What Happens When You Refuse to Forgive?

by Percival J. Meris on October 26, 2014

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WHEN YOU REFUSE TO FORGIVE, you are tempted to get even – to seek revenge. To seek revenge is not a well thought out response. Like the instinct of self-preservation, it is the product of biologically designed system of self-protection.

Your nervous system perceives danger, but it cannot distinguish between present and past dangers. So, it activates your fight-or-light response.

Physiological Effects of Refusing to Forgive

Once activated, your fight-or-flight response changes the way you think. Electrical impulses becomes less available to the brain’s thinking center because of the onrush of stress chemicals. These chemicals are there to protect you by diverting blood flow from the thinking to the more primitive parts of the brain. They reset your body into survival mode.

Your Body Becomes Stressed.

The mind starts to apply every ounce of concentrative powers on the task at hand to surmount these threats. In the process, it wastes not a single precious resource on planning activities, but marshals them, instead, to guard against the recurrence of bitter past experiences or deter every possible future harm from happening.

It is forced to decide on one of the two survival choices: to fight back or to flee. The fight-or-flight response produces toxic stress hormones that make you physically sick or more susceptible to illness.

Avoiding Unnecessary Stress

So, that is how lack of forgiveness and blame game wreak havoc on your nervous system. They ensnare you in a vicious cycle of hurt and physical discomfort.

Although your body instinctively activates the fight-or-flight response, you really don’t need them for self-protection whenever a situation resurfaces memories of painful experiences. You should learn to distinguish real from imagined danger. Imagined danger is no danger at all, and therefore doesn’t have to get you into an unhealthy crisis mode.

Social and Psychological Effects of Refusing to Forgive

Refusing to forgive may appeal to you at first as an attractive and healthy response, but leaves you after a while feeling cold and bitter. It is dysfunctional in at least three counts:

  1. Refusing to forgive leads as a logical consequence to a refusal to dialogue with the offender for a positive resolution of the conflict.
  2. By getting even, you may be able to salvage your damaged pride, but your spirit of revenge deprives you of the chance for personal growth and understanding.
  3. Revenge may lessen the inner emptiness that your experience has created, but it poisons you physically and emotionally.

Revenge may satisfy your primal need for self-protection and survival, but it does not fulfill your nobler aspirations for love, peace, and creativity.

Why and How to Forgive

Are you a nonforgiver? Learn forgiveness from Everett Worthington, Jr. In his video, he talks about forgiveness from the points of view of both religion and science.

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Inspirational Quotes on Forgiveness

  • Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim – letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor. ~ C.R. Strahan
  • To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it. ~ Confucius
  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. ~ Kent M.
  • True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
  • To err is human, to forgive, divine. ~ Alexander Pope


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