Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Forgive, for your own sake
Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Have you been wounded by another? Has that wound festered in your belly, resulting in emotions that range from anguish to anger? Have you privately wondered why the offender has not suffered as you have, and have you even hoped that life would hand him/her some pain as well?
For sure, these are all typical and normal human responses to hurt that has been inflicted by another. The deep hurt or woundedness may result in a stance of unforgiveness and a desire for “payback.”
But, remember, “normal” is not necessarily “healthy.” That is, just because we can justify the intensity of our anger, the desire for the other person to suffer or the hard-nosed posturing of no forgiveness does not mean that those actions are serving us in a healthy way. In fact, such actions can severely affect mental and emotional health and well-being in a negative, downward-spiraling way.
People who hang on to hate, resentment or anger are bearing a grudge, which they may feel is a show of strength or victory over the offender. Remaining bitter or hard-nosed toward another may fuel a sense of “gotcha back” that seems to feel like justified punishment to the offender.
However, the truth is that none of these posturings are serving you well. In fact, the reservoir of pent-up emotional poison can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, confusion, depression, sadness and a sense of hopelessness … eventually.
These emotions can cripple you, emotionally, instead of empowering you because you have justified the refusal to remedy a situation. While you may think you are protecting yourself by holding onto the resentment and grudge, you are actually inflicting damage on your own psyche and emotional wellness.
Of course, it is OK to have feelings of resentment and anger from time to time, especially when inflicted by someone who matters to you … just not all the time! When we cling to memories of bad treatment, bad events or hurtful situations from the past and we tend to relive the pain over and over and over … simply put, we are hurting ourselves.
Therefore, if we can reach inside our hearts and begin to release the anger and resentment and anguish and hate, we are not doing it for the offender, we are doing it for ourselves! Indeed, learning to tend to and self-soothe our own emotional wounds is a gift we give ourselves. Forgiveness … one of the best ways to clean out the harboring of negative garbage is the recommended remedy!
Forgiveness – not for the offender but for the wounded – is a magical and giant eraser of all the negative, angry, begrudged “edicts” that you have written on your heart. Remember, forgiveness is NOT A FEELING; it is a determined action! While holding on to resentment is self-defeating, exercising forgiveness is self-healing. Clearly, this is a tough road to navigate at times. Some tips:
- Acknowledge that you have been wounded and that a wrong has been done. Acknowledgment always precedes healing.
- Relinquish the right to get even. Forgiveness can occur immediately, but the pain from the hurt/wrong may recur for a long time. So you must repeatedly choose to let go … every time you start to feel resentful again. Eventually, your emotions will catch up with your decision.
- Respond with goodness of your own. Human love is limited and often conditional; therefore, a constant connection with God’s unconditional and unlimited love can help you avoid the pitfalls of forgiveness. Jesus taught, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.” Sound impossible? Yes! That’s why we need that connection to God!
- God has already set the example. We are expected to forgive because we already have been forgiven. ’Nuf said.
- Focus on moving forward. What a lighter journey we will have when we are not burdened down by a bucket, a bag or a barrel full of resentment!
Letting go is hard, and it is not for the faint of heart! BUT … it frees us, it releases negative pent-up emotions AND the reward is worth it!