On letting go of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 4, 2011

When we’ve been deeply hurt, it’s all too easy to become prisoners of resentment and unforgiveness. The temptation is to want to strike back, to take revenge, to get even. But there’s a better way: Let it go.

This better way was clearly the example of Jason Nixon, who, along with two others, was wrongly accused last year of shooting a wild horse near Sundre, north of Cochrane.

According to an outstanding story by Licia Corbella in the Calgary Herald for April 28, the false accusation and subsequent arrest by the RCMP cost Nixon his job, home, reputation and $100,000 in legal fees over what turned out to be the desire of the accuser to cash in on a $25,000 reward.

At the time of his arrest, Nixon was the general manager at Mountain Aire Lodge, the Mustard Seed Street Ministry’s treatment centre near Sundre for people struggling with addictions and homelessness. His accuser was one of the people he had helped get back on his feet. Nixon has every right to be angry and want to get even.

But according to Corbella’s story, that is anything but the case. On Good Friday, Nixon reflected on how Jesus was betrayed so terribly, even to the point of being crucified, yet His response was to forgive. Nixon is working through the implications of such forgiveness for his own life now.

In my column for July 9, 2008, I shared the story of one of our coffee companions who also embraced the process of forgiving someone who had grievously wronged her family. Annette Stanwick had to learn how to forgive her brother’s murderer.

Annette is the award-winning author of Forgiveness: the Mystery and Miracle, the book in which she recounts the whole ordeal surrounding her brother’s death, the subsequent trial, and how she confronted his murderer in a spirit of love and forgiveness. She has become a public speaker much in demand for the wisdom she shares around this difficult topic, as she inspires her audiences with unforgettable stories, and valuable tools and strategies for replacing negative emotions with freedom, peace and happiness. (See her website.)

In view of how many of our readers have mentioned to me recently that one of the hardest things in life for them to let go of is the attitude of unforgiveness, I contacted Annette and asked for her current thoughts on letting go.

She responded:

When we hang on to anger, bitterness or the need for revenge when we've been hurt, we hold onto unforgiveness. Holding onto those negative emotions places us in our own personal prison. We can remain in that prison for a very long time – even for the rest of our lives. Prolonged bitterness, anger and unforgiveness can destroy our health through increased blood pressure, risk of stroke, increased heart rate, increased incidence of diabetes, depression and chronic pain. Those negative emotions can also be very destructive in our relationships and in our success.

Many are unaware that when we've been hurt we always have a choice in how we respond, even though we cannot choose what has happened to us. Science is proving that if we make a positive choice to let go of the pain, let go of the hurt, let go of the anger and let go of those things that are holding us captive, we can actually reverse the physical and emotional effects of our anger and bitterness. Letting go doesn't mean stuffing the negative emotions. It means acknowledging the pain, facing it, feeling it, making positive choices, letting go of the hurt and then feeling the freedom!

Forgiving the one who has hurt us does not excuse or erase what has happened, but by forgiving and letting go of the pain, we are saying, "I refuse to be controlled by the person who hurt me. I choose to release the chains of bitterness that are keeping me captive. I choose to be happy and to move on in spite of the hurt.”

Letting go is a powerful concept! It means acknowledging the hurt, facing the issue, feeling the pain, making positive choices, letting go of the hurt and then feeling the freedom!

Annette’s thoughts remind me of a great line I picked up from the late Ann Landers, advice columnist who gave me so much guidance during my teen-aged years. She said: “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”

A more recent writer has his own take on the topic. Max Lucado says: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!”

I’ll conclude with this note from Cochrane coffee companion and motivation speaker Leo Peters: “When we hang on to anger, hate, revenge and fear, rather than letting go and embracing love and forgiveness, we victimize ourselves. Let it go, let it go!”

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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