating my brother, or hating the person who fired me because that pollutes my system. So I want to commit to ridding myself of that anger and resentment.”

Now doing it is a process, it’s not a moment. You don’t say “I forgive you” and the anger and resentment disappears. It’s more like brushing your teeth. You really have to do it every day because decay comes back overnight. Overnight you start filling up with anger and resentment again. You commit yourself to a process and you simply say “What do I want my pain to turn into?” Your first answer is “The other person’s pain.” If you reflect on it a little bit more, you say “No, I want it to turn into my growth. I want it to be personal growth.”

Process of Letting Go

You learn to let go of the anger and resentment knowing that it’s not going to hurt anyone but you. You say, “I’m done with this.” Practice the art of letting go and setting a negative emotion out to sea. Put it the palm of your hand and blow it as if you can blow it away. You can meditate and pray on it if you happen to have that as part of your life which I recommend. Meditation and prayer are very similar in any case. You have to join in a process of letting go, of renouncing the hold that anger and resentment have over you.

If you can do that, you will notice the benefits pretty quickly. You’ll notice a freed up space in your emotional life. More room for love. The more anger and resentment that is there, the less room there is for love. As you make more room for love, love carries with it enormous benefits. There’s really nothing in life that can help you feel better than the feeling of love. There’s nothing in life that can give you the sense of life is worthwhile and the vitality that comes with that than the feeling of love. The power of forgiveness is tremendously under-appreciated.

I wrote a book called Dare to Forgive if you want to read about the process of how to do it. It begins with motivation to do it and realizing that you’re much better off without those poisonous emotions of chronic anger and chronic resentment than nursing them along for year after year. And letting them in the process cripple you and shorten your life.

Embrace the power of forgiveness. It’s one of the most powerful tools you have.

Closing Statements

That’s our mini. Is there something you want us to do a mini on? Without our listeners, we don’t have a podcast so go to our website and check out all the ways you can reach out and connect with us. It’s Thanks so much for listening.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “The Benefits of Forgiveness.” Distraction is available on iTunes.


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