My favourite time of year is spring. After a long cold winter, it’s amazing to see the changes that happen when warm air moves in. The snow melts, trees sprout new leaves and the landscape changes.
That amazing transformation reminds me of the change I see in people when they forgive and release bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is like a spring melt that flushes out bitterness and resentment allowing for new life.
As I counsellor, I have seen many people struggle with unforgiveness. Clinging to bitterness and resentment has far-reaching and often unexpected consequences. Those emotions impact the mind and spirit, and affect people physically.
When people are bitter, they live with tension and anxiety that affects everything from muscles to chemical balance in the brain. Over time, the body is weakened. Writing in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology in 2010, researchers reported that those who held grudges had higher rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest, elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain than those who didn’t share this tendency.
When you dwell on grudges, the stress you carry damages the body and may compromise your immune system, making you less resistant to illness. Forgiving and releasing anger toward people that have hurt you is the course of action recommended by most psychologists.
It’s often very difficult to forgive because we naturally want revenge for our suffering. Forgiveness seems to go against our sense of what is right and fair. So we hold on to our anger, punishing people over and over again in our minds for the pain they’ve caused us.
Unfortunately, as long as you refuse to forgive, you are still hooked to that person and you are chained to your past, bound up in your bitterness.
Many people fail to forgive because they don’t understand what it really means. When you forgive, you don’t gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Research over the past few decades has revealed enormous personal benefits to forgiveness. According to that research, forgiveness will:
• Help to heal the pain you suffered.
• Free you from corrosive anger and bring peace of mind.
• Improve your health and happiness.
• Benefit you spiritually and emotionally.
Living a full, healthy life is the best revenge. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving. It will never happen.
Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, which gives power to the person who caused you pain, make a choice to forgive and reclaim your personal power.
Forgive and let the bitterness and resentment melt away and bring forth new life. If you need help with forgiveness, please contact FCSS to see one of our counsellors.
Wendy Rhyason is executive-director of Stettler FCSS (Family Community Support Services). Her column appears monthly in the Stettler Independent.
— Strengthening Our Community