Our relationships with others can bring joy and comfort to our lives. But those same relationships can sometimes cause hurtful feelings—a friend ignoring a text, a child disrespecting a parent, a spouse leaving a marriage.
Forgiving someone who’s hurt you can be difficult. But letting go of a grudge can make a big impact on your health. A 2003 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that the ability to forgive is associated with decreased blood pressure levels. In contrast, feeling resentful of others can lead to sustained anger and stress-related symptoms. When we have trouble coping with these emotional triggers, it can increase the risk for heart attack symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.
At AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, we focus on whole-person health through the faith-based CREATION Health principles. The “I” in CREATION refers to “Interpersonal Relationships,” meaning the connections we have with family, friends and others. When we choose to forgive, we help build the relationships that are so vital to our overall physical and mental health.
“One of the greatest acts of love is forgiveness,” says Mark Stoddart, administrative director of Spiritual Wellness at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. “1 Cor. 13 says that love does not keep a record of wrongs. We each have the power to affect the relationships around us.”
It can be hard to let go of hurt feelings, especially if you feel you’ve been unfairly treated. Some people may feel like isolating themselves from others rather than working through their feelings. If you’re struggling with forgiving someone, try the following suggestions:
Put yourself in their shoes. Try thinking about the situation from the other person’s point of view. Through empathy, we can start to understand that person’s thought process and why they behaved the way they did. “The Bible says we can be ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind,’” says Stoddart. “By changing our focus, we can change how we perceive our conflicts and work toward a peaceful solution.”
Don’t anticipate others’ reactions. When you talk to someone who hurt you, they may or may not apologize. Remember that the point of forgiveness isn’t to change that person—it’s to put your mind at peace and help you find spiritual and emotional healing. “Forgiveness does not have to be accepted in order to be effective,” says Stoddart. “It has benefits for the person who’s forgiving, regardless of the other person’s reaction.”
Forgive yourself. “One of the most challenging acts of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves,” states Stoddart. “Years go by and we still have not released ourselves from the guilt associated with our history.” If you feel sorry for something you said or did, let the other person know. But try not to judge yourself too harshly, and don’t blame yourself when someone hurts you.
Remember forgiveness takes time. Those hurt feelings may return occasionally, even after you choose to forgive. If you’re having trouble letting go of past hurts, you may try keeping a journal to write about your feelings or talking with a friend, therapist or someone else you trust.
While it can be challenging to forgive, it can change your life for the better. “By forgiving, we empower ourselves to be free from the power of hate, hostility and fear,” adds Stoddart. “It gives us the power to regain control of our lives.”
For more information about AdventHealth’s services, visit AdventHealthKC.com.