Is a person's physical and mental health linked to emotional health? Is it possible that your frequent head aches, joint pain, trouble sleeping or eating, depression, anxiety, or similar symptoms have an unhealthy emotional root connected somewhere to the cause? The likelyhood is very real, and even more chronic conditions like cancer are often linked to unforgiveness.
Anger, when turned to bitterness, hatred, resentment or rage, is very destructive to the human body. Holding grudges, rehearsing retaliatory speeches in your mind, and ruminating (dwelling on negative consequences of hurt and mistreatment) create harmful stress that the human body is not designed to tolerate. Research has shown the link between harboring negative feelings and a breakdown of mind and body. This topic is addressed in a recent book called The Forgiveness Project by Michael Barry and is subtitled, the Startling Discovery of How to Overcome Cancer, Find Health, and Achieve Peace. Here is the back cover description: "Internalizing anger is destructive to our spiritual health and can destroy families, marriages, and even churches. But what about our physical health? Is there a relationship between a spirit of unforgiveness and disease? Between forgiveness and healing? After extensive medical, theological, and sociological research at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), author and pastor Michael Barry made a startling discovery: the immune system and forgiveness are very much connected. Through the inspiring stories of five cancer patients, Barry helps you identify-and overcome-the barriers that prevent healing and peace. See how a breast cancer patient named Jayne experienced spiritual and physical renewal when she learned to forgive. Meet Rich whose surprise cancer diagnosis led him to forgive his cousin. Be inspired by Sharon's story of spontaneous remission. With each true account comes proven strategies, tested and used by CTCA, that you can implement to find peace with your past, relief from hatefulness, and hope for healing."
Unforgiveness does not create disease, but it certainly fuels the condition(s) for disease to take hold. In his book Barry reports Robert Ader, at the University of Rochester Medical Center as saying, "psychological experiences, such as stress and anxiety, can influence immune function, which in turn may have an effect on disease course.. Certain data indicate that factors such as suppressing emotions of anger and hatred (which are the ingredients of unforgiveness) negatively influence a person's susceptibility to disease."
Dr. Everett Worthington,, forerunning researcher and author of numerous books on forgiveness, writes, "Chronic unforgiveness causes stress. Every time people think of their transgressor, their body responds. Decreasing your unforgiveness cuts down on your health risk. Now, if you can forgive, that can actually strengthen your immune system."
So maybe you haven't been diagnosed with cancer. What about the everyday aches and pains for which many Americans customarily turn to pills for treatment?
Many visits to medical doctors could be averted if people paid more attentions to their emotional health. Herb Benson, MD, proves the point when he says, "Sixty to 90 percent of visits to physicians are for conditions related to stress. Harmful effects of stress include anxiety, mild and moderate depression, anger and hostility, hypertension, pain, insomnia, and many other stress-related diseases."
Because it is widely misunderstood, forgiveness is often overlooked as a major source of stress relief. In chapter two of my book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart, I discuss the evidence of people's misunderstanding of forgiveness. Many people incorrectly assume their decision to forgive has cleared them of the negative effects of the baggage that goes with unforgiveness.
Forgiveness does not come from simply saying, "I forgive ... ." It requires a heartfelt change through which the anger and hatred are transformed into feelings of peaceful neutrality and on to genuine love and concern for the offender. My book mentioned above explains this process from a Christian perspective. Forgiveness is surrendering to God the ultimate right to judge. Forgiveness cannot be reduced to methodology solely achieved by following pre-determined step-by-step instructions. It is much more complex and gradually accomplished by practicing new insights and revelation.
Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, survived the Holocaust and the Auschwitz concentration camp, Eva was asked, "What is the thing that is most misunderstood about forgiveness?' She replied, "Forgiveness has the reputation that the perpetrator has to be sorry. The biggest misconception is that forgiveness is for the perpetrator. It's strictly a gift of freedom I give myself. It's free! You don't need an HMO. There are no side effects, and it works. It's like a miracle drug. Instead of changing the world—that's too big of a job—we have to repair it one place at a time...."
For those who may get past the first hurdle of misunderstanding, the second hurdle, misdiagnosing the condition of heart, often trips them up. For most people, hatred is a well-disguised deceptive tumor. At least in some degree, hatred is alive in every breathing human being. Although most do not consider themselves "hateful people," hateful elements exist in every human heart. These elements grow and create cancer-like emotional conditions that often go undetected. Just as every individual is unique in how they develop and treat bodily cancer, each is unique in how emotional cancer is developed and treated. Anger will turn to the cancer of hatred if not properly treated. Hatred is anger saturated with bitterness. Unrecognized and unacknowledged hatred (confusing or excusing it as mere anger) is a common ailment of the human heart. Hurt combined with hatred does not heal on its own. Hurt turned to hatred requires intentional healing balm. The process of forgiveness is the most effective treatment.
One of the most satisfying fruits of forgiveness is better physical and mental health. Is it worth finding out more about forgiveness and making the necessary changes to practice forgiveness? Absolutely! Good health has no price tag. The ancient Proverb says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (proverbs 4:23). Healthy individuals build healthy families, and healthy families can build a healthy society. Understanding and practicing forgiveness goes a long way to facilitate health.
Forgiveness is not a cure nor the complete answer to all life's problems. It is a door to access the treasures of healing. For a Christian, that Door is Jesus Christ who accomplishes forgiveness and provides access to the very heart of Father God. A person's faith surrenders his heart to Almighty power through sonship (including daughtership) for the eternal healing of the soul.
I hope you are blessed with the healing power of forgiveness today.
Note: The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness. This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith) to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm . If you get anywhere near Pennsylvania for vacation or on business, be sure to look us up for lodging at http://bluerockbnb.comby Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry