Mark Twain once said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel than to anything on which it is poured.” Indeed, if you have ever tried holding onto anger for too long after someone has hurt you, you may already know this to be true.
While it’s natural to be angry, hurt, or resentful after some sort of betrayal, holding a grudge (even when it truly feels justified) does little to improve the situation and is unlikely to change the perpetrator’s behavior or way of thinking.
Instead, most of the destruction you wind up inflicting with your anger will (ironically) be on yourself. Anger is a form of poison—emotionally, spiritually, and physically—and by allowing your feet to stay firmly planted in the past, you are robbing yourself of a peaceful, successful future.
If you are currently struggling to forgive someone in your life, keep in mind the following ways that choosing forgiveness can have a positive impact on your life and the lives of those around you:
1. Forgiveness is better for your physical health.
It’s no secret that anger and prolonged stress can have severe negative impacts on your health. Holding on to anger instead of finding peace is essentially like drinking a little bit of poison each day; if you dare to take too many doses of this poison, it can and will have frightening effects on your body.
A few of the physical effects of anger, both long- and short-term can include:
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- decreased cortisol levels, leading to inflammation
- muscle tension, leading to aching or strain
- decreased immune system function
- sluggish digestion and poor nutrient absorption
- skin eruptions, like acne or rashes
- heart attack or stroke
On the flip side, choosing to let go of anger can have some very positive effects, not only on you, but also on those around you. According to Dr. Wayne Dyer in The Power of Intention, research has shown that one simple act of kindness—and forgiveness is the ultimate act of kindness—towards another person raises immune system functioning and serotonin levels (otherwise known as the “happiness” hormone) in both the person receiving the kindness and the person extending the kindness.
And it doesn’t stop there! Apparently, a third party observer also reaps these same amazing health benefits simply by bearing witness to an act kindness that takes place between other people!
2. Forgiveness helps you grow and become stronger.
The last thing most of us typically want to think about when we have been wronged is our own accountability. We’re not the ones that did something awful, after all!
While sometimes this might be true, most spiritual teachings—from Christianity to Buddhism to Native American mysticism—tell us that every event, person, and thing that comes into our lives is there for a reason: personal growth.
Ask yourself: What is this situation or person here to show me? What does it teach me about myself? What does it tell me about my present life or past patterns? Why is this situation showing up for me?
For example, perhaps you work in a toxic work environment and have a really difficult boss that makes you miserable. It’s possible he or she is in your life to teach you how to handle bullies. Or, how to set boundaries. Or, maybe you are learning to have more compassion, even for people you don’t like. Then again, it could be all of those things combined.
These can be tough issues to look at and accept at first. But, if you can do it, you might be astonished at how much personal growth you can accomplish. You will indeed be a stronger person when you come out the other side.
Even better? This self-exploration will usually help you avoid getting into similar situations again in the future.
3. Forgiveness can make a relationship stronger.
Obviously, not all relationships can be mended after an act of unkindness or betrayal. Some acts of unkindness are more easily forgiven than others, and in some cases it’s healthier to end the relationship, even if forgiveness still takes place.
But, provided the relationship is an emotionally and physically safe one, some experts believe that saving it may be well worth the effort.
A study at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, for example, recently indicated that couples who successfully forgave each other after infidelity ended up with stronger, more trusting bonds toward one other at 5 and 10 years after the forgiveness process took place.
This isn’t all that surprising when you consider that forgiveness requires considerable vulnerability on the part of the forgiveness extender, and can create considerable humility and a sense of responsibility on the part the forgiveness receiver. Indeed, sometimes the toughest relationship challenges can create a high degree of intimacy if they are successfully overcome together.
In order to do this, though, both partners must be equally committed to self-improvement and to working on a deeper set of problems within the relationship. Only you can determine whether or not this is the case.
Forgiveness is an important part of well-being, personal growth, and healthy relationships.
But remember, forgiving someone does not always mean that a relationship will continue on unchanged or even that a relationship will continue at all. It is completely possible to let go of your anger towards another person, while choosing to set personal boundaries that make it impossible to have this person in your life any longer.
If this happens, that is completely okay. Simply say a silent prayer of gratitude for what this person came to teach you, release any negative feelings holding you back, act with kindness, and begin to move on with your life.