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When Forgiveness Isn’t Working

A picture of a stressed woman looking up at the camera

When Forgiveness Isn’t Working

The Morter Forgiveness Process is an integral part of what we do in our Morter HealthSystem Personal Care program. It’s a deep understanding of the five steps that Dr. Morter outlined many years ago. We had a patient a while back who decided she would forgive her mother using this process. She was having such bad headaches she couldn’t stand it anymore, and she had been told her resentment toward her mother was probably to blame. But just going through the process wasn’t working for her. Her headaches kept coming back even though she had gone through the steps over and over again. Now she was frustrated and had a headache! What was she doing wrong?

Anything needing these forgiveness steps has a strong emotion attached to it. The emotion is stored in memory at the subconscious level, and memory is stored in the limbic system, which is sometimes called the emotional brain. This neurological pathway operates below the level of consciousness. The more intense the emotion was at the occurrence, the easier it is to reactivate this neurological circuit. Remember, the emotional brain is located very near the amygdala and hypothalamus, and can activate the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous systems. This can cause a huge imbalance in homeostasis, which could cause a “headache” in several different ways.  Further, the event being forgiven might not only be the cause of a physical headache, but it could also be the cause of other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. The point here is that every time she thought of the experience of her headache, she re-activated the neurologic limbic network. This was also true every time she forgave her mother.    

By the original design of our nervous system, our limbic system is only activated by our five senses, and not by emotions. People try consciously to forget what they saw or heard. However, you can’t forget anything, especially any feeling you had when you experienced the strong emotion of what you are trying to forgive. The key is, once you forgive someone for anything, you must focus on the positive lesson you’ve learned from that experience, rather than continuing to forgive over and over. You must be thankful and grateful for the lesson you learned because you will never forget the experience.  

Forgiving is just the first step in replacing the negative feeling, which activated the limbic system into flight or fight. Since all lessons are positive, this positive feeling will replace the hate or hurt, and therefore stop activating the limbic cycle. Once the lesson has been learned, the forgiveness process is complete, and it doesn’t need to be repeated over and over. Now the focus should be on other positive experiences in life. And finally, be thankful for your abundant life, and you will receive more to be thankful for.