Letting go of a Grudge Improves Emotional Freedom and Physical Well Being

Shelly Young, LPC Health Guide
  • "Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past," says mindfulness teacher, author, and psychologist, Dr. Jack Kornfield. After reading this statement I wondered. What does a lack of forgiveness do for us or the hurtful situation? Does it have any beneficial purpose at all? Do we believe that holding a grudge will change something? Even knowing that we can't change it, we often experience immense emotional suffering around reliving the hurts of our past. We can't seem to let go. Or maybe we don't want to let go because we feel that it is condoning the hurtful act.


    Aside from emotional suffering, it is possible that you are compromising your physical health by holding a grudge. Research supports the fact that cardiovascular health is affected by a lack of forgiveness, and if you have diabetes this is important to keep in mind.

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    According to the Harvard Women's Health Watch, one study found a link between forgiving and improvements in heart rate and blood pressure. In another study done at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, anger-recall stress imaging studies were performed on cardiac patients. The patients assigned to the forgiveness group showed significantly fewer anger-induced myocardial perfusion defects, which are related to lack of blood flow in the heart. It demonstrated that forgiveness intervention may be an effective means of reducing anger-induced myocardial ishemia in patients with coronary artery disease.( Psychol Health, 2009, Jan 24 (1) 11-27 ). Numerous other studies on forgiveness and cardiovascular health have been performed, demonstrating the positive effects of forgiveness.


    It could be difficult to forgive, unless we first understand and work with the lack of forgiveness. What is a lack of forgiveness? How does it come about within you? Your lack of forgiveness will usually involve feelings of anger or hurt that may be noticed in your body.

    Here is a forgiveness meditation that can help you get in touch with your feelings around the lack of forgiveness and enable you to release the grudge:


    Gently breathe into your heart area. Imagine those who have harmed you. Let yourself feel the barriers you have erected and the emotions you have carried because you have not forgiven them. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. As you breathe, let yourself visualize those who have hurt you. Completely feel the feelings of hurt or anger and open yourself to them. Sense that you can finally release this burden by allowing the hurt to come to the surface and just be. If thoughts of unforgiveness should arise, turn your awareness away from them and refocus on the the feelings in your body. Don't try to push away the thoughts. Just refocus your attention.  


    As you remain aware of the feelings in your body, repeat the following to yourself: "I have carried this burden of unforgiveness long enough. To the extent that I am ready, I offer you forgiveness." It's useful to do this exercise while sitting or lying down. Throughout your day, if you notice the lack of forgiveness come about as thoughts and feelings, turn your awareness away from the thoughts and focus on the feelings, bringing a open loving-kindness to them.   


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    Some people may think, "That person doesn't deserve to be forgiven." The fact is that the forgiveness is something that needs to happen, not for someone else, but for you and your well-being. It's important to remember that this is not an act of condoning the hurtful action but rather realising your own suffering. In our culture, there is a tendency to consider forgiveness to be like saying, "What you did was okay." Since this may be far from the truth, it seems wise to consider forgiveness to be a gift to yourself, which is the truth.     


    A very helpful observation is to notice that when you are suffering, you tend to do things and say things in an unskillful manner. When you realize that others are like this, it may be easier to shine the light of compassion on those who have hurt you realizing that it was their suffering that lead to hurtful behaviors. 


    Why not give yourself the emotional freedom and physical well being of a person who can face the reality that the past is over and done? Consider that releasing your own suffering around holding a grudge is the forgiveness you have wanted.  Even if you feel that an action is unforgivable, you can decide to let go anyway, and give yourself the long-awaited gift that you deserve.



Published On: March 29, 2010