In the last post, we briefly touched on some of the negatives associated with ignoring forgiveness, and I mentioned depression. Today I want to dig into that a little more deeply.
What is the connection between forgiveness and depression?
Well, I know I said that forgiveness is about you. And it is. But the truth is that it’s not just about you. When we choose to hold onto a grudge, the chances of all involved ending up depressed are fairly high.
If you’re thinking that you’re fine with being miserable as long as you bring them down, too, you really need to keep going through this series. And I love you lots, really and truly, but … well, let’s just keep working on that anger, shall we?
Anyway, the point is that by choosing not to forgive, you’re hurting yourself and you’re also potentially putting those around you in a dark place as well. That means your spouse, your children and your friends. It means the people who love you and want you to be happy.
There have been some studies down at universities in the United States that show a definite link between forgiveness and depression, and that certainly fits with what I’ve seen over the years.
When we choose to hold onto grudges and hurts and feelings of resentment, we feel less connected to the people around us. When we feel less connected, we have less capability for happiness and positive feelings and experiences … sounds like depression to me.
The good news is that it works both ways.
When we are depressed, it is very difficult to think about positive things. In fact, our brain changes so that we see everything negatively.
When we consciously and purposefully fill our minds with positive thoughts, we can mitigate or reverse those changes.
So let’s see if I can explain this better. We’ll pick one of those awful hurts from an earlier post. You are the adult child of an alcoholic. While depressed, every time you think about your mother, the thoughts are negative and bitter. She was drunk when you came home from school. You were always embarrassed. Other people had a real mother, but you just had this lush that screamed unforgivable things at you. Worse than screaming, though, was when she’d start hitting. Or throwing things. You’ll never forget the day she decided she hated the dinner plates and smashed every one of them, one by one, at your feet.
Look at those memories straight on.
They are there and they’re not going away. All of that awful mess is part of the story that made you, with your strengths and your compassion for others and all of your experience and knowledge.
Now, while accepting your mother exactly as she is, start working on forgiving her.
It wasn’t okay, not a bit of what happened, and it wasn’t right, and it’s totally fine to state that aloud and emphatically. It was NOT right and it was NOT okay.
Love might have to come later, so don’t worry about that right now. You’re just starting. What you need to do now is to start working on separating your negative feelings, which are hurting you every day, from the actions of your mother. It will take time and practice to identify the negative feelings, accept them and release them.
What happened in the past will always be there, and you can’t change that, but you can disassociate them from those awful feelings that drag you down.
There’s nothing special about that example of the violent, alcoholic mother. Perhaps you have a child who has rejected you and all you hold dear, and there are memories that just leave you gasping with hurt. Or you may have physical scars from a violent spouse.
Face those hurts. Look them straight on, name them and then start the process of stepping away from them. The thing that hurt you will always be there. It is in the past and can’t be changed. But you choose whether you let it continue to affect you every day.
Giving – and receiving – forgiveness has a powerful impact on lifting depression.
This doesn’t come natural to us.
Remember Captain Kirk saying that we’re killers and we must simply choose to not kill – today? Violence and hatred and grudges are our natural lot. Forgiveness is something that we must learn, and it’s something we can ultimately only do with God’s help. This is the power of the Cross, at Easter and throughout the year, that we can drop our burden of pain and shame and hurt there and, with the help of God, leave it there.
Despite our violent tendencies, we’re social creatures who crave and physically need connections with other people. We’re so pack-oriented, in fact, that we’ll bond with small furry animals! Actively forgiving, and building connections with other people, helps us to work well together and brings us joy and happiness because that’s how we’re made – regardless of how we act.
This can help lift us out of depression or prevent it in the first place.
It boils down to this – you have a choice. No matter how big the hurt or how much you think you need to hang on to, the ball is always in your court. You can choose to hold on to grudges, resentment, anger and pain, and greatly increase the risk of depression for yourself and those around you, or you can choose forgiveness.
Letting go of that anger and pain makes room for much happier feelings.