One Special Word That Lessens Depressive Emotions

Donald Altman

When your emotions are rocky, this single word can right the ship.

  • Forbearance has been shown to reduce depression and improve relationships.
  • Forbearance is not submission but shows a willingness to move on.
  • Forbearance helps you see the bigger picture and wisely act in accordance with a greater understanding.

Have you ever been the target of unwanted, unwelcome, and unkind words? Or maybe you find yourself in a distressing situation or relationship at home or work that seems untenable at times. If this leaves you feeling stuck, depressed, or hopeless, it’s understandable.

But, believe it or not, there’s a mindfulness practice for that—and to our special word for today: forbearance.

The ancient principle of patience and forbearance, khanti paramita, is one of Buddhism’s “perfections.” Perfections as it is used here, however, doesn’t mean perfectionism or being perfect. Rather, it’s about cultivating a more enlightened and helpful means of living.

Forbearance is a cornerstone practice found in many wisdom traditions. It’s ideal just for those times when you’d be better off “letting it go” and refraining instead of reacting and escalating conflict.

recent research article explored how practicing forbearance helps to moderate difficult emotions, especially those depressive emotions that arise when you face adversity of various kinds.

The Truth About Forbearance

Forbearance might just be one of the least cultivated and misunderstood practices in our comparison-oriented, quick-serve culture.

Forbearance is about reducing harm by making an enlightened choice to take a step back and offer grace to others. It’s kind of the opposite of reacting or forcing your opinions on others.

If you believe that forbearing or “letting it go” means that you are being weak and submissive, think again. In truth, forbearance is about understanding when it is wiser to surrender, let it be, and accept. The practice of forbearance is definitely not giving up or submitting, which means you have no choice or free will!

Forbearing is a powerful act of grace and compassion offered willingly and intentionally.

This is not to say you need to always forbear. There are times you might decide to stand up and times you might forbear. For example, let’s say that your partner has a strong preference about something. Yes, you can fight to make a point or get your way. Or, you could make the enlightened decision to forbear for the benefit of the relationship.

Besides, have we not all been faced with the kind of criticism or events that prod us to react—either with anger or otherwise? A historical example of this was when the Buddha and his monks were the target of unkind rumors while staying in a particular village. They could barely get enough food from community offerings. The Buddha’s trusted aid Ananda exhorted the Buddha to leave and seek a town more to their liking. The Buddha refused the request, saying,

No, Ananda, there will be no end in that way. We had better remain here and bear the abuse patiently until it ceases and then move on to another place. There are profit and loss, slander and honor, praise and blame, pain and pleasure in this world; the Enlightened One is not controlled by these external things; they will cease as quickly as they come.

To sum up, forbearance helps you see the bigger picture and wisely act in accordance with a greater understanding of the situation. Forbearance is a kind of grace that is given to others. It’s a sign of patience and wisdom to know when your message will be heard and appreciated. You might refrain, for instance, from telling someone who just lost her or his job about the incredible promotion you received. By being in the present moment, you can learn to trust the feeling in your body to help you decide when the time is right for speaking.

3-Part Forbearance Practice

Keep in mind that forbearance does not mean ignoring your feelings. If anything, it’s a mindfulness practice that helps you notice your feelings, but without having to pay a price that ends up hurting yourself or others.

  1. Notice those times when you feel impatient with your situation or with others. Tune in to what you are feeling and give it a name, such as “I’m feeling anger”; “I’m feeling sadness”; “I’m feeling frustration”; and so on.
  2. Take a deep belly breath and exhale slowly. As you exhale, feel yourself letting go of any expectations of others or the situation. Take a second calming breath.
  3. Now, reflect on the way things really are—not the way you want them to be. Ask your wise self if this is the best time to speak or whether it’s better to refrain and give grace to another and the situation.

If you frequently experience impatience and have high expectations for yourself and others that are causing problems, then practicing forbearance will help. If you want to know more, my book Clearing Emotional Clutter explores forbearance as a means of enlightened living. Above all, be compassionate and kind with yourself as you bring forbearance into your day.

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