Category: Helping Hands Blog
Published: Thursday, 21 July 2016 12:37
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rattlesnakeForgive or Snake?

Every one of us knows of someone who is constantly upset, angered and harbors resentment. Few of us, want to be around such people for extended periods of time. Having a disability and dealing with bitterness and forgiveness can go hand in hand. If you have a disability, especially one that involves chronic pain, it can be easy to have an unforgiving attitude toward those or what you may perceive to have caused your medical condition whether they be actual people or just fate. However, medical studies are showing that an unforgiving attitude leading to bitterness can make healing take longer or, even worse, can cause additional medical conditions.



In the words from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire “Everythin' seems ter happen ter you, doesn' it?” We all have days that seem to cave in on us. How we react to those days either makes us or breaks us. An anonymous author wrote, “Every test in our life makes us bitter or better. Every problem comes to break us or make us. The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.”

Breaks Us

Dr. Kathleen Lawler-Row, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at East Carolina University conducted a test in which the blood pressure and pulse of people were taken as they related a personal story of a time they were offended. Most test subject’s heart rate and blood pressure increased as they related their story then promptly decreased afterwards, but some people’s vital signs remained elevated for an extended period of time. The adverse affects to our health of elevated blood pressure are well documented.

Dr. Douglas Russell, a Veterans Administration cardiologist, performed a study in 2003 finding that heart function of patients who had suffered heart attacks actually improved following an instructional course in forgiveness.

Lack of forgiveness has also been linked to depression. Psychologist Loren Toussaint of Luther University in Decorah, Iowa has determined that unforgiving men may be seven times more likely to develop depression and women three times more likely to develop depression than people who readily forgive.

Makes Us

A grain of sand can make its way into the shell of an oyster. If the oyster is unable to expel the sand it begins to irritate the shellfish. The animal then begins to coat the sand with a substance that creates a smooth surface around the sand and lessens the irritation. From that source of irritation comes a beautiful pearl. We too can be oyster-like if we choose to turn bad things into good things. Often we can begin to feel better just by looking at a situation in a different light.


Once anger, bitterness and an unforgiving attitude have become part of our lives it may become difficult to remove. Psychologist Dr. Everett Worthington has developed a method of helping people deal with these feelings especially when the object of the resentment is another person. In Worthington’s method a person sits across from an empty chair and tells the chair how they feel. They are given the opportunity to really express their feelings. After they are finished, the person then takes the other chair and responds to the expressed thoughts how the offending person might have responded had they been there to listen. This therapy technique forces the person to think about the entire situation and some people might even realize that the feelings they have carried so long were the results of simple misunderstandings!

Music therapy has also been shown to help reduce bitter feelings. Relaxing music that allows meditation can lower the blood pressure and heart rate. Several months ago I wrote an article about music therapy helping people with disabilities in more ways than just anger. That article can be found here:

The Beginning

Robert D. Enright, PhD and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, states that healing begins with facing the root of the bitterness. Often, just like in other healing processes, the gains come with increased pain. After defining the cause, the person must then make a conscious decision to improve their life and begin the healing process.

The active work phase is next. During this time the person strives to put the hurt into context. Often this can be accomplished by considering the other person or the events surrounding their injury or illness. The person must learn to replace bad thoughts with good ones and also make efforts to not dwell on the bad but look for good things about their situation.

During Dr. Enright’s final phase the person learns to help others through their feelings using the experiences they themselves experience. This could be expressed in love toward others, volunteering and showing mercy to those we have unintentionally or even intentionally hurt.

The Snake

It has been said that if a rattlesnake is cornered it can get so mad that it will bite itself. Lack of forgiving others results in bitterness and inner anger that studies show will come back to bite us. Loss of friendship and loss of health can both be too precious to lose. If you have had a problem with forgiving, take some time to improve yourself and let the feelings go.



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