The Power of Forgiveness: How Letting Go of Resentment Liberates You
Alan Jordan, Art of Living Well
We all have experienced how hurtful someone else's words or actions can be. For example, if a co-worker took credit for your work, or you were bullied as a child, you may still feel angry and resentful about those incidents long afterwards if you haven't found a way to resolve and move past them. Holding onto resentment for a long time can seriously impact your health and wellbeing.
"Carrying around resentment and disappointment puts an enormous physical strain on the body," explains Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic resentment raises your blood pressure, heart rate, and impairs your immune system, increasing your risk for heart disease, depression, and other illnesses.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, helps calm your stress response and improves both mental and physical health.
Why Do We Harbor Resentment?
So why do we tend to hang onto feelings of resentment? When someone hurts us, we naturally feel a range of negative emotions like sadness, anger, even hatred. If we fail to forgive, those pessimistic feelings take over, dragging down our self-esteem and wellness. But even if you are burdened by long-held resentment, you can make the choice to become more forgiving.
What Does Forgiveness Mean?
What does it really mean to forgive? Psychologists define forgiveness as "a deliberate, conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or desire for revenge against someone who has harmed you, regardless of whether they deserve forgiveness." It's a conscious decision to let go of the hurt and pain caused by their actions, and to move on with your life in a more positive way.
Why Should We Forgive?
There are many benefits to forgiveness, both for your mental and physical health. Some of these include:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved mood and outlook on life
- Stronger relationships
- Better physical health
How To Forgive...
Choose To Forgive
First, decide if you want to forgive. While it's not mandatory, it benefits you to do so. If you decide to pursue forgiveness, here are some suggestions:
- Focus your thoughts on empathy and compassion rather than retaliation. Remind yourself that you will act fairly toward the person who hurt you, not mirror their harmful actions.
- Try to understand the painful experiences in the other person's life that may be causing them to lash out and hurt others. Looking from their perspective can help you gain insight and let go.
- Accept and process the hurt and pain you feel rather than avoiding it. Psychology Today notes that experiencing painful emotions is necessary for recognizing and appreciating happiness. The relief from pain is also pleasurable and boosts happiness.
"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." –Katherine Ponder
Some Additional Thoughts About Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a difficult process, but it's worth it. Here are some additional things to keep in mind about forgiveness:
- It takes time. Don't expect to forgive someone overnight. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years.
- It's not linear. You may take two steps forward and one step back. That's okay. Just keep moving in the right direction.
- It's a choice. You have to choose to forgive, even if it's hard.
- It's for you. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.
Holding onto resentment and anger hurts us, while forgiveness frees us from these destructive emotions, reduces stress, and brings inner peace. Although we need not forget or condone what was done, letting go of our resentment and choosing to practice forgiveness benefits our overall wellness.
“Forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim.” --T.D Jakes