“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” ~ Nelson Mandela
What does forgiveness have to do with well-being?
In my opinion, one heck of a lot.
Dr. Carsten Wrosch is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University in Montreal. He is also the director of the Personality, Aging and Health Lab. He and his team study how we process life’s problematic situations and how they affect our psychological, biological, and physical health.
We can all likely admit that life’s difficult situations invariably include some form of hurt or harm, and tend to breed a certain amount of resentment and bitterness. If left unchecked and allowed to fester, it can cause a major damaging effect through our entire body.
Chronic stress is detrimental to our health. The damaging effects of long held resentment and bitterness is not much different; it also affects our immune system, according to Dr. Wrosch, leaving us susceptible to disease and illness.
One of the best antidotes to resentment and bitterness that I have come across in both my personal and professional life is forgiveness.
The challenge with forgiveness, though, is that we want to hang onto our story and remain in a victim mentality. It becomes a part of our identity—if we forgive, then who are we after?
We are free, that is who we are—free of the chains keeping us entangled with feelings of anger, sadness, and guilt. I grew up around heavy drinkers and the impact on our family life was tremendous. A lot of fights, yelling, and emotionally unavailability.
I was programmed to deal with loss through drinking, believing I could drink my sorrows away. It does not work. It only led to more heartache and self-induced sorrow.
When my mother died, I did not have the tools to deal with the intense feelings or grief. I made extremely poor choices and hurt those I dearly loved. I literally and figuratively blew up my life, my marriage of 16 years, and my family.
Forgiveness was my only way out of the pain I was feeling, and had caused. It started with my parents, then my former husband, and then myself. The most difficult person of all to forgive was myself.
Forgiveness is a process and it takes a willingness to take responsibility for how we react to loss and hurt. It also takes a willingness to seek and find compassion first for ourselves, then for those who hurt us. It worked for me and it can work for you as well.
Healing is the gift that forgiveness brings. A healthy mind is the byproduct, and a healthy body becomes the bonus prize.
Here are some of my favorite quotes on forgiveness:
“Forgiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with how wrong someone else was; no matter how evil, cruel, narcissistic, or unrepentant they are. When you forgive a person, you break the ties with their ill deeds that keep you in anguish.” ~ Bryant McGill
“When we don’t forgive, we’re not hurting the other person. We’re not hurting the company that did us wrong…we’re only hurting ourselves.” ~ Joel Osteen
“Nothing is more generous and loving than the willingness to embrace grief in order to forgive.” ~ Brené Brown
“Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it forgives revenge and dares to forgive an injury.” ~ Edwin Hubbell Chapin
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different. It’s accepting the past for what is was and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one who inflicted it. And yet there is no peace without forgiveness.” Marianne Williamson
“Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.” Pope John Paul ll
The wisdom in these quotes is not for the faint of heart. It does take a tremendous amount of courage to embark on the serious business of forgiveness, but it is apparent that we as people need it now more than ever.
Unresolved grief can carry a tremendous amount of resentment and bitterness, and can negatively add to the stress and weight that we are feeling right now with all that is going on around us.
However, there is something we can do, and that is to work on our own grief, forgive, and let go of that which does not serve us.
Our well-being depends on it.