January is a time for new beginnings, and beginnings often entail a few endings as well. Whatever we’re hoping to launch this year, we’d best begin by sussing out detrimental attitudes that could hold us back. Identifying the emotional baggage that drags us down, figuring out why we’ve been hauling it around, and becoming willing to let it go is half the battle of new beginnings.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Some of the heaviest pieces of baggage come in the form of old grudges. Unforgiveness. Lingering anger. Resentment. I’ve heard it said that resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die, and it’s true. Every bit of brain matter you dedicate to obsessive anger and resentment is a drain on your life, and it doesn’t affect the object of your scorn one iota.

What a waste of energy!

It is Time

Once you’re in the habit of dragging around resentment, it becomes the norm. You hoard old slights and hurts and betrayals in a dark cave inside yourself and fret about them, turning them over and over, musing and muttering over them like a crazy miser with his gold.

And it is kind of crazy — would a mentally healthy person do that? Spend time engaging in activities that make them feel bad? Giving another person or entity control over their emotions — sometimes a dead person or someone they haven’t seen in years? You probably know someone like this (hopefully this is not you): so far inside their dark, angry caves that they’ve become a victim of the whole world. Rage is the symptom.

Case in point: There are currently a handful of right-wing nuts holding an empty visitor’s center hostage in the Oregon desert because they think they are victims of a vast government conspiracy. They are expecting to die over this. (Hopefully this is not you, either.)

OK, extreme case. Back to those of us who live in reality.

It is time: Let. It. Go.

Just how long would you like to hold on to that resentment?

Just how long would you like to hold on to that resentment?

OK, but . . . how?

Getting Ready to Let Go

#1 Notice your burden. Look for resentments in your life and write them down. Write down what happened, what the other person or entity’s role was, what your role was. Be as honest as you can. If there was a third party involved, talk to them to get their honest assessment, or talk to a friend familiar with the situation. Ask them to tell you if you’ve been over-reacting — and do not add them to your resentment pile if they say yes! 

Recognizing that you might have contributed to your own negative experience can be humbling, and it may lead to compassion for yourself and for the other person involved — perhaps forgiveness? In the end, even if it was 100% the other party’s “fault,” you’re still the one being poisoned by the lingering resentment.

#2 Recognize that you are probably getting some benefit from holding on to the resentment. What is it? The armed nut-balls in Oregon seem to have made their resentment a reason for living — a purpose for life, not to mention a way to get on the news.

Most often, though, I think resentments protect us from pain. Or guilt and shame. We get angry because we don’t want to feel the pain and sadness underneath. That works for a time. Or we blame others because we don’t want to feel shame about our own role. Being in a victim role means you get to escape responsibility, but at what cost to you and your new beginnings?

#3 – Become willing to let go of the benefits of resentment and accept your true feelings. The hurt beneath the anger, the fear beneath the scorn. You have to feel and name those feelings before you can let them go. This takes work, but it’s worth it. Those feelings are your teachers, and they can help you take care of yourself and lead a life free from fear and bitterness and anger . . . but only if you accept and process them. So I’ll devote the rest of this post to a method I use that has been downright miraculous for me. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, but if you’re not a prayer-person, you can call it whatever you like.

It goes like this:

Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

So there — there’s my new year’s gift to you. I wish you a 2016 full of healthy new beginnings!

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