Unforgiveness can create psychological and emotional stress, but it can take a toll on the body, too. In fact, the negative health effects of unforgiveness have been well-documented, with research showing a link between prolonged anger or resentment and a host of heightened medical risks. Because of the ways in which resentment and unforgiveness interact with the brain, the body’s reactions can lead to chronic—and sometimes serious—physical ailments. These chemical changes can tax the body during recovery, impeding progress in the alcohol or drug treatment program you’ve chosen. By dealing with unforgiveness in individualized therapy, you can help your body reestablish homeostasis, and heal emotional wounds that have led to drug or alcohol addiction.
Negative Health Effects of Unforgiveness
Unforgiveness can take many forms, from emotional states such as grudge-holding, bitterness and resentment to subtler manifestations of unforgiveness such as irritability and stress. While more overt forms of anger tend to be short in duration, lingering unforgiveness can last for days or longer. When unforgiveness persists, the prolonged anger involved heightens a person’s medical risk. In fact, prolonged anger can make people 500% more likely to die before the age of 50.
Anger triggers the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, creating hyperarousal in the body in order to cope with a perceived crisis. The resulting stress on the body mimics amphetamine intake, raising blood pressure, speeding heartrate, and depressing the body’s immune response in order to focus on the threat of the moment. Over time, these responses cause negative health effects in the body, as these natural responses exist for too long when unforgiveness lingers. As a result, those harboring grudges experience increased risks of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
Additionally, due to increased arousal and stress levels, many who experience prolonged resentment seek to self medicate through alcohol, drugs, tobacco or unhealthy eating patterns—which can lead to secondary health problems. Other negative health effects of anger can include headaches, digestive issues, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and high blood pressure. Many of these symptoms lead dependent individuals to self-medicate to eliminate stress or anxiety, often leading to drug or alcohol addiction.
The negative health effects of unforgiveness can also have negative effects on the brain. Studies have shown that even low-level resentment and anger tend to lower cognitive function and problem-solving capacity. Mental errors tend to increase, and alternate perspectives fall out of reach, making problems more difficult to solve. Additionally, unforgiveness can lead to negative mental health effects such as anxiety disorders, depression, and shame. Unforgiveness can also create a physiological and psychological “crash” into depression, once incidents of hyperarousal subside.