Many people do not realise what not forgiving is until they finally let go. Holding onto a major resentment can lead to a range of mental, emotional and physical health problems. One specific emotion that is often inhibited when holding onto a long-standing grudge, resentment, or lack of forgiveness is anger. This suppressed anger can lead to low-grade, underlying and often unintentional chronic stress in your life, which in turn can lead to significant health consequences.
Some of these health concerns may include stress ulcers, heart disease, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. In addition, author of The Forgiveness Project, Dr Michael Barry, has proposed from research that the emotions created by long-term unforgiveness suppress the cancer-fighting cells in the body. In essence his research suggests that unforgiveness may be one of the factors leading to cancer development. Lending weight to this is the discovery that over 60 per cent of cancer patients have trouble forgiving.
With these things in mind it is significant that we first classify in our lives whether or not forgiving someone in a specific condition may be affecting our physical and mental health. This can occasionally be difficult to classify as we may have held a specific grudge unknowingly for many years before it comes to surface.
I recall a time in my teenage years when I was bullied by a group of girls at a new school I had joined. Their taunts hurt my feelings and self-confidence. What I did not realise is that these feelings led to some deep-seated anger and self-doubt in general. This I carried around like a hidden sore point and was astonished to feel the exact same level of strong emotion come to surface when I happened to bump into one of these bullies many years later. Not wanting to be ruled by old emotional scars and not wanting to give my control over to someone else I made a decision to forgive those girls who were now women. The sense of lightness I felt was wonderful. But in order to forgive, first I had to understand what forgiveness truly is and what it is not.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is difficult to define and may look different for everyone. The American Psychological Association describes forgiveness generally as, ‘… a procedure or the result of a process that involves a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender.’ This process is considered intentional and voluntary and driven by a deliberate decision to forgive. The end result of forgiveness is a decrease in motivation to retaliate towards others or keep your distance from those you have held unforgiveness towards despite their actions. It requires letting go of negative emotions towards them and may involve substituting those negative emotions with feelings of compassion and wanting to do a kind act towards that person/s.
Forgiveness may involve understanding or restoration of a relationship with that person who hurt you, or it may occur independent to this. Forgiveness can be one-sided and does not necessarily involve the other person accepting fault or offering you their forgiveness if they feel wronged by you as well.
Forgiveness, however, is not:
- Condoning – failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness;
- Excusing – not holding the person or group responsible for the action;
- Pardoning – stopping the pursuit of justice for wrong actions; or
- Forgetting – removing consciousness of the offence from consciousness i.e. to forgive is more than just not thinking about the offence
There is a process to forgiveness and once a decision is made that you are going to forgive someone and not allow resentment towards them steal your joy, peace and health then you are ready to start along the pathway to forgiveness.
Holistic Medical Doctor