Surprising Harm Of Holding A Grudge, Benefits Of Forgiveness
We’ve all had it happen. Someone wronged us, and we held a grudge. Heck, I’ve even known guys who have held grudges against their own brothers or decades. Or worse yet, I’ve known guys who have held grudges against their wives for decades as well.
But today I’m going to give you some very good reasons not to make that mistake. Although it hurts when people wrong us, holding a grudge hurts our health even more. Science has shown this to be the case.
The good news is that there’s something you can do about it. It’s called forgiveness. I’ll explain how. Read on.
The Perils Of Excess Cortisol
When stressful stuff happens, our bodies respond by producing hormonal changes. One of those hormones that bodies produce more of under stress is something called cortisol.
Now cortisol is great if, for example, you need to run away from danger or fight a threat. But when cortisol is chronically elevated, that’s trouble.
Cortisol increases blood pressure, raises blood sugar, increases fats in the blood, interferes with digestion, and changes breathing patterns. All of that is useful in the short term when you have to deal with, say, a pouncing tiger who looks hungry and maybe a little pissed off. But you may notice that all of these things are related to some of the common diseases that plague modern men.
High blood pressure helps to get energy to the muscles in the short term. But in the long term it leads to cardiovascular disease. Likewise, high blood sugar and fats in the blood increase the amount of energy available, but in the long term they lead to diabetes.
Now here’s the bad news. Research shows that holding a grudge raises cortisol levels chronically. So it turns out that as long as you stay angry at how you have been wronged, you’ll be increasing your risk of developing diseases.
The Benefits of Oxytocin
In a recent article I introduced you to another hormone called oxytocin. You may recall that oxytocin is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” or even the “love hormone”. That’s because increases in oxytocin are associated with bonding and feelings of trust and closeness.
You may also recall that oxytocin is associated with lots of health benefits. Some of the best researched benefits related to the heart. In fact, oxytocin has actually been shown to be able to regenerate heart tissue.
The bad news is that when cortisol is high, oxytocin is low. And it should really come as no surprise that holding a grudge (which is hardly about trust and closeness) would lower oxytocin levels. What that means is that holding a grudge does a double-whammy on your heart. Not only is elevated cortisol harming your heart, but lowered oxytocin means there’s nothing to project it.
The Benefits Of Forgiveness
The good news is that forgiveness has been proven to lower cortisol and elevated oxytocin. The result is that forgiveness is good for your health.
But how can you forgive?
Experts tell us that the first thing to remember is that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to like what the other person did. It doesn’t mean you have to decide that what the other person did was okay either. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person as much as it is about you getting to be free of the harmful effects of holding a grudge.
Next, the experts tell us that sometimes forgiveness requires expressing your hurt, anger, or grievance. Holding in your feelings isn’t a good idea. But expressing your feelings may or may not involve the other person.
If you have an ongoing relationship with a person you’ve held a grudge against, expressing your feelings to that person is usually a good idea. In those cases it is best to speak your feelings clearly in a conversation with the other person. Or, at the very least, write a letter and give it to the person. Although expressing your feelings to another person can be very difficult, experts tell us that it’s an essential step.
In some cases the other person is either deceased or otherwise unavailable. In some cases the other person no longer wishes to have a relationship. Or perhaps the other person remains abusive and it is best for you not to have a relationship with that person. In any of these cases, you can express your feelings without having to involve the other person.
One way to express your feelings without the other person is to write a letter as if you were going to give it to the other person (dead or alive). Research shows that doing that can be very therapeutic.
Finally, it is important to choose to let go of the resentment and tension within yourself that you have been holding on to. Research also shows that it can be very helpful to make a list of all the good things in your life that you value as a way to have positive things to focus on.
Holding a grudge turns out to be bad for health. It increases the stress hormone cortisol and lowers the health-promoting hormone oxytocin. But forgiveness can reverse the trend and literally heal a broken heart. Choose to forgive for the sake of your own health.