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May 21, 2015

Health Effects of Resentment and Forgiveness

health effects of resentmentAre You Risking the Health Effects of Resentment

Have you ever held a grudge against someone who you felt wronged you? Most of us have at one time or another. Next time you’re tempted to get even with someone or go off on them you might want to take a step back and consider you are harming your health in addition to the relationship (though not all relationships are worth salvaging) by seeking revenge.

Also, by seeking revenge you are only lowering yourself to their level and risk putting your integrity and reputation on the line. But, we don’t think that logically in the heat of the moment do we? If you want to be better than the circumstances stay above the circumstances (fray).

We have all hurt someone else and been hurt by someone else unintentionally. Most of the time we are big enough to overlook those unintentional small hurts. Those hurts are easy to forgive. The hurts that are hardest to overcome are the ones that strike at the very core of your being such as your character, integrity, or reputation and are done intentionally.

Those hurts many times come without explanation and out of no where. You didn’t see it coming. Such major hurts do not have to be intentional, though. And, that’s the weird thing. You may be furious over something that someone did to you and they may be oblivious to the fact they hurt you. And, that makes you even more furious, doesn’t it?

So you are left not only hurt but also confused. Why is this happening to me? Why did he/she do this? What did I do to “deserve” this? We are hit with many questions and so few answers. Forgiving the offenders in those cases is a real challenge. It’s awfully hard to forgive when you do not understand the mindset of the offending person.

Certainly there is nothing wrong in expressing your dismay with them directly or indirectly, and that in of itself is not revenge and can help dissipate your anger. And, seeking an explanation is always wise to improve your understanding but may not always be in the offering.

Resentment creates both acute and chronic stress and needs to dissipated one way or the other. If you cannot reconcile with the other person and relieve the stress then resentment manifests by taking its toll well beyond our emotions. It takes a toll physically, too.

Here is what resentment or anger does to our health.

Health Effects of Resentment

Anger or resentment triggers our flight or fight response and raises our adrenaline and cortisol levels which if prolonged adversely affects our health. Chronic stress can shorten our longevity (if it goes on long enough) even more so than smoking and begin obese. Chronic stress:

  • weakens our immune system.
  • adversely affects sleep (sleep is when we repair and rejuvenate our bodies).
  • causes blood pressure elevations increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • triggers an inflammatory response increasing risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, skin conditions, and more.
  • lowers energy levels.
  • leads to depression.
  • leads to digestive or eating problems.

Plus, resentment consumes much of our time making us less productive as we re-live the hurt and play it over and over again in our brains without an ability to change the outcome. The outcome never changes, does it? So why stew over it beyond looking at any role you may have had in the “betrayal”?

In the end, resentment or anger does not change what has happened and will not improve the relationship if it is worthy of repair. It only dampens the future as long as you hold onto it. Plus, when you think about it, you have given some control of your life to the person who hurt you if you cannot let go of the hurt.

Health Effects of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a healthy way to defuse resentment. Forgiveness is giving up the right to seek revenge. We really forgive for own benefit and for our own peace of mind. No one deserves forgiveness. It is given through grace and it is the right thing to do.

Forgiveness is not letting the other person off the hook. You can forgive without minimizing the hurtful action and without absolving the offender of any responsibility for their actions. Forgiveness does not necessarily imply that you want to maintain or restore the relationship, either. You are simply forfeiting your right to seek revenge while “letting go” of the situation. It takes a big (mature) and understanding person to forgive.

People who struggle to forgive many times carry on their own hurt and may feel that they have not been forgiven for their past actions. They find themselves in a vicious cycle. They feel they have not been forgiven so they are unable to forgive and it creates tension in all of their relationships. Keep that in mind if you hurt such a person – they may find it hard to forgive you.

The best you can do in those cases is apologize to them, forgive yourself for your wrongdoing, and ask God for forgiveness. Let them have the “satisfaction” of having not forgiven you if it makes them feel better (knowing that they really are not any better off).

When we forgive we:

  • gain greater spiritual and psychological well-being including improved self-esteem.
  • experience less stress and anxiety
  • experience fewer symptoms of depression.
  • gradually develop a more optimistic outlook.
  • strengthen our immune system.
  • more easily move on with our lives.

To make it easier to forgive it helps to:

  • try to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective.
  • try to understand why the other person acted like they did, and ask yourself if would you have done the same if roles reversed.
  • think of times when you have been forgiven and how grateful you were that you were forgiven. Then extend that forgiveness to the person who hurt you.
  • discuss the matter with others you trust.
  • remember that through the grace of God we are all forgiven for our trespasses and we will need to be forgiven again in the future by others.

Strive to be the better person at all times! Nothing speaks to that than having the ability to forgive others. None of us are perfect. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Be the best you. Learn to forgive.

But, if forgiveness is hard to muster, and if revenge you must seek, remember the best revenge is simply living the better and bigger life than the person who hurt you. And, you can do that even while forgiving them. In fact, knowing that you can live the bigger and better life makes it easier to forgive them.



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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