How Holding Grudges Makes You Physically Weaker

by | Mar 25, 2015 | Health

Forgiveness scores you more than good karma points: People who let go of personal grudges see the world as less daunting and perform better physically than those who hang on to their resentment, finds new research from the Netherlands.

In the study, participants who remembered a time when they refused to forgive someone judged hills to be about 5 degrees steeper than those who recalled making amends.

Forgivers also jumped an average of 3 inches higher in a fitness test than their still-bitter counterparts, suggesting that ill will can literally bring you down.

“Victims of conflict often suffer from a feeling of powerlessness—a sense that they are unable to control their own situations,” says study coauthor Ryan Fehr, Ph.D. And that resulting perception of mental weakness can actually drain your body’s physical resources, making tasks like climbing up a hill or jumping more difficult, he says.

Plus, when you hold a grudge, you tend to stew over it. This can deplete the availability of certain cognitive-boosting resources in your body—like blood sugar—that help you cope with physical challenges, says lead study author Xue Zheng, Ph.D.
Let Go of Your Grudge

Forgiving someone who betrayed your trust isn’t easy. But you can start by following what Fehr calls the “REACH” model of forgiveness:

1. Recall the event as accurately—and objectively—as you can.

2. Then try to empathise with the person who did you wrong by looking at what happened through his or her eyes.

3. Remember that forgiveness is an altruistic gift. Think about a time when the roles were reversed and someone forgave you.

4. Commitment is crucial. If you spend too much time mulling over your plans before acting, you can stress yourself out even more. So follow through now: Tell a trusted friend your game plan, or work things out with your wrongdoer face to face.

5. Then hold on to that forgiveness. Your pain is likely to bubble up again at some point, but when it resurfaces, remind yourself you’ve chosen to reap the rewards of reconciliation instead of sulking.

Okay, so it’s the kind of cheesy acronym you’d learn in grade school—but you should try it anyway: “Forgiveness is associated with increased well-being, fewer depressive symptoms, less stress, and greater physiological health,” says Fehr.

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