Betrayal, disappointment, aggression, insensitivity — there are many ways people can hurt us, and forgiving those who hurt us can be very difficult at times. However, practicing forgiveness can have powerful benefits for your health. Whether you had a simple argument with a loved one or you’re holding on to resentment toward an old friend even years later, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that unresolved conflict can go deeper than you realize. Beyond the initial hurt or feelings of mistrust, you may be left feeling insecure in your relationship or in your own actions.
Studies have shown that the hurt and disappointment from unresolved conflicts can affect both your physical and mental health in a number of negative ways — from increased risk of heart attack and higher blood pressure to anxiety and depression.
The negative impacts of holding on to resentment and anger are both physical and mental, and can be long-lasting. And if you’re a person who holds many grudges and finds it difficult to move past even the smallest indiscretion or mistake, you could find yourself angry all the time. In fact, feeling chronically angry — which is very different from the fleeting and short-term feelings of anger that spur action or resolution — puts you into an intense fight-or-flight mode, resulting in numerous physical changes such as:
- increased heart rate;
- higher blood pressure;
- immune response;
- and increased risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
On the other hand, letting go of that heavy burden can improve your health as well as your happiness. Contrary to what some believe, letting go does not mean pushing your feelings and emotions aside and being forced to “get over it.” Letting go can mean many different things, and the process through which you choose to let go of the negative emotions can be multi-faceted. To clarify, forgiveness means the release of resentment or anger, not the
acceptance of another’s continued harmful behaviors. You don’t need to let someone “off the hook” or return to the same relationship in order to move forward. You may find that if the person who hurt you can hear you out and allow you to share your feelings, it could lead to a heartfelt apology and, in time, forgiveness.
Keep in mind that with forgiveness often comes lowered blood pressure, improved mental health and a more positive outlook. When you learn to forgive, you free yourself of the deep resentments that can lead to so much negativity, and you allow yourself to heal and find peace. Letting go, or releasing your resentment, can look different for everyone. Depending on the situation and the individuals involved, you may choose to:
- Acknowledge exactly how you feel about the situation and communicate your feelings to someone you trust.
- Reflect on why the person may have committed the offense. Remember that forgiveness is for you, and not anyone else.
- Sit with your feelings and allow yourself the range of emotions you may feel for however long you need to feel them.
- Re-frame your thinking of the situation to see yourself in a more empowered way, whether that’s because you chose to leave a difficult relationship or have the strength to see a situation more clearly and remove yourself from that situation.
- Identify what you need to move forward and commit to doing what you have to do to feel better.
- Put your energy into finding things that bring you happiness, and allow that happiness in while also releasing the resentment and anger.
- Choose to find joy in the positive things and people in your life.