Day 3 of The Importance of Forgiveness: The Dangers of Withholding Forgiveness

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We’ve talked about what forgiveness is. We looked at the question, what if I’m still angry after we’ve forgiven. I like to keep Rockin’ Life positive but today I want to look at some dangers, specifically – the dangers of withholding forgiveness.

Sometimes we just don’t know how we can possibly forgive another person. The things we might have suffered because of them seem impossible to forgive. Those things might be horrible with no justification – maybe we’ve survived some great evil at their hand. How then can we be expected to forgive them? Forgiveness doesn’t mean we are excusing a behavior. It doesn’t mean that we are okay with that behavior. It doesn’t even mean we are saying that we are okay. It means we are giving something to the person who hurt us – we’re relieving them of the debt they cost us. We are bearing the cost of what was done to us. Remembering that holding on to our right to get even with the person who wronged us, delays healing and keeps us tied to the injuries – focused on them instead of the healing. More disturbing, is knowing that withholding forgiveness keeps us connected to the person we feel unable to forgive.

Some mental health professionals even suggest that withholding forgiveness makes us more likely to become a victim again. The pursuit of revenge or attempt to make the wrongdoer pay, even if it’s just fantasy revenge, could lead some to subconsciously replay scenarios hoping for a different outcome.

Withholding forgiveness leaves us stuck and unable to live life fully. It can lead to a life of cynicism, an inability to trust which becomes an inability to connect so isolation and loneliness. Withholding forgiveness further harms us. It may or may not harm the person responsible for our injury. I certainly harms us. Not only do we pay an emotional and mental price, but withholding forgiveness has been linked to physical consequences as well. The often invisible stress associated with withholding forgiveness can lead to sleep problems and decreased immune function. There are studies suggesting that forgiveness leads to a decrease in blood pressure. I haven’t seen a study suggesting that withholding forgiveness negatively impacts blood pressure but I don’t think it would be a stretch to at least assume that it keeps us from the positive impact of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the first step to beginning to heal, to gaining the ability to recognize how the injury impacts function, and learning to function in spite of it.

We can begin the work to repair the injury BECAUSE we’ve decided to stop trying to make the injurer responsible for our healing. They absolutely did the damage but we are taking responsibility for the healing without regard for what they do or what happens to them. We stop trying to make them pay for something they can’t pay anyway. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we bearing the cost of THEIR consequences, though. They will still have to pay the penalty to themselves, or society, or the legal system, or maybe all three. Forgiving someone does not change what happened. It frees us from pursuing payment from the one who injured us. Others may still hold them responsible for their wrong. We decide to put our focus where it belongs, on our own healing. Instead of using our internal resources to seek revenge, we pursue new resources to repair the damage.

A decision to forgive is to forgive. Looking to God and ourselves to make us whole instead of that other person is forgiveness. Facing the anger, hurt, and struggle for healing instead of focusing on that other person is forgiveness.  We bear the cost of the injury instead of trying to make them bear it. That is how we forgive.

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