Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.
When I was in my 20s, I had an anger problem. Minor irritations could fill me with rage, and I would be sarcastic or yell at people. I eventually realized that the main reason for this state was that I had not forgiven my parents and other people who had abused and hurt me. My inner turmoil had several negative effects on my life. I tried to pardon them but encountered several barriers.
Barriers to Forgiveness
Several factors can hold us back from forgiving others.
Some people will deny that something painful occurred to avoid and stuff down their pain. Their anger simmers under the surface, though, and can erupt at any time.
Negative Emotions That Are All Consuming
People can become wrapped up in the harm done to them that their anger consumes their lives. They cannot enjoy life. The only satisfaction they get is from righteous indignation at the injustice done to them and plots for revenge. Self-pity and feeling like victims can also keep individuals stuck in negative emotions.
Forgiveness Is Only Given Under Certain Conditions
Some individuals will not pardon others unless the offenders meet certain criteria. Hurt people may insist that offenders acknowledge they hurt them. They will not even consider overlooking what offenders have done until they receive an apology.
People Want to Punish Offenders
Many people feel a natural desire to retaliate against perpetrators.
Some feel that holding on to their resentment reminds them to seek justice.
The Consequences of Unforgiveness
Anger And Resentment
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, chronic anger creates a fight-or-flight state of mind that stays on even when no threat exists. Some survivors of trauma such as natural disasters, physical and sexual assaults, or muggings develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Common symptoms are angry outbursts, insomnia, emotional numbness, and tension.
When individuals simmer with anger just below the surface, their resentment can explode at any time. It can hurt innocent people around them and strain their relationships. Triggers keep reminding them of their hurts. According to Theravive, unforgiveness can provoke an intense short-term response that can impair their ability to communicate, think clearly, and make decisions.
Physical Health Problems
A state of unforgiveness can increase the risk of changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune response. We are more vulnerable to increased stress levels, anxiety, depression, and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Depression And Anxiety
When negative emotions are not addressed, individuals may experience sleep disturbances and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and a short temper.
Questioning Spiritual Beliefs and Whether We Have Purpose
If people's religious beliefs tell them to forgive, individuals will feel guilty and conflicted if they do not pardon others. We may question who we are and what we believe.
Steps to Overcoming Unforgiveness
There are several steps we can take toward forgiving others.
Acknowledging and Dealing with Emotional Pain
We must face the harm that has been done and how it has affected us.
Part of the process is to stop seeing ourselves as victims and not indulging in self-pity. We cannot heal until we face the offenses and deal with the emotional and physical fallout.
Mental health and similar professionals can help us overcome the damage that has been done. Talking about offenses with them or trusted friends helps us calm down and decide what the aftermath will be. When we unburden our emotional baggage, we can find healing.
Let Go of Anger And Resentment
We get some satisfaction from holding on to our anger. In our minds, we are punishing the perpetrators and shielding ourselves from future harm. However, In the end, we are only hurting ourselves. Our resentments will take over our thought life and make us miserable. Chances are the people around us will be miserable, too.
Letting go will release the rage stewing inside of us. We can free our thought life and stop focusing on how a person did us wrong. If anger is stewing inside, it can control us, as it did to me. It is easily triggered and flares up when we least expect it. The rage can damage our relationships and taint new experiences. However, when we stop being angry, we can regain self-control and navigate life more successfully.
Not Letting the Offense Control Our Lives
We can become so wrapped up in the wrongdoing that we cannot enjoy life. Our thought life is captive to our resentment and visions of revenge. We may isolate ourselves from others and question other people’s motives. Distrust may harm our relationships. On the other hand, forgiveness gives us mental stability and the ability to socialize with others.
Let Go of Expectations
Some offenders will seem genuinely remorseful and apologetic, but many are not. We may hold back from forgiveness because we have certain expectations of perpetrators. We may want them to acknowledge their offense, show remorse, and apologize sincerely. Offenders may never do any of these things and refuse to discuss issues. At some point, we must release our hopes that perpetrators will admit their faults and apologize.
Hold Offenders Accountable for Their Actions, If Needed
Forgiveness does not mean we are releasing offenders from the consequences of their actions. We face several choices when people hurt us. We can decide to overlook the harm and forgive unconditionally. Confrontation is another option if the offending parties are willing to listen.
We can determine consequences such as limiting or cutting off contact with the perpetrators. We may need to set clear boundaries for the future, especially with repeat offenders. When serious crimes such as sexual assault or theft are involved, criminal charges may need to be filed to keep us safe.
Recognize That Forgiveness Is A Process
Forgiveness is not just a one-time thing. It is an ongoing process that needs to be revisited again and again. We are told to “forgive and forget,” but in some cases, remembering offenses reminds us that a person is untrustworthy or unsafe. Forgiveness enables us to open our minds to the possibility that the offenders may become trustworthy in the future.
Should we restore relationships with people in our lives who have hurt us? It depends on the situation. Some people are toxic and should be avoided. Relationships are possible with others if they honor the boundaries we put in place to protect us.
In other cases, people may be remorseful and are willing to do whatever it takes to resume a connection with us. We can cautiously consider if a healthy relationship is possible and take steps to restore the connection.
Clearly, unforgiveness has negative consequences that affect our mental and physical well-being. For me, choosing to forgive improved my psychological and physical health as well as improving my relationships. My past no longer had the ability to upset me.
Forgiveness puts us on the path to healing from our past hurts and losses. It enables us to regain self-control and take back our thought life. Pardoning others is a necessary step to emotional healing and the restoration of relationships.
Psychology of Forgiveness: 10+ Fascinating Research Findings, Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D.
Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness, Mayo Clinic
Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It, John Hopkins Medicine
The Negative Effects of Unforgiveness on Mental Health, Theravive, Christie Hunter
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Carola Finch
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 09, 2020:
Thanks for your very helpful, meaningful presentation. Especially insightful to realize that forgiveness is a process.
Mario Delgadillo on September 09, 2020:
There is definitly a intriguing pull that binds what intake something is. The value of it all is most definitely special.
Louise Elcross from Preston on September 08, 2020:
Carola, a big thank you for writing this. I have come across it when I needed it the most.