It’s said holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in your head. I’ve certainly found that to be true.
It also places an enormous physical burden on our bodies, according to Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it)
Our health bears the burden of holding a grudge as our bodies experience increased levels of stress hormones. It’s linked to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression. It contributes to sleep challenges, increased pain and elevated cholesterol levels. It truly is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will suffer.
We may avoid those who’ve hurt us, but conversations rage inside the privacy of our own minds. All of those things we wished we’d said or done at the time, circle through in our imagined conversations. We may even want to get even.
The injury may be long in the past, yet we experience it as though it just happened each time the memory is activated. The effects of revisiting past hurts don’t stay only in our thoughts, as our bodies respond with a chemical cascade reflecting our thoughts.
It’s easy to stay angry or resentful with those who’ve caused us pain but who pays the greatest price?
I appreciate the visual created by Michael Singer, in his book Untethered Soul, of unresolved hurts becoming like thorns sticking into our flesh. Anything that touches the thorn, or reminds of what’s happened in the past, reactivates the pain. So, we start to avoid anything that can touch them, essentially bubble-wrapping ourselves in protection. We close off parts of ourselves, and start to show up differently in the world, often not as our best-self.
These thorns can fester and become infected, affecting our health, happiness, and quality of life.
Remembering the wisdom of Carl Jung, who said, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size,”,often proves true. The pain may surface with greater intensity somewhere down the road, often looking quite unlike what it really is.
If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time. Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve caused, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry would only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain as it controls or limits our life.
What to do?
Forgiveness practices are helpful in removing those thorns, and lessening the impact past misdeeds have on our health and happiness.
Before you stop reading, I invite you to get clear about what forgiveness really is. Many misunderstand forgiveness, what it is, and who it’s for.
Let’s be clear to start. Forgiveness isn’t for anyone else but you. It’s an inside job, and is for the benefit of the person who forgives. Forgiveness isn’t about condoning, minimizing or saying what happened is OK, and it isn’t “forgive and forget.” We take our power back as we release the pain.
For forgiveness to take place, we never have to see or have contact with someone who has harmed us. Forgiveness is about reducing our own suffering and reducing the impact hurtful experiences have on our lives. We stop paying the price for what’s happened.
For bigger hurts, it can take time. Forgiveness is a process and is often done in layers. Sometimes, with bigger hurts, a period of grieving must precede forgiveness.
I used to get impatient with myself, thinking I had failed in my forgiveness practice when an old hurt would surface. What I’ve learned is when an old thorn gets touched, there’s another level of forgiveness that’s ready to take place. Instead of moving into self-judgment, self-compassion and patience are important.
There are many different ways to forgive, to liberate ourselves from past hurts. It’s not one-size-fits all. Even setting an intention to forgive causes a shift inside of us, a loosening of the thorn. It’s a place to start.
It’s suggested not to begin with the biggest hurts, but to start with smaller things. As we practice forgiveness, our capacity to forgive increases, and we’re better able to deal with the big stuff.
It’s worth investigating forgiveness practices to find the ones that work best for you. There are many resources available free on the internet.
Forgiveness practices can move us from feeling like a victim into being a victor, as we remove thorns remaining from another’s unskilled or malicious actions.
Forgiveness isn’t about the other; it’s an act of self-love and liberation from the past. You deserve peace, happiness, and freedom.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.