Dr. Maria D. Reyes
“I will never forgive you for what you’ve done.” Those words are rarely uttered lightly because most people are willing to forgive much. When someone says or does something that elicits such a visceral reaction, there is typically a good reason for it. People hurt us or cause pain in a variety of ways, and when that happens, we are confronted with the challenge of whether to forgive them or not.When the pain is still raw, the thought of extending forgiveness to the person who hurt us is often the last thing on our minds; we may not even want our thoughts to dwell on the person who hurt us, except to think of ways they can receive their comeuppance.
Everyone must arrive at the choice to forgive on their own; as it’s something only they can do, and it must come from them for it to be genuine, it’s not something that someone else can set a timetable for or do on their behalf. Forgiveness is a deeply personal thing, and a person can refuse to offer forgiveness to a person that wronged them.
Perhaps the person who wronged you doesn’t deserve your forgiveness. Perhaps they deserve everything they’ve got coming to them because of what they did. Perhaps. There are, however, compelling reasons why extending forgiveness is the best thing you can do for yourself, if not for the other person.
Why unforgiveness is a bad idea
Unforgiveness might feel good, but it sets loose a cascade of consequences that affect you and the people you love. We must understand not only what forgiveness is, but the results of unforgiveness in our lives. Forgiveness is an act of the will, a personal choice, that’s about letting your negative feelings towards the person who wronged you go.
It’s about letting go of the desire to have revenge or to see them suffer for what they did. It relinquishes any real estate that person may have in your mind; you release the hold your negative feelings and thoughts about them has on your heart and mind. For that reason and several others, forgiveness is more for and about you than it is about the other person.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean the long arm of the law should be drawn back and that no legal consequences should be experienced; forgiveness has little to do with the justice system, as those wheels can continue turning even after you’ve forgiven a perpetrator. Also, forgiveness isn’t about reconciling with someone; forgiveness doesn’t necessarily imply that how you relate to the person will go back to normal.
In a situation where someone deeply breached your trust, forgiving them doesn’t mean you reset the board and you go back to disclosing sensitive personal information to them again. You can forgive someone and not trust or believe them again. Lastly, when you forgive someone, you’re not saying that what they did was okay. There would be nothing to forgive if what they did was okay.
Having spoken about forgiveness, turning to think about unforgiveness may help us to see why it is unhelpful not only for us but for the people closest to us. Instead of punishing the person who hurt us, unforgiveness punishes us and those we love most. Here are four ways in which unforgiveness can negatively affect our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
It can impact your relationship with God.
God loves you and wants what is best for you. While we may want to avoid the topic of forgiveness or overlook the thoughts and emotions brimming inside us because we haven’t forgiven someone that hurt us, God is aware of those things and what they can do to us.As a loving Parent, we see God in Scripture addressing his children and reminding them that if they truly know who He is, that affects how they relate to one another. We see God do this with Cain when he was angry with his brother Abel, and when he spoke with Jonah about his anger toward the people of Nineveh.
Throughout the Bible we are reminded that our relationship with God isn’t just a one-on-one thing – God cares immensely about how we relate to other people. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20-21 NKJV).
If our relationship with God is so intricately connected with how we relate to others, it won’t be surprising then for us to read what Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). These are strong and shocking words that remind us just how much God values us and the relationships we have with others.
It can negatively impact your other relationships.
Unforgiveness doesn’t merely affect your relationship with God and the person you’re struggling to forgive. Unfortunately, unforgiveness is a little like radioactive material – you can try to contain it and seal it away, but it leaks easily and poisons whatever is around it when it does.
When we hold onto our anger and bitterness toward someone, that can carry over to our other relationships. A bad day at work with a terrible boss can spill over to how you talk to your spouse or kids. If a romantic partner hurts you by cheating on you, that can make you distrustful of the next person with whom you get into a relationship. They’ve done nothing wrong, but they pay the price of someone else’s infidelity by not having your whole heart.
It affects your health.
Unforgiveness is linked to higher incidences of stress, heart disease, high blood pressure, lowered immune response, anxiety, depression, and other health issues according to a Johns Hopkins study. Broken relationships affect us deeply, especially when bitterness sets in. If someone you have an issue with is in the same room as you, you’ll likely be tense, anxious, or angry the entire time, not doing your body or mind any favors. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is linked to a better overall sense of wellbeing.
It affects your soul, too.
Unforgiveness and our pain can warp us into people we don’t recognize. It might make us a little meaner, a little less open to others, and a bit more cynical or jaded. Once bitterness takes root in our lives, it can wreak untold damage to our perception of the world and others. It takes a lot of concentrated effort to restore our prior worldview.
Unforgiveness can have the unforeseen consequence of further hurting us and the people around us. Far from being a fix for our emotional scars, it deepens them and creates new wounds. The act of forgiveness is a deeply personal one, and it doesn’t always happen in a day. Sometimes you must forgive the offending person every day, or every time you see them, setting aside those negative feelings toward them.
Are you struggling with unforgiveness? You are not alone, and there is help available. Speaking with a spiritual leader or a licensed counselor, you can address the pain that has been inflicted on you and begin to move forward without being bound by the chains of unforgiveness. The freedom that forgiveness offers us is too good to pass, so take that first step toward a new life.
“Please Forgive Me”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love At All Costs”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cherry Blossoms”, Courtesy of Aditya Chinchure, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rainbow Over the Waves”, Courtesy of Lucie Dawson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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