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  • Dr. Warren P. Lesser, President & CEO

Is Your Unforgiveness Killing You?

Today I was reading an email from a friend who shared the idea that one day, 2020 will be the catchphrase for everything messed up and bad. “How was your day?” … “A total 2020!” … “Say no more!”

In times of stress (e.g., virus pandemic, economic downturn, civil unrest, business failure, job loss, political chaos, media distrust, social isolation, physical fitness decline, etc.), we see plenty of examples of how some people point fingers of blame at others. Worse, some folks nurture a spirit of unforgiveness and resentment towards others, including family members who historically have been closest and most loved. All too often, we witness family strife at gatherings during the holidays; strife that results in hard feelings that can endure for days, weeks, months, or even years. In our own extended family, I have two nephews who have not spoken with their father in over 15 years. Thing is, my nephews are not perfect human beings, either.


One can search Google Scholar and find dozens of scholarly articles regarding the connection between unforgiveness and physical/mental health. For example, in one compelling study, Harvard University and Luther College researchers determined a positive psychocardiology variable correlation (p<.001) between unforgiveness, and high blood pressure, myocardial infarction (heart attack), tachycardia, and arteriosclerosis. The study involved 43,093 subjects who were evaluated over a 12-month period [National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC); Touissant & Cheadle, 2009]. Subjects were asked: “Most of the time throughout your life, regardless of the situation or whom you were with: 1) Are you the kind of person who takes a long time to forgive people who have insulted or slighted you?” [and] 2) Have there been many people you can’t forgive because they did or said something to you a long time ago?” The researchers concluded that within a 12-month period, unforgiving tendencies are associated with increased odds of experiencing a cardiovascular health problem.


In another interesting article from the Director of Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Karen Swartz M.D. (2020), stated that regardless of whether one has a simple spousal spat or a long-held resentment toward a family member or friend, unresolved conflict can affect physical health. However, researchers have found that the act of forgiveness can reap enormous rewards including: lowering heart attack risk, improving cholesterol, facilitating sleep, and reducing pain, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and stress. Furthermore, researchers determined that the forgiveness-health connection increases, as one ages. Dr. Swartz also stated that true forgiveness is more than saying words but is a process of letting go of the negative feelings towards another person, whether the person deserves mercy, or not. By releasing anger and resentment, one can begin to feel empathy, compassion, and sometimes even affection. People who hang on to grudges, however, are more likely to experience severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health conditions. Dr. Swartz emphasized that forgiveness is a choice, where one offers compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.


Independently, but affirmingly, clinical psychologist, life coach, and renowned author, Dr. Suzanne Gelb, stated: “Forgiving someone doesn’t mean their behavior was ‘OK.’ What it does mean is that we’re ready to move on. To release the heavy weight. To shape our own life, on our terms, without any unnecessary burdens. Forgiveness is pure freedom—and forgiveness is a choice.”


From MAGNA Pharmaceuticals this holiday season, we realize that many of you have experienced hard times in your business and personal lives. We have shed tears with some of our employees and customers who have struggled, and even failed. However, regardless of what we have been through in 2020, we stand united, ready to help our wonderful customers, physicians and pharmacists. As we continue in this holiday season, we hope you will choose to lighten your burdens by offering the balm of forgiveness, which may just result in substantially greater heart, mind, and body health for you in 2021.


References

Gelb, S. (2014, October 14). Forgiveness is a choice. https://gomcgill.com/forgiveness-is-a-choice-by-dr-suzanne-gelb/

Johns Hopkins Medicine (2020). Forgiveness: Your health depends upon it. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it

Toussaint, L., & Cheadle, A. C. (2009). Unforgiveness and the broken heart: Unforgiving tendencies, problems due to unforgiveness, and 12-month prevalence of cardiovascular health conditions. Walker (Eds.), Religion and psychology. New York, NY: Nova Publishers.

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