What are the effects of bitterness?
Many studies have shown that lack of forgiveness has a measurable impact on our bodies. Clinging to anger, frustration, fear and emotional pain creates tensions in our bodies that can tremendously affect our immune system, our hearts, brains, and basically all other organs and organs systems. By being unforgiving, we also repeatedly bring bitterness into every relationship and new experiences. Our lives become so wrapped up in the pain, the injustice, the wrong, that we miss out on enjoying what we do have, the present moment, the wonderful experience that life can be.
Depression and anxiety are common side effects of bitterness and we might experience a lack of meaning, purpose or fulfillment. Unforgiveness can lead to isolation and may cause the loss of the valuable experience of being connected with others.
Why is it so hard to forgive?
Forgiving goes against the advice of our Ego, that likes us to fight, attack, always be right and encourages the belief that fear is much safer and better than love. The Ego deeply dwells in separation and convinces us over and over again that we should live according to the saying “every man for himself”. Conflict, unhappiness and indifference are the main priorities for the Ego and expressing love, compassion, and forgiveness is just insane in this mindset. We believe in all the messages we get from the voice inside of our heads and it seems so justified that we should be mad and angry at others for what they did to us. If we believe in being separated from everybody else and only feel that we can survive by fighting against people around us, forgiving seems like a ridiculous concept of weakness, losing control, and giving up.
There is always a choice …
No matter how “unfair” or “unbelievably painful” our situation is, however, we always have a choice. We can either choose to stay in a state of unforgiveness, risking our emotional and physical well-being, losing the sense of peace inside our hearts and by doing so, prolonging our suffering, or we can make a conscious decision to let go of past hurt and anger and step into a new mindset and a new way of living. This is not an easy thing to do and takes time, dedication, and patience. Working with a coach can help us in making those changes, identifying our underlying beliefs and old thought-patterns and creating a new way of opening our hearts to the love that dwells deep inside of us.
The Chinese Kanji for forgiveness is a combination of a heart on the bottom, and a woman and a mouth at the top. The heart is the most significant as it suggests that it is the heart’s nature to forgive. This symbol encourages us to speak and act in accordance with our higher nature, which is the essence of forgiveness. In Asian cultures,
forgiveness is considered an act of benevolence. In forgiving, we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and show them the kindness we would want them to show us.
What could you want forgiveness cannot give? Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it. Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that can never be hurt, a deep, abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset? All this forgiveness offers you, and more
(A Course in Miracles, W-122.1, 2:1)
Let peace of mind be your only goal – not changing the other person or punishing them.
(Based on A Course in Miracles)
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, but it has everything to do with us – and often this is the biggest problem. We are most of the time our harshest critics, beating ourselves up for mistakes, misjudgments, or stumbles. And since we are unforgiving towards ourselves, we are also unable to reach out to others and show them compassion for their wrongdoings.
Forgiveness is first and foremost a decision – a personal choice to step out of the cage we created for ourselves that holds us hostage within a tremendous amount of emotional pain. Gerald Jampolsky calls forgiveness “an inner correction that lightens the heart” – a healing process by which we return to peace of mind by letting go of thoughts, interpretations, and judgments that are not helpful to us – that lead us deeper into feelings of separation, victimization, defensiveness, anger, fear, guilt, powerlessness, and blame. Making the decision to forgive, we open the door to view ourselves and others from a new perspective, with new insights, and a compassionate heart. We make a conscious choice to see beyond the hurtful behavior, the insensitivity, the rudeness or even cruelty and we discover the human being underneath who got lost, who cries out for understanding and who needs love as much as we do.
Forgiveness is a way of life and
must not be an occasional act, but a permanent attitude
as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. Learning to forgive takes time and effort, patience and compassion towards ourselves. Like any growth, forgiveness is not a linear process, but a spiral with ups and downs, learning, growing, adjusting, and changing.
The following steps can lead us from the bitterness into true, lasting forgiveness:
Face the facts about what happened. Acknowledge your feelings, talk about it, write or journal about your experiences and give yourself permission to be upset, angry, sad or hurt.
Open your eyes to new ways of seeing this situation and everybody involved. Be open to reframing you perspective, to exploring a shift in your thinking. Explore this situation as an opportunity to choose between love and compassion or attack and unforgiveness.
Remember that we are all human beings who make mistakes, who sometimes forget who we truly are, and who act from a place of fear instead of love.
Give yourself time to grow through this process. Neither start acting superior and feeling “good about yourself” because you are “better” than others because you can forgive nor turn yourself into the victim of the circumstances, giving up on your dreams and needs.
Invest in yourself by taking time for self care, meditating, spending time alone, and connecting with your inner core on a new level. Engage in activities that bring you peace and joy.
Value the experience and learn from it. Every person in your life is here to teach you something.
Embrace a new life in emotional freedom, happiness, and peace. Acknowledge how far you have come and celebrate your success.