Psychological Distress and Forgiveness
by Gini Crawford, MSW
posted 12/21/2016, revised 5/19/2018
My mother's side of the family had a hard time forgiving, so whenever I went to visit them, they would be angry at someone. I believe this was because they expected people to act the way they wanted, and when they didn't, their anger would burn.
One afternoon in the late 1990's, I got a long distance call from a policeman telling me my aunt on my mother's side was found dead in a motel room. (She had died of a heart attack.) I was shocked! Why was she in a strange room instead of her house? We found the answer a few days later when we broke down the door of her house and saw the mess. My aunt bought obsessively and saved literally everything that wasn't perishable food. (She had depression and had what is called Hoarding Disorder.) My aunt had died in a motel room near her house, because her house was so full of things that she couldn't live in it. The whole mess still breaks my heart.
Not forgiving can add to our psychological distress! I believe what my aunt's attitude of unforgiveness did, was to add to the psychological turmoil she already felt from depression, and her obsessive/compulsive personality. For example, if you have been struggling with forgiving your father, and then work gets stressful, you end up with the psychological distress of both weighing on you. Does this make sense?
Forgiveness affects us psychologically. Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk? If you have, you know you get your smelly clothes away from you as quickly as possible; never to put them on again. When you forgive someone, you are mentally letting go of the wrong, getting it away from you; to hopefully never put on that offense again. Forgiveness predominately affects our psychological wellbeing, so letting go of the offense will result in positive feelings such as a sense of closure and peace of mind. (Galatians 5:22-23). On the other hand, when you won't forgive the person, chances are that person's offense will keep playing in your mind like a broken record. The result of this unforgiveness will be stressful feelings such as anger, bitterness, anxiety, and so on. To have compassion for those who have wronged us, instead of allowing anger toward them to eat away at us like my aunt did, will give us a sense of serenity, and freedom. Can you relate?
Forgiveness brings peace of mind. Just think of my aunt, if she would have forgiven, this would have allowed her to have much less psychological distress, and more peace of mind. Do you lack peace of mind? Peace of mind can be found in Jesus Christ. When our minds are at peace, our whole being is, so we are better able to respond to the ups and downs of life. Jesus said in John 16:33,
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. NASB®
Do you have Jesus Christ in your life? If you believe in Jesus, He is definitely in your life. Read John 3:16, 17:3. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? If not, read the Because of God Devotion: The answers everyone needs to know about life and death.