A growing body of research demonstrates that chronic negative emotions such as bitterness, cynicism, mistrust, and hostility – all expressions of not forgiving – sap your energy and undermine your mental and physical well-being. A recent study found that subjects who were instructed to rehearse unforgiving responses to a violation experienced elevated blood pressure and increased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.
If these physiological effects are chronic and intense, they could compromise your immune system, increasing the risk of cancer or infectious diseases, or building calcifications in the coronary arteries leading to cardiovascular disease.
Refusing to Forgive may isolate you not just from the person who hurt you but from those who have done you no harm. Mistrust is like blood seeping from a wound, staining everything it touches. Morbidly absorbed in the injury, you may push everyone away, even those who care for you and want to help you heal. Unable to open up to them, or even admit that you welcome their support, you’re likely to stand firm but alone.
Stabilizing and strengthening yourself requires more than a shot of indignation. You need to turn inward and make sense of the injury so you can go on with your life. You need to reach out and develop more nourishing connections with those who are there for you, or who would like to be there for you. There’s a difference between nursing your wounds and binding them, a difference between destructive rage and constructive anger. When you don’t know the difference, not forgiving becomes your reason for being.
Learning To Forgive May Not Be Easy
Giving up the brute arrogance of not forgiving is hard work. You need to dismantle your pride, learn humility, and stop blaming others for your share of the problem. Most of us have suffered violations that seem unpardonable. Refusing to Forgive seems to demonstrate our courage and wisdom – our strength, our self-respect, our right to justice.
The truth is, however, that refusing to forgive offers only a superficial balm for our wounds. It may give us a temporary rush of power, but it doesn’t permit a clear, measured, self-sustaining response. It doesn’t release us from our preoccupation with the offender or provide anything more than hatred to rebuild our injured pride. It gives us a veneer of protection but doesn’t really make us any less fragile or more fulfilled as human beings.
In the end, Not Forgiving is just that – a negative force, a way of not being engaged in life. It is a sorely limited, constricted, hard-hearted response to injury that feeds on hate and humiliation and diverts us from the greatest challenge of all – to make peace with ourselves so we can feel whole and happy to be alive.