“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
- Roy T. Bennett
In this column, you will learn simple but powerful tips on how to overcome bitterness from a wide range of experts.
Clicking on the expert names below will take you to their individual blurb on how to overcome bitterness in life.
It is a simple but sometimes forgotten truth that the greatest enemy to present joy and high hopes is the cultivation of retrospective bitterness. - Robert G. Menzies
Indeed, this is an indisputable truth. Bitterness springs from an amalgamation of fear and disappointment.
Allowed to ferment, it grows to a rancorous entree of anger with a side of hatred. It becomes all we take in, a spoiled mother's milk we feast upon until we can no longer enjoy any of life's sweet fruits. We begin to see wrongdoing everywhere, creating a cynicism serving only to blind us to what is good.
So how do we purge bitterness from our system?
Is there a tea for emotional detox? Well, "to solve problem, we have to admit there is one". If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about wrongs done, if you're unable to find even a sliver of joy, you have acquired this toxic condition.
The prescribed tea is evaluating our thoughts each time bitterness surfaces.
When tension spreads in our bodies, we have to take note and ask ourselves "What really created what I'm feeling right now? What memory took me there? Is this the same situation? Can I put it in a different context?"
I frequently tell my patients it's important to think about why they think what they are thinking and determine if it's worth the importance they are placing on it to the point of robbing them of peace.
They often reach the conclusion it is most definitely not and it's distracting from thoughts better employed elsewhere. Simple? Yes. Does it require daily practice? Absolutely, and anything worth achieving always does.
So, ask yourself, "What am willing to give up in order to keep consuming this unending serving of bitterness?"
Is it worth relationships, productivity or your health? If you aren't willing to sacrifice life's sweeter tasting moments, it's time to drink the tea.Shealah West, LSCSW - www.facebook.com/therapyoutofthebox
Feeling bitter toward people or circumstances in your life can, over time, become toxic and powerful.
It can creep into many aspects of your life, your relationships, your worldview, and how you see yourself. Contempt is like a poison to a relationship and to an individual. The good news is that it is never too late to change to do something about it.
In order to change you’ll need to be honest with yourself. You’ll need to acknowledge the feelings, the associated thoughts, and start to gain awareness into what kinds of events, statements, or situations are triggering them. You’ll then need to take a look at how you’re dealing with your bitterness.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- What usually triggers feeling bitter?
- When you are feeling bitter, what immediately goes through your head?
- How do you typically respond when you’re feeling bitter? Do you withdraw from others? Do you engage in talking negatively about people or situations?
- How do you generally feel afterwards?
- What, if anything, is working for you, and what is not working?
After this self-reflection, the next thing you’ll need to figure out how you want to take action.
This may sound daunting, because it takes both effort and energy. It means breaking the prevailing pattern. While these present barriers, it is nothing that you can’t decide to overcome.
Just think of all the energy going toward feeling bitter currently. Which is a more productive use of your energy? You will need to make the decision to do something differently. Many people find that they benefit from seeking out support in making these changes.
One potentially helpful approach is to seek the support of a professional, which you can do at any point in your self-exploration. Alternately, you can reach out on supportive others in your life to help encourage what you are doing on your own.
Fundamentally, you will need to become the change you want to see happen in your life.
If you want to be less bitter, you will need to make the conscious effort to be something else. You taking control of how you respond can be the path you need to overcome bitterness.Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. - www.smarthealthpsych.com
If you were asked to think of a bitter person you know, who would it be?
Now hold the image of that person in your mind. What is the expression on their face? How do they stand, sit, and speak? Do they draw people close or are they usually avoided? Do you know why they are bitter? Did you see your own face or someone close to you?
Bitterness is a trait that can develop easily into a habit without being noticed.
When people have bad experiences, feel betrayed or marginalized, they can become overly-cynical and begin seeing the world through a negative lens. Once their view of the world becomes distorted, it becomes easier to unwittingly find the negative in most situations. Holding grudges, feelings of jealousy, and misdirected anger can become new go-to behaviors.
Most people experience bitterness occasionally and can overcome those feelings by focusing on what is right in their lives.
Then there are the people who lose their focus and adopt bitterness as a habit and a way of life.
Here are five common habits of bitter people and how you can avoid developing them.
Overly cynical – Having a healthy dose of cynicism can be a good thing. Cynicism creates a pause and space to examine options, weigh pros and cons, and ask questions before deciding on a best solution. However, bitter people may take cynicism to a new level. Because they see the world through jaded lenses, they may generalize their negativity toward people that haven’t caused them pain. Cynicism becomes a primary response instead of a useful tool.
If you find yourself drifting to this level of cynicism, you can resolve it by remembering how you see the world is a reflection of your past experiences. You, and only you, get to decide if you want to carry negative experiences with you and what level of control they have over your life.
Being jealous – There is someone you know that is better than you. You know who I’m talking about. Of course, you only run into this person when you haven’t brushed your hair and are wearing your oldest sweats. This person is better looking, has more money, has perfect children with perfect teeth, has a better house, and incredible cars. Just know, while you are thinking about this perfect person, there are probably a few people that think your life is perfect and better than theirs (insert laughter here!).
Feeling a twinge of jealously on occasion is normal, however when it creeps in to the point of obsessive thoughts, it can create bitterness. Instead of allowing jealousy to consume your thoughts and time, let it act as motivation for creating and accomplishing your goals.
Notice I said “your” goals? Spend some time asking yourself what you truly want. You may be surprised that your goals look nothing like what you were feeling jealous about.
Holding grudges – Holding a grudge allows a situation or person to have mastery and control over your thoughts and behaviors. Grudges lead to anger and soon become a part of you.
If you start heading down the path of holding a grudge, try to snap out of it by asking this simple question: “What could I do with all the time I spending thinking about this?” If that doesn’t work, calculate the minutes, hours, and days you’ve spent thinking about this person. Now multiply your total by zero and that is the amount of time this person has spent worrying about their misstep.
Attention seeking – Bitter people seldom shy from the spotlight. They seek attention by telling their story to anyone who will listen, because they want reassurance that they have been treated unfair.
You may have occasions when you are upset and just need a sounding board to help you sort through your feelings. But how is having a sounding board different than attention seeking? It’s simple. A sounding board is usually a single confidant who will listen to your complaint and then tell you if you are overreacting or have a legitimate grief.
If you must talk about a situation, reach out to your confidant and share, get feedback and then figure out your own best solution. Telling everyone you know about your plight will not solve your problems, however it can make you the person to avoid at parties.
Negativity – Bitterness can cause people to see the world through a negative lens. When we live in negativity every situation is annoying or problematic. This way of seeing the world and people is isolating and creates self-imposed limitations.
If you aren’t sure how you see the world, try this self-inquiry exercise: Using a single piece of paper or a page in your journal, draw a vertical line straight down the center of the page.
On the left column write “(+) experiences that make my life better” and on the right column “(-) experiences that make my life worse.” At the end of the day look at your entries. What side had more entries? What did you observe? Could things from the (-) column be re-blocked and changed into a positive experience?
Bitterness is the residue that unresolved anger leaves behind and keeps you attached to the very thing that creates your discomfort.
By looking at bitterness up close and asking “why” you can begin chipping away the source of your negative feelings.Renae Cerquitella, Relationship Coach - www.StartHereCoachingServices.com
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it will kill your enemies.” –Nelson Mandela
One could say I was born with a bitter taste in my mouth.
Whether it was watching my brother get the bigger half of a cookie as a child or being snubbed in a relationship as an adult, I’ve been an expert at nursing grudges since I was…well, nursing.
Maybe it’s just my wiring, but if I let myself I could sit in a puddle of self-righteous judgement for days.
After a while, though…that puddle feels not-so-good.
Recounting the wrongdoings of others (whether real or perceived) doesn’t actually make those wrongs any more right. Sure, we can search for our part in things and attempt to make them right-- but what about after that? After we’ve swept every inch of “our side of the street,” after we’ve learned a lesson and taken mental notes, after communication and journaling and sessions in the therapy chair…then what?
In my experience, this is where the real work can come into play. Many of us must tackle forgiveness of the same people (and ourselves) multiple times throughout life. When long wounded parts of ourselves are triggered or reopened, there’s a continuous series of steps we can take to nurse ourselves off of the grudge—and back to health.
- Realize that you’re (still) bitter
Sometimes I won’t even realize that I’m still upset about something until I find myself kicking the proverbial “dog” in my own life. This doesn’t actually involve a dog, of course; it’s more like snapping at loved ones, stalking exes on Facebook, or simply sinking onto the couch with Ben and Jerry’s. (You know, all of those activities that are satisfying one moment and horrifying the next.)
What might simply look like a “bad day” is actually an attempt to ignore a creeping feeling of anger, resentment, or hurt. Ideally it’s in this moment that we stare the monster right in the face: put down the spoon of ice cream, pick up a pen and paper, and ask ourselves:
What’s coming up right now? What am I upset about? Where is this stemming from? Who is “renting space” in my head?
Let it all flow. Even the ugly stuff. Fill a notebook if you need to, but get it out.
I find that when I allow my “ugliest” and most shameful emotions rise to the surface, they lose just a bit of their power. Many of us are told from an early age that being angry isn’t okay, but in all actuality it’s a vital part of working through things. I call it naming the beast-- or the “pain body” as Eckhart Tolle calls it. Getting some perspective on the feelings we wish we didn’t have can allow us to realize that they’re not actually us at all.
- Find the lesson
After we’ve let ourselves feel and see all of the anger, sadness, or jealousy rise to the surface, it can be a real shame heap. Why am I such a horrible and spiteful person is an easy place to go to, but in all actuality, we’re not…we’re human. And as humans that are constantly learning and growing, it can be helpful to ask…what am I learning from this experience/job/person? Am I stronger for having gone through this? Do I have a better idea of what I value in life, or whom?
With time comes perspective, and the rearview mirror of life can often bring more to us each time we have to glance into it. Just because a person is gone or a hurt is long past doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lesson that time may have granted us. Moments of bitterness can be a perfect chance to reframe old experiences.
- Practice active forgiveness
I know, I know, you’ve already done this—we all have, right? The issue for many of us, however, is that forgiveness is a journey that we are continually on. While one day we might feel only peace and well wishes toward the people of our past, the next might find us staring at the ceiling and rehashing an old argument. Although it can be satisfying to make a list of the reasons we were right and “they” were wrong, in the long run it doesn’t actually make anybody feel better…it really only makes us feel worse.
It’s at this moment that I challenge you to do something that might feel completely phony and downright strange:
Make a list of all the things that you want in life (love, health, friends, etc.) and then…wish them for the person who harmed you.
The partner who cheated on you ten years ago? Wish for them to feel loved and taken care of. The gal who cut you off in traffic earlier? Ask that she travels safely to her destination and finds a sense of calm. Do it over and over again—as many times as they cross your mind. This practice might disagree with every ounce of your being, but…
It has a magical effect.
Focusing our attention on wishing kindness toward those who harmed us not only frees us from the burden of resentment, but gives us the chance to slip into the shoes of the “other.” When we remember that deep down we’re all essentially searching for the same things: to be safe, loved, and feel a connection to the world—it becomes easier to forgive the people who harmed us in their own search.
Ultimately, bitterness and resentment are natural parts of being human. Rather than shaming ourselves for having feelings that linger past their desired expiration date, we can acknowledge that they’re simply stones in the path of finding peace within ourselves.
And it’s important to note, a voodoo doll and some Ben and Jerry’s can be really helpful too. Just kidding (but not about the ice cream.)
Melissa Pennel, Empowerment Coach & Writer – FollowYourFireCoaching.com
There are many reasons why you might find yourself feeling bitter.
A relationship breakup, loss of a job, getting scammed, experiencing what you feel is unfair treatment—the list goes on.
I was quite bitter when I felt forced out of a job I had really loved by a new administration. Being bitter didn’t feel good and it didn’t move me forward in life. Holding on to bitterness causes you to stay in a state of anger, helplessness and resentment that spills over onto others. It puts you in constant “complain mode.”
If you don’t face it and shift your perspective, it will adversely affect your health, relationships, opportunities and general well-being. I finally freed myself of the bitterness and was able to open to my next phase of life a stronger, wiser and happier person.
These are the steps I took:
1. Look for the gift in the situation that caused you to feel bitter.
How did you grow from it? What did you learn about yourself? See the growth opportunity that is there for you. A coach or counsellor can help with this process if you find it difficult.
2. Stop telling the story to all your friends.
Focusing on the pain doesn't allow you to move past it and heal. It may feel good in the short run to have your friends agreeing that you got a raw deal, but repeating that story over and over keeps you stuck in victim mode. It doesn’t allow you the space to explore what it is you really feel upset about and deal with it. When you are a victim, you feel powerless. That sense of powerlessness could be the real thing you’re feeling bitter about.
3. Take an honest look at what responsibility you may have had in creating the situation.
That’s a hard one to look at, but valuable! Were there red flags you ignored? By looking at your contribution to the problem you can acknowledge that you actually had choice and were not powerless. Taking some of the responsibility allows you to take back your power. It’s true that there are some situations in which someone may have had no control, but in most cases we do.
4. Practice forgiveness.
The reason most people have trouble forgiving when they feel wronged, is that they think it excuses the behavior of the other person. That’s not what forgiveness is about. It’s about allowing yourself to release the past and move on. Forgiveness is a powerful process, but do it only when you feel ready. If you rush it and don’t really genuinely feel forgiveness, you just bury your feelings and that doesn’t allow you to process them. I found forgiveness came in small steps.
5. Forgive yourself.
It’s important to have self-compassion. Often when we have had something happen in our lives that causes bitterness, we feel angry with ourselves. Realize you are human, and that entails making mistakes as part of the learning process. Be kind to yourself. Try meditating, listening to music that uplifts you and being out in nature to soothe your feelings.
6. Explore how the situation caused you to seek new opportunities, meet new people and create the person you are now.
I found myself to be actually grateful for the person I had been so upset with when I left my job. If it hadn’t been for him, I would probably have stayed right where I was, not growing. Leaving that job gave me an opportunity to really look at what I wanted to do next with my life. As a result, I found my true calling. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been expanding and exciting!
7. Be in the present moment.
Stop re-hashing the situation and having conversations in your head you wished you’d had. Focus, instead, on what is in front of you and explore new things that you enjoy. What new activities and places can you investigate?
If you are still having a hard time, I recommend seeking out the support of a coach or counsellor to help you process your feelings and shift your perspective.
Estra Roell, Life Purpose Coach– www.americaslifepurposecoach.com
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