Award-winning journalist and author Megan Feldman Bettencourt spoke with us about her new book, “Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World” and the role of forgiveness in family caregiving.
In a 2014 TedX talk, Ms. Bettencourt explained what it means to forgive. The dictionary definition of forgive is “to give up resentment.”
“I’m not saying we can’t be angry,” Ms. Bettencourt said. “Anger is a natural response to pain and injustice. Anger motivates action. It’s when anger hardens into bitterness and resentment that anger becomes dangerous.”
Her research found studies that showed resentment can damage the brain, whereas forgiveness can lower blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.
Ms. Bettencourt started with herself. ““When I started being compassionate with myself and I stopped blaming the world for my disappointments, it changed my life,” she said.
HWCG: Sometimes people might feel guilty and unable to forgive themselves if they cannot provide care for a family member. Maybe they live far away or they can’t physically handle the necessary personal care, but still they aren’t completely OK with involving professionals. Is it important to forgive yourself for these kinds of life choices and if so, why?
MFB: Absolutely. Feeling guilt in a situation like that is so normal, but if you can’t free yourself from it, it can negatively impact your health and wellbeing through stress, as well as erode your self-confidence. It can be helpful to take an inventory of facts: What’s your intention (usually it’s to make your loved one as comfortable as possible or something along those lines)? What are you doing that’s aligned with that intention? When you get clear about where your heart is, and know that you’re doing everything you possibly can, it’s easier to forgive yourself. The other thing you can do is have an honest conversation with the person you love to be able to help more. Tell them how you feel and what you would love to be able to do for them. Look for ways you can show that you care without using resources that you don’t have, i.e. physical strength or money. Not only will you reduce your own stress and care for your own wellbeing, you could even deepen your relationship with your loved one through honest communication.
HWCG: Can you share a little about the toll you’ve witnessed family caregiving taking on your own family and what you learned about forgiveness in these types of situations?
MFB: I have relatives who were ill for many years before they passed away, and the impact on their immediate family was obviously very challenging. I saw one wrestle not only with whether she was providing adequate care for her husband, but also with the things she felt upset about or resentful of that happened in the past. When someone is ill or dying, you really have to deal with the hurts or disappointments or miscommunications that are unresolved. And that means ultimately forgiving yourself and your loved one – which depending on the situation can be a long, involved process.
HWCG: In general, why does forgiveness make a difference in a person’s life?
MFB: Living with resentment and anger over things big and small damages your health over time. It makes you prone to anxiety and depression, heart attack and high blood pressure and impedes your brain’s ability to problem-solve. At one time or another, we will all face a great loss, betrayal or disappointment, and our choice to forgive or not will determine not only the quality of the rest of our lives, but the quality of life of the people around us (because of the impact we have on them). Even if we’re talking about a daily habit of self-criticism, or criticizing your spouse, or erupting in anger at co-workers, those daily habits make a huge impact over time. To have fulfillment, happiness, health and peace of mind, you have to be able to forgive.
To learn more about her book, go to http://meganfeldman.com.