Why Forgiveness is Critical for Your Health

Some thoughts from Dr. Stephani Yorges

Stefani-Yorges-google-headshot-300x284The process of forgiving is one of the most exhausting struggles you will face, because the battle will involve both your mind and emotions. Maybe you have been mentally replaying the hurt for days, months, or even years. So you repeatedly experience the same anxiety, anger, and frustration. These are among the most toxic emotions a person can have, draining your energy and resources. Your heart cannot rest in this state and you suffer physical and emotional problems. (Check out this article from Dr. Gayle Reed on forgiveness, too.)

Medical professionals agree that many of our long-term illnesses come as a result of bitterness, unforgiveness, and emotional stress. Pent-up hostility and anger produce depression and anxiety along with a host of physical problems. Nearly 20 years of research on the Forgiveness Project at the University of Wisconsin showed that people who forgave had better psychological health. The studies revealed significant improvements in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, self-esteem, and coping skills among those who were able to forgive.

One of the most tragic consequences of unforgiveness is an inability to give and receive love. If you can’t risk being hurt again, you can’t love unconditionally. Those who harbor unforgiveness never fully and completely open their hearts to others. They build up walls to protect themselves and prevent any future wounds. They carefully guard their relationships, letting very few people in. Without realizing it, those walls of protection become a prison.

Wounded people only feel safe in the controlled environment they set up for themselves. But the life of an unforgiving person can soon become stagnant, like the Dead Sea in Israel. The Dead Sea receives water in, but does not release any water out. As a result, there are no living plants or fish in it. Life must flow freely in order to be sustained. You may need to pour out some of the negative contents in your heart – like hurt, anger, despair, bitterness, unforgiveness, and confusion—before God can pour in His fresh, living water. Be honest and tell Him exactly how you feel about what happened. God is aware of every painful experience you have encountered. He understands that you need to grieve, heal, and be restored.

Psychologists and medical doctors do not have the adequate tools to repair your broken heart and shattered trust. Only Jesus can reach deep into your soul and heal this type of damage. Once your heart becomes hardened from hurt, it is nearly impossible to fix it on your own. It requires a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. He alone can restore you to the joy and peace you felt prior to the injury.

The healing process takes time. By forgiving the other person, you “clean and disinfect the wound.” But you cannot actually heal it. Jesus is the Healer. Let Him tend it properly. Sometimes a deep physical wound appears to be healed on the outside, but is still painful on the inside. It’s the same with emotional wounds. Wait for Him to heal your tender feelings at a deeper level.