Some years ago, we were moving to a new house and as a new couple, we were very excited. We decided to refurbish the couches of the chairs in our living room so that it would look nice and new. The task was given to a gentleman I will name Zorad, who was recommended to us. Zorad came for the items which were supposed to be refurbished and was supposed to bring them back in three weeks. We paid Zorad some advance, and the balance was supposed to be paid once he finished the work. We really trusted the highly recommended “expert”.

After the three weeks had elapsed, we tried reaching Zorad but his phone was either off or when it did ring, he would refuse to pick up our calls. We were sorely disappointed in him and our trust was broken. An author says “broken trust is like a melted chocolate, no matter how hard you tried to freeze it, it will never return to its original shape” – this describes exactly how we felt.

We did not know that the items would never be returned by Zorad and we stayed without furniture for one good year. Finally, we decided that we needed to get a new set. I was hurt by this turn of events and started harboring bitterness, anger and plotting my revenge against Zorad. I was overwhelmed, however, by this nagging question, “How long was I going to be bitter and allow this negative emotion to control me?”.

I read a statement somewhere which said, “bitterness is a prolonged form of suicide”. A person who is bitter is gradually eaten up by the cancer called bitterness.

We all have the choice to live with bitterness, revenge and anger and suffer the consequences on our health, our relationships and our lives.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman who is one of the founders of emotional intelligence defined it as the “ability to manage yourself and your relationships with others so that you can live your intentions”.

According to Daniel Goleman, having a healthy Emotional Intelligence (EQ), means:

  • First, understanding your emotions (self-awareness). Knowing your strengths and vulnerabilities. Understanding how your emotions affect your behavior and the impact that has on other people also understanding what belief systems govern your emotions and having an ongoing willingness to be introspective.
  • Secondly, managing your emotions effectively (self-management). Acquiring the skills to cope effectively with stress and anger. Being more flexible. Keeping things in perspective. Developing a strong sense of self-worth and trusting your capabilities to cope with demands. Staying motivated by inner factors such as personal growth and achievement.
  • Third, recognizing and understanding the moods and emotions of others (social awareness) by tuning in to the feelings of others and being “present” being able to give others our full attention.
  • Lastly, understanding others and living harmoniously with them on all levels (social management).

We will focus our attention on one of the most destructive emotions, bitterness, which has ruined many lives, marriages, families, organizations and even nations.

Let us first discuss some of the reasons why people hold on to bitterness and move on to discuss how to prevent bitterness and lastly, provide some ways of dealing with this cancer which has destroyed many lives.

  • The first suggested reason is a “self-focused” attitude. Many people become bitter when they think principally of themselves. When the “me, myself and I” become the center of everything, bitterness finds a very fertile ground to grow and to flourish.
  • The second reason why many people find it difficult to deal with bitterness is that we have a low self-awareness (we are unaware of the negative impact the cancer of bitterness has on our lives). We think “we have been hurt and can’t let go even though we are suffering”, Many people are willing to pamper this deadly disease by walking in self-pity because they do not know they are destroying themselves. In a study done at Concordia University researchers examined the relationship between failure, bitterness and quality of life. According to psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch, “Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health. When harbored for a long-time, bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease”. Many mental disorders and psychiatric challenges are the result of negative emotions which are not well managed.
  • Yet another reason is the lack of ability to confront issues and resolve conflicts. The inability to resolve conflicts can seriously lead to a bitter team and destroy trust which is the glue that holds relationships together.

We can’t keep people from offending us, but we can prevent the negative emotions by using the 3Rs –Realize, Recognize and Refuse suggested by Kenneth W. Hagin in his book Avoiding the trap of being offended. These 3Rs suggested can protect us against harboring bitterness.

  • The first R is Realize that there is bitterness. We need to realize that bitterness will come our way and it is inevitable. But whether we will become entrapped and ensnared by it is a choice we need to make!
  • The second R is to Recognize the bitterness. If you can’t recognize this negative emotion called bitterness, it will be difficult to guard against it. According to Robert Cooper, “Feelings provide us with vital and potentially profitable information every minute of the day. This feedback from the heart, and not the head, is what ignites creative genius, keeps you honest with yourself, shapes trusting relationships, provides an inner compass for your life and career, guides you to unexpected possibilities, and may even save your organisation from disaster.”
  • The third R is to Refuse or to master your negative emotions. You can keep bitterness from gaining an entrance into your heart in much the same way you might refuse to open the front door to your home every time someone knocks. According to Daniel Goleman, “great leaders move and ignite our passion. They inspire the best in us not by some idea, vision, or strategy but by their emotion and the ability to be a master over it. Your ability to be the master of your emotion, manage your stress, and control your moods will greatly influence your ability to lead and to be successful in any work or interpersonal endeavour”.

To deal with bitterness, two suggestions are made below:

  • The first way is the ability to confront issues and to solve conflict. Learning to deal with conflict is an art which should be learnt. Conflicts are inevitable and are necessary in relationships and teams, but conflicts not well-solved or ignored long enough will lead to a broken trust, bitterness and thoughts of revenge or negative emotions.
  • The second and more powerful way to deal effectively with the deadly emotion called bitterness is forgiveness. According to Mahatma Ghandi, “The weak people in character cannot forgive. Forgiveness is for the strong”. Only the person who knows his value and is secure can easily forgive. In fact, to sincerely say “I forgive you” or “Forgive me”, shows a state of inner security and inner strength. It does not in any way reduce you but rather proves a healthy self-image.

The one who is emotionally intelligent, healthy and secure can easily forgive and ask for forgiveness, but the emotional unhealthy person will continue to harbor bitterness and will find it difficult to forgive. “Forgiveness is a power that liberates. It liberates first the one who is bitter and decides to forgive, then the one who has caused the bitterness and finally all the people involved in the process”.

To learn to forgive is a mark of true maturity and humility and it truly shows our real value. Most of the time people will refuse to forgive by asking first for restitution before releasing those who have hurt them. The big question is “who is the real victim here?” or “who is being destroyed by the bitterness?”.

Forgiveness has played a great role in the unity of many nations and in the healing of emotions and wounds in many people lives. The example of Nelson Mandela can be emulated.

To end our story, it happened that Zorad had done some work for a colleague and was supposed to come to my place of work for his cheque. This was a real test for me. When I saw him, this being almost two years after the incident, I became furious and all the negative emotions flooded my heart all over again. I was faced with the decision of letting these emotions overpower me or getting rid of them.

Zorad sat in front of me and started begging. I mastered the courage and told him “I have decided to forgive you. You can keep the furniture but do not repeat this same trick with another person”. What followed was unbelievable. He wept uncontrollably.

He wept for over fifteen minutes while begging for forgiveness. I assured him that I had forgiven him. By releasing forgiveness, both Zorad and I got liberated but the one who was freer was myself.

I have overcome that bitterness and I am now free!!!

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