A growing body of research shows that chronic negative emotions such as bitterness, cynicism, mistrust, and hostility – all expressions of not forgiving – sap your energy and undermine your mental and physical well-being.
A recent study found that subjects who were instructed to rehearse unforgiving responses to a violation experienced elevated blood pressure and increased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.
If these physiological effects are chronic and intense, they could compromise your immune system, increasing the risk of cancer or infectious diseases, or building calcifications in the coronary arteries leading to cardiovascular disease.
Refusing to Forgive may isolate you not just from the person who hurt you but from those who have done you no harm. Mistrust is like blood seeping from a wound, staining everything it touches.
Morbidly absorbed in the injury, you may push everyone away, even those who care for you and want to help you heal. Unable to open up to them, or even admit that you welcome their support, you’re likely to stand firm but alone.
Stabilizing and strengthening yourself requires more than a shot of indignation. You need to turn inward and make sense of the injury so you can go on with your life.
You need to reach out and develop more nourishing connections with those who are there for you, or who would like to be there for you.
There’s a difference between nursing your wounds and binding them, a difference between destructive rage and constructive anger. When you don’t know the difference, not forgiving becomes your reason for being.
The presumed rewards of not forgiving, which initially seemed so attractive and healthy, turn out to be maladaptive in at least three ways:
Reasons behind why Non-Forgiveness Is a Sign of Poor Character
Not Forgiving may make you feel less empty, but it poisons you physically and emotionally and cuts you off from life.
The venom that pours into your bloodstream when you refuse to forgive may make you feel less hollow, more vital, and more energized, but it may also leave you detached from life, blind to those who deserve your gratitude, cut off from tenderness, beauty, and joy.
You may seek the solace of solitary pleasures – a book, a walk – or shared moments with old friends, but rage is likely to be the only feeling that resonates inside you.
Not Forgiving may restore your pride, but it cuts you off from an opportunity for personal growth and understanding. When you refuse to forgive, you transfer all the blame to the offender and make yourself unassailable.
This proud pretense of perfection, however, is likely to mask a shaky interior. Wrapped in sanctimonious anger, never questioning how you may be wrong, you cut yourself off from an opportunity to look into yourself – to learn, change, and grow.
Not Forgiving cuts you off from any dialogue with the offender and any positive resolution of the conflict. When you exorcise the offender from your life, you deny him the opportunity to respond to your grievances and earn forgiveness.
Refusing to consider what he meant to you in the past, and could still mean to you today, you also deny yourself any possibility of reconciliation. In human relationships, there are so many unintended slights and misunderstandings. It might change the face of the violation and soften your response if both of you could only air your differences.
Learning to Forgive May Not Be Easy
Giving up the brute arrogance of not forgiving is hard work. You need to dismantle your pride, learn humility, and stop blaming others for your share of the problem. Most of us have suffered violations that seem unpardonable.
Refusing to Forgive seems to demonstrate our courage and wisdom – our strength, our self-respect, our right to justice.
The truth is, however, that refusing to forgive offers only a superficial balm for our wounds. It may give us a temporary rush of power, but it doesn’t permit a clear, measured, self-sustaining response.
It doesn’t release us from our preoccupation with the offender or provide anything more than hatred to rebuild our injured pride. It gives us a veneer of protection but doesn’t actually make us any less fragile or more fulfilled as human beings.
In the end, Not Forgiving is just that – a negative force, a way of not being engaged in life. It is a truly limited, constricted, hard-hearted response to injury that feeds on hate and humiliation and diverts us from the greatest challenge of all – to make peace with ourselves so we can feel whole and happy to be alive.