I was reading a meditation today on forgiveness. We all want forgiveness, but find it harder sometimes to give mercy. I want to be forgiving. Jesus commands us to forgive. Many of the times Jesus talks about forgiveness it is for our benefit, more than the one we need to forgive. Unforgiveness can keep us from receiving the blessings God has for us.
Unforgiveness Affects us Physically, Spiritually and Mentally
Why? Why is it more beneficial for us to be forgiving than it is for the person we feel we need to forgive? We see the consequences of unforgiveness all around us on social media, in the news, in restaurants and other public places. Unforgiveness festers. It creates monsters in our minds and health problems for our bodies; Unforgiveness is classified in medical books as a disease. According to Dr. Steven Standiford, chief of surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, refusing to forgive makes people sick and keeps them that way. He sites that 61% of cancer patients have unforgiveness in their history.
Joyce Meijers writes: Another way that forgiveness helps me is that it releases God to do His work in me. I’m happier and feel better physically when I’m not filled with the poison of unforgiveness. Serious diseases can develop as a result of the stress and pressure that bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness put on a person. Mark 11:22-26 clearly teaches us that unforgiveness hinders our faith from working. The Father can’t forgive our sins if we don’t forgive other people. We reap what we sow. Sow mercy, and you’ll reap mercy; sow judgment, and you’ll reap judgment. So do yourself a favor—and forgive.
Definition of Unforgiveness
According to Worthington et al. (1999), unforgiveness can be defined psychologically as the emotional imbalance due to delayed response towards a transgressor. However, the expression (anger, hatred, frustration or violence) depends on the mental state of a person. Worthington and Scherer (2004) in the research study concluded that as unforgiveness is a type of stress response, it has a direct impact on the mental health and psychology of a person. The study also suggests that unforgiveness can be viewed as a state in which a person is confined in a stressful state of mind.
Health Risks of Unforgiveness
According to McCullough (1998), unforgiveness triggers those stressors which force a person to think that people have harmed them in an ethically and morally wrong way. A person with such a mental state can take potentially harmfully steps, and in extreme cases, people develop suicidal tendencies. There are some ways through which unforgiveness can damage mental health. Some of the most dangerous ones are:
- Chronic Stress Response
Thoresen et al. (2000) in the research study concluded that when a person starts thinking that other people can harm/her, it gives rise to negative emotions. Apart from causing severe diseases like cardiovascular issues and high blood pressure, chronic stress can also cause a brain hemorrhage. A person who lets out the negative feelings in the form of hated or violence is less prone to severe health issues that the person who cannot express his/her mental state. Long-term effects of chronic stress can also give rise to psychological disorders. Often persons suffering from chronic stress due to unforgiveness end up as anorexic or bulimic.
- Short-Term Intense Responses
This is another common mental health problem that a number of people go through due to unforgiveness. According to the study of Bauer (2002), short-term unforgiveness provokes a person to respond intensely which ultimately impacts the social and cognitive behavior of a person. A person suffering from delayed expressions trauma cannot interact with other people. This impacts the communication skills, thinking abilities and decision making power of a person. Chi (2001) suggests that the negative effects of unforgiveness are similar to those of interpersonal mental trauma. Human brain when suffering for a trauma goes into hyperactive state which can cause hormonal imbalance.
Unaddressed and delayed negative emotions can cause a number of long-term mental health problems and depression is one of them. Depression is the most frequently encountered mental health issue, but the depression cased by unexpressed emotions can be more dangerous than other forms. It not only impacts the mental stability of a person but also damages his/her physical health. Common health issues associated with depression that can directly impact mental health are anxiety, short-temperament and sleeplessness. Moreover, a person suffering from unforgiveness depression cannot trust other people to share his/her feelings, which further triggers negative stressors and worsen the situation.
- Paranoid Personality Disorder
According to Carroll (2009), a person suffers from paranoid personality disorder when his/her brain reacts to stressful situations in a hypertensive manner. A person cannot control his/her emotions and cannot form a firm opinion about any situation. Moreover, in later stages of the disorder, a person can also suffer from hallucinations during a stressful or harmful situation. A person suffering from this order cannot trust other people and has no or zero self-control. Although the problem is considerably neglected in clinical psychology, people suffering from mental setbacks due to unforgiveness can probably suffer from a paranoid personality disorder.