Refusing to Forgive

10 Ways Refusing to Forgive Ruins Happiness and Health4 min read

By Jon Beaty

October 2, 2015

resentment, grudges, love, forgiveness

You and I have been hurt. None of us lives very long before we experience disappointment, or betrayal. You may have been abused emotionally, physically, or sexually. Whatever it was, it hurt.

Being wounded comes with being human.

Forgiveness doesn’t. We’re not born with it.

Born to Defend and Protect

We’re born with a natural instinct to protect ourselves.

Once we get hurt, the sensors go on.

Our sensors look out for any signs of danger. When we see signs of danger, the shields go up. If we suffer extreme or repeated hurt, our sensors become hyper-sensitive.

We may begin to sense danger where real danger doesn’t exist.

Our shields may go up permanently.

There are different kinds of shields. Some people stuff their feelings. Others fight back. Some inflict pain on themselves to numb the pain inflicted by others. Many push people away, or pull back, to avoid getting close enough to get hurt.

The Gift of Forgiveness

To forgive is to no longer wish for the people who hurt you to suffer, or die.

To forgive is to not lay awake at night dreaming up ways to get revenge on your enemies.

To forgive is to not pick at your wounds and make them bleed again and again.

We refuse to forgive thinking it gives us power. But refusing to forgive gives power only to those who hurt us to keep hurting us, even when they’re gone.

Forgiveness is supernatural. It’s divine.

It comes to us as a gift, to bring healing to open, festering wounds, and to heal broken relationships.

Forgiveness allows our wounds to strengthen us, where holding grudges only weighs us down.

Forgiveness is a superpower that separates those who fly above the mountains from those who walk in the valleys.

One study placed people at the bottom of a hill. Those who held on to resentment for those who hurt them judged the hill as steeper than those who had forgiveness in their hearts.

Another study measured the jumping height of forgiving and unforgiving people. Those who forgave jumped higher than those who didn’t forgive.

Forgiveness enables us to see less danger, and more opportunity.

The sensors recalibrate. We can put our shields down more than we put them up.

The Cost of Refusing to Forgive

When we refuse to forgive it comes to a cost to our happiness and our health.

Science counts the costs:

  1. Dysfunctional relationships
  2. Lacking spiritual and psychological well-being
  3. Added anxiety, stress and hostility
  4. High blood pressure
  5. Increased symptoms of depression
  6. Impaired immunity against disease
  7. Low self-esteem
  8. Irritableness and anger
  9. Sleeplessness
  10. Increased medication use

Jesus said it.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV)

God gives His love to us at no cost. God’s love gives us a reason to live, and to be happy. God’s love heals our wounds and restores our health. His love gives us the power to love and forgive those who hurt us.

But when we stubbornly refuse to forgive, we cut ourselves off from God’s love.

We deny ourselves the happiness and healing God wants to give to us, and through us.

I held onto hurt and anger against my parents for many years. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. I lost my home, my friends, and my sense of security in the world. I didn’t want to be hurt again, so I distanced myself from them.

They weren’t the only people I resented. The resentments added up, each time someone else disappointed me, betrayed me, or abused me.

When my wife disappointed me, I held grudges against her.

As time went on, I focused more on the negative and discounted the positive.

It came to a point where I needed to decide. Would I hold onto resentment and lose everything? Or, would I ask God to help me to forgive?

Remember, forgiveness is a gift. To receive it, ask for it. Then ask for the courage to use it.

I asked for the power to forgive. Have you?

What has refusing to forgive been costing you? Is it time for you to give up a grudge?

If offering forgiveness to someone has changed your life, please share a comment to encourage someone who’s struggling to let go of resentment.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version® (NKJV). Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Zheng, X et al. The Unburdening Effects of Forgiveness: Effects on Slant Perception and Jumping Height, Social Psychological and Personality Science. 04/2014; 6(4):431-438. DOI: 10.1177/1948550614564222


About the author

I help Christian leaders apply the ways and words of Jesus to:
- Overcome limiting beliefs, habits, and traits.
- Build stronger connections with the people they live and work with.
- Clarify and achieve their personal goals and life mission.

  • “To forgive is to not pick at your wounds and make them bleed again and again.” This is such a powerful line. It really drives home the need for forgiveness. I’m going to remember this one.

    The more that I study psychology, the more impressed I am with how many ideas align with Scripture. I have a friend who likes to say, “God said it first.” And it’s so true. Scientific studies in psychology, often encourage us to return to key Scriptural principles. Thanks for the powerful illustration, and the reminder of the importance of forgiveness.

    • Hey Jed,

      I like the “God said it first,” approach. It’s sometimes a temptation to defer to science, but science has been know to miss the mark. When science hit’s the target, I think it always aligns with Scripture. It may seem to be a risky approach to some, but I think it’s a greater risk to put one’s faith in science on issues where the Bible has something to say.

      • Science is God’s creation and His supplement to His word. I love how fascinating integration is and how much we can progress by combining science and Scripture. I don’t see risk. I see misunderstanding and lack of knowledge because it all leads back to the truth. We just don’t have all the information to connect the dots where the lines are broken. I think when we put science in its proper context we see that it isn’t perfect either because we lack knowledge. Science is a system that builds on knowledge but is always growing in in our own understanding based on empirical studies. Sometimes it grows in the wrong direction and has to be corrected once we repeatedly test theories for flaws and find them. Other times advances in science reveal new connections which rewrite everything we once thought. The one thing that never changes is God’s word.

  • Forgiveness is actually always the easiest way in the long run. Not to mention the best way. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jon this article has caught me without a references. I wish I had it so I could look up a statement I remember reading about forgiveness. Later this evening I’ll look it up and follow-up. I think the statement said that we cannot forgive until God forgives us for creating suffering on another person. Forgiveness is a gift from God, we must ask for our own forgiveness, permission to give it and until we receive it, we cannot give it. I don’t know if you have heard anything remotely similar to this or maybe I’m in the left field bleachers on this.

    This is a great topic for me because it is a difficult discipline in my own life. One of the traits that you mentioned is very real. Once I’m hurt I create distance so I cannot be hurt again. Some of your commentary brings on guilt and others make me wonder if I have really forgiven or just blocked it out because the wounds hurt so much.

    • Hi Kirby,

      1 John 4:19 is along the same line as what you’re suggesting. If we love because God loves us first, it would follow that we forgive only because God first forgives us. True forgiveness must be an act of love.

      Also, in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, the servant first is forgiven by his master. But he fails to fully appreciate it.

      I think it’s important to assess your guilt feelings. Feelings can sometimes set off false alarms. But if your feelings of guilt are a response to true guilt, you can ask God to reveal that to you, and He will.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}