14 Warning Signs That Unforgiveness Is Eating You Alive (And What to Do About It) - Spiritual Living For Busy People

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

You think you’re over it.

You pretend everything is ok.

But something isn’t quite right.

You have trouble sleeping. You can’t stop thinking about what happened. You can’t seem to move on.

We have a hard time forgiving people, some more than others. The reason is because many of us have faulty notions of what forgiveness is in the first place – like receiving an apology or being reconciled with the person.

We may not want to admit it, but sometimes when we’re looking to offer forgiveness, we want it to be because somebody else conceded first. But what you’re waiting for may never happen, especially when dealing with toxic people.

How can you know whether unforgiveness is eating you alive? Here are some warning signs and some ways you can reverse course:

1. You’re experiencing bursts of anger

If you’re struggling with unforgiveness, you’re likely bottling up your anger. Oftentimes, the person who is the recipient of the inevitable outburst is not the person who caused the stress or pain.

What to do instead: Be mindful when you start to feel anger building. Be aware of the source. If you catch yourself in the middle of an outburst, it’s never too late to do an about face. Apologize to the victim of your outburst. Take a deep breath. If you can, spend a few moments alone.

2. You’re petty and impulsive

When interacting with the person who you struggle to forgive, do you make snide remarks? Do you send them passive aggressive texts? Do you engage in mudslinging? And yet you’re still powerless because you have not forgiven them.

What to do instead: Pause before engaging with the person. Sometimes a moment is all you need to let your conscience kick in. Is your contemplated interaction going to improve things, or just take the edge off of your hurt for a moment before the regret comes?

How forgiving are you? Take the forgiveness quiz to see where you stand.

3. You’re desperate to make them understand how you feel

Does your inner monologue sound like this?

“If the person who caused me pain could only see what they’d done, they would want to say they were sorry.”

What to do instead: It’s hard to swallow, but the person may never recognize what they’ve done. Acceptance and letting go are key aspects of forgiveness. A time-tested way to do this is to write them a letter that you do not intend to send. Do this with the ultimate intention of destroying it and letting go of its contents.

4. You’re compulsive

You can’t control the hurtful person, but you can control your environment. This can quickly become a negative spiral of compulsive activity. Maybe for you this means keeping your spaces spotless, checking social media repeatedly, or making unnecessary purchases. Maybe it involves comfort eating.

These behaviors give you the impression of being in control, but they will not change the result of your interactions with the person. These activities only distract you from getting to the heart of the problem.

What to do instead: In the midst of compulsive behavior, there is often a moment when you realize what is happening. Choose to pull away. What is important to you? Is it being reflected in the way you spend your time? Is what you’re doing helping you to heal?

5. You’re unable to reframe your experiences

When you allow another person to color your memories, the sight of a formerly favorite tchotchke or the smell of a once loved eatery will only bring you angst. The pleasant associations you once had are gone.

What to do instead: Acknowledge the part this association played in your life but don’t allow it to control you going forward. This may mean donating the offending item or hiding it away for a time. It may mean creating new, happy memories with a cherished friend in a place where you once found yourself overwhelmed with negativity.

6. You’re not taking responsibility for your feelings

Find yourself blaming the person you cannot forgive for your feelings? Maybe you’re blaming the weather, or even random events.

Understand that when you choose to withhold forgiveness, what you’re saying to the offender is:

“I hold you responsible not just for what you did to me, but how I reacted and responded to what you did. I hold you responsible for my unhappiness.”

What to do instead: You may be slow to acknowledge it, but this is often the hidden script operating in your heart and soul. But it’s a lie, plain and simple. Only you are responsible for your reactions and feelings. By giving that responsibility away to your offender, you’re allowing them to have power over you that’s not theirs to have.

Unearth the script by saying it to yourself out loud. Write it down. You’ll almost immediately recognize and acknowledge the lie in your script. Choose to take back what is rightfully yours—your own reactions and feelings, no matter how unpleasant. This will be key to freeing you from your self-imposed prison.

7. You’re sick

That’s right. Withholding forgiveness may actually be making you sick.

If you’re struggling with stress related illness such as anxiety, depression, or high blood pressure, it may be time to try some forgiveness therapy.

If you’re holding on to unforgiveness for dear life, consider the sobering idea that holding on might actually be slowly taking your life.

8. You’re keeping a list of offenses

It’s not like you’re keeping an actual physical list of all the times you were slighted or offended…..right?

Most likely it’s a mental list. Each time your offender looks at you the wrong way, or says something offensive, or just ignores you, you catalog the action as part of a long list of offenses you use to justify keeping them trapped in your dungeon.

But as you saw above, you may think they’re the ones in your dungeon but if you look more closely, you’ll see that you’re the one inside the prison bars, not outside.

What to do instead: If your list is so long that you’ve forgotten the original offense that started you down this dark path, it’s probably time to ditch the list. If you already have a written list, you’re already halfway there. Just put it in the shredder. If it’s in your head, do go ahead and write it down then destroy it.

9. You hate yourself

I know, this maybe a bit strong. But it’s probably not far from the truth.

If you’re stuck in unforgiveness, you are probably experiencing a toxic brew of guilt, shame, self-judgment, and self-sabotage.

You may not even realize that you’re being so hard on yourself because you decided to withhold forgiveness.

What to do instead: Know that it doesn’t have to be this way. The way out of this awful trap is to simply love yourself just as you are right now. Put your a hand on your heart and with reverence and compassion, say to yourself:

“Though I am struggling to let go of this hurt, I fully love and accept myself just as I am.”

This radical self-acceptance will begin the healing journey of learning to let go hurts that may have been lodged in your soul for many years.

10. You replay the scene over and over…and over

If you find yourself lying awake in bed at 2 a.m. replaying events that happened weeks, months, or years ago, this one may resonate with you. And you know that with each replay, your feelings of stuckness and resentment grows.

Sometimes, you find yourself fixating so much on the past that you’ve allowed it to define everything you do. For instance, if your heart was broken in a past relationship, you may have consciously decided to let people in only so far, even someone you may have grown to love deeply.

  • Begin noticing your breath and allow yourself to relax for a few minutes.
  • Notice all the feelings that are arising within you as you relax, welcoming both pleasant and unpleasant sensations.
  • Once you’ve reached a state of deeper relaxation, bring to mind the scene you have been replaying over and over.
  • As you replay the scene, imagine an ending you would have preferred. For instance, if you regret reacting in anger to an offensive remark, imagine yourself responding to the person and yourself with compassion.
  • Imagine yourself in a future encounter with the person or another person. Imagine yourself responding to similar situation with greater compassion.
  • Rest in these images before slowly bringing yourself out of meditation by gently bringing your awareness back to your body in this space and time.

Resolve to begin practicing this in your everyday life. Choose to be responsive rather than reactive going forward.

11. You gossip about them

It’s natural to want to return the hurt to those who have hurt us.

One of the primary ways we do this is through gossip. We may divulge their secrets or spread untruths about them behind their backs.

If you intend to cause harm with the tongue, you’d be wise to heed the proverb:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov 18:21).

When you gossip, you’re not only doing further harm to your broken relationship (it’s funny how much you say behind a person’s back can get back to them), but you also endanger your relationships with the very people you gossip with.

While your gossiping may start off as a bonding experience, sooner or later people will learn that you cannot be trusted to hold their confidence. Soon enough, you’ll have fewer people who whom you can gossip and even fewer real friends.

What to do instead: When tempted to say something unkind about your offender, say something you genuinely admire about them. If there is nothing you admire, refrain from speaking.

How forgiving are you? Take the forgiveness quiz to see where you stand.

12. You’re righteous and entitled

Even if your situation is one where there was genuinely no wrong on your part, using this as a reason for not letting go will not sanctify your righteousness. You will only grow more bitter with each passing day.

What to do instead: Challenge your own sense of entitlement. Ask yourself hard questions like, “How may have I contributed to this impasse?” or “How have I caused harm to this person?” Regardless of whether or not you can answer the questions, they will open up a space of compassion for yourself and them from which you can begin to find relief from unforgiveness.

Always remember, others have been wronged by your actions and will struggle to forgive you as well. Keeping this perspective will keep you humble.

13. You exercise poor judgment

If someone’s hurt you in a significant way, you may engage in unhealthy or risky behavior as a form of self-medication. Think of the cheated lover who engages in a string of unhealthy relationships or the humiliated person who goes on a spending spree.

What’s worse is that we justify our actions with a false sense of self-care. While self-care is a hugely important part of letting go of unforgiveness, actions that provide short-term relief but long-term harm are not acts of self-care.

What to do instead: Identify things you can do to engage in proper self-care. Create a list that you can use every time someone harms you in a way that might be difficult to forgive. On this list could be things like, prayer, exercise, meditation, healthy eating, breathing exercises, sleeping, etc.

14. You refuse to confide in others

We live in a culture that believes that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness. In fact, you may be withholding forgiveness because you believe it might cause you to appear weak in the eyes of others.

But if you’re reeling from hurt, it may be helpful to share your feelings with a trusted friend—in a non-gossipy way of course. The difference here is that when you gossip, you focus on the actions of the offender instead of focusing on your own feelings and owning them.

Just sharing your feelings can provide relief and perspective. It may free you from the stuck feeling and promote creative thinking to help you move on from the hurt and resentment.

What to do instead: Identify two or three people you could confide in and reach out to one of them today. Don’t think about, don’t second-guess the people you thought of. Just reach out.

Don’t let unforgiveness destroy you

Are you ready to let go of past hurts so you can move on with your life?

Then it’s time to begin letting go of unforgiveness.

Know that learning to forgive is a lifelong process. Just like love, forgiveness is a decision we make each day.

Yes, it’s hard, but don’t be discouraged.

Your fresh start can begin today.

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