It’s incredibly easy to hold a grudge in such trying times: almost half of marriages end in divorce, mass layoffs last year compelled workers to cling to their jobs, and a host of other problems. Even dating is harder than ever these days. When transferring baggage from one relationship to another, often times, we find ourselves in a battle for our feelings. Anything can trigger resentment—no matter how well some are at hiding it—the truth is that everyone has a distinct story to share about their own sensitive pasts. Those who mask unforgiveness instead of handling it appropriately often end up bitter. Studies also show that this is unhealthy.
Maya Angelou compared bitterness to “a cancer that eats upon the host.” Caused by unsettled feelings, it has a destructive impact on our long-term spiritual, mental, and physical health. A study in the Oxford Journal suggests that forgiveness was positively associated with self-reported health over time for older African-Americans. But for any race, when we hold on to a wounding past with a tight grip (whether caused by a loved one, ex, or friend) the strain from it on our bodies leads to high blood pressure and other causes of chronic illness. In fact, forgiveness is used as a therapy to treat chronic illness. In the book, Forgiveness Therapy: A Clinical Intervention for Chronic Disease, it says forgiveness interventions are used and found in counseling therapy literature and may have an enormous personal and public health impact.
Moreover, forgiveness ties into our mental and spiritual health. Studies show a link between spiritual well-being and better health, and spiritual well-being may be “cardio-protective.” (Journal of Behavioral Medicine) It also helps to preserve mental and emotional health. If you watch Joel Olsteen, one of the most influential televised pastors in the country, he always emphasizes to his viewers and readers the importance of monitoring what we feed our spirits and how letting go of our negative pasts will support us in our spiritual growth. In one of his daily words, he wrote about how a bitter disagreement at a traffic light escalated to two furious drivers’ senseless deaths. Olsteen said that he had no doubt that both individuals were reacting from emotional baggage that they both failed to work on.
“When they least expected it, the baggage overwhelmed and destroyed them. They could no longer bear the weight of all the pain, bitterness, and the troubles of life,” said Olsteen.
Everyone’s situation won’t be as dramatic, but heavy emotions from our pasts need to be dealt with. Because that small seed matures into something worse and potentially harder to get rid of inside of us, such as bad habits, anger, depression, hate–anything you could imagine. Some people disregard the pain as something that will go away with time. The saying “time heals all wounds” is the common phrase of choice when consoling others.” However, time isn’t the best medicine. The pain that we feel from a hurtful past has shaped our perceptions in life and has changed how we respond to the world in general. We remain stained with its residue on our hearts until we take the first step of forgiveness and let ourselves heal.
How do we heal?
Feed our minds with positive messages and healing literature
Healing doesn’t magically happen overnight; it’s a process that takes place gradually as one feeds their inner self. Like our bodies, which need food to survive, our minds and spirits need food to stay alive and well. A few authors whose literature is helpful in these areas are Iyanla Vanzant, Joyce Meyer, T.D Jakes, and Joel Olsteen. They are inspirational writers with a vast repertoire of healing books worth reading. (the Bible is the main source.)
A study on forgiveness stated that unforgiveness of self was largely associated with bitterness: “Forgiveness of self appears to be the most important to health, yet the most difficult to achieve.” A lot of people continue hurting and harboring anger for years while the person who has angered them the most is the man/woman in the mirror. No one can love or forgive anyone while they are angry at him/herself.
Stop adding salt to the wounds
As regretful as some past experiences may be, none of them were in vain. Take advantage of the lessons you’ve learned from them and avoid making the same mistakes–going back to a bitter relationship, dating the same or same type of wrong person, positioning yourself for the same type of situation. How can the healing process begin when the same wound is reopened repeatedly? Learn to grow from it and move on to a different route in life.
When we pray, we don’t have to worry about judgmental people, or negative opinions, or dealing with anything personal at all. Here is our time to release our thoughts and concerns as therapy—our creator is the greatest healer.
See a professional
A licensed professional is trained to work with these types of issues. They can guide you to find the best method of healing.
Talk to the person who has hurt you
Use your discretion before deciding to address someone about a situation that has been on your mind. Make sure that it’s with someone you trust, and that you are not transferring your hurtful feelings in order to hurt someone else.