If you find yourself unable to forgive those who have hurt you – no matter how small or major the offense – think again about what you are actually doing to yourself. Holding onto bitterness, pain, blame, anger or hostility is a form of internal stress that can undermine your health and quality of life. When we're unforgiving, we are the ones who pay the price over and over.
Forgiving lowers stress
In a study of college students, study subjects were instructed to either dwell on the injustices done to them, or imagine themselves forgiving their offenders. Those who focused on unforgiving responses showed signs of increased stress – their blood pressure surged, heart rate increased, facial muscles tensed, and their negative feelings escalated. Conversely, forgiving responses induced calmer feelings and physical responses. According to the latest medical research, forgiveness can lead to:
- reduced stress and hostility
- fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain
- lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
- improved heart function / lower blood pressure
- improved relationships
- improved sleep
Learning to forgive
Forgiveness is not excusing someone else's wrong behavior, nor does it necessarily include reconciliation with the person who wronged us. Forgiveness means no longer dwelling on the wounds that keep us tied to the past. By learning to forgive, you take responsibility for how you feel and take back the power from others to keep hurting you. The process of forgiveness begins by recognizing, accepting and working through angry and hurt feelings. Journaling, writing letters (even if they are not actually sent), or talking with a trusted friend can be helpful. Seek out information or books about "how to forgive" or seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional to help you through the process of forgiveness.