Stress, Forgiveness, and Mental Health

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you were just so angry or hurt by what someone did or said to you? You likely felt that you could not forgive them at the moment. How could they do such a thing? How could they hurt you like that? We've all had times like this. Remember when your coworkers teased you for not attending that late-night party? Or when your friends forgot to invite you to dinner? What about when your children yelled at you and disrespected you? Or when your partner or spouse didn't even offer to help you with the dishes? Remember the time your parents got angry at you for that awful mark you got in school? The list can go on and on.

We've all been hurt or angered before. Needless to say, it is very difficult to forgive other when this occurs. Right away, we feel a rush of emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, tension, embarrassment, pain, etc. We simply cannot find it within ourselves to forgive. And that's okay. We all need time to process our emotions. We need to think about what happened, how we are feeling, why we are feeling this way, and what we can do about it. Remember that it is NORMAL to feel angry, hurt, stressed, or tired because of circumstances, others' actions or words, etc.

After you've had time to process your emotions...can you find it within yourself to forgive others? What impact does forgiveness have on mental health? A study focussed on the relationship between stress, forgiveness, and mental health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/pubmed/25139892. The researchers administered a survey to participants on life events associated with stress and forgiveness. Then, they completed another survey on mental health. The results? Those who were able to forgive others had significantly better mental health. They experienced less stress, anxiety, and depression. They felt happier and calmer.

Why does this occur? The simple answer is that holding grudges never helps anyone  - neither yourself, nor the person who hurt or angered you. When we forgive, we feel a sense of relief. It doesn't mean that we are being 'weak' because we forgive; rather, forgiveness is a sign of strength. Forgiveness means that though someone else has hurt me, I am strong enough (and wise enough) to let it go. I have become hurt and angry, and that's normal. But I refuse to let that event stop me from enjoying a happy, healthy life. I refuse to hold a grudge and let this event haunt me, or interfere with my relationships with others. I will choose to forgive. And doing that helps us feel healthy. When we forgive, we can forget about how others may have hurt us, and we can focus on the present moment. We can focus on our goals and continue to make decisions that will help us lead happy, healthy, successful lives.

There is a part in the Bible when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who continuously wrongs him. Jesus answers that we must forgive not only seven times (seven was the honoured number of that time), but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). Did Jesus mean to forgive 490 times, and then stop after that? No. Jesus meant to always forgive  - to set no limits on forgiveness. There is a well-known quote that says: when I forgive, I forget. And it's true. When we forgive, we can forget what wrong others have done to us. And we can move on with our lives. This is a wonderful, freeing feeling!

'Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, fighting, and harsh words. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.' (Ephesians 4:31-32)

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