“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.
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
Today my task is to help you overcome bitterness (no simple assignment!), but there is something I want you to know first: your bitterness is justified.
I believe you.
You have good reasons to be bitter: People have hurt you deeply. You have had painful experiences with organizations and churches and corporations. Systems are biased against you. You have experienced betrayals and losses beyond words.
You’re right. Your reasons are valid. You have a right to be angry and resentful and frustrated and bitter.
The way to overcome bitterness is not to sugarcoat the experiences that caused your feelings or to come up with three reasons for the good that came out of your pain. Instead, I am giving you permission to look it in the face and say “That was really awful. That sucked. That was wrong and should not have happened. It has caused me more than my share of pain, damage, or hard work.”
And, also – one more thing before we move on: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you had to go through that, that you continue to experience pain and damage from it. I’m sorry for the ways it has affected your life and your family.
Bitterness forms as the result of feelings that have hardened and sunk in over time.
They were most likely feelings that you could not express or deal with in the moment. There was probably no one that apologized to you, either because they were incapable or unwilling. Then, like metamorphic rock that forms from the heat and pressure deep below the earth’s surface, the feelings changed over time into something harder to penetrate and harder to release.
There is a reason we have so much trouble releasing these feelings.
Bitterness has a message that it whispers into our ear: “You are safer with me. I will protect you. I will make sure this never happens again. If you let go of me, you’ll be vulnerable. You might be tricked right into the same situation all over again.”
If you are serious about overcoming bitterness, then I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that it is possible: you can overcome resentment and be free from its effects on your life. The bad news is that letting go of bitterness is hard and painful work that requires loss and sacrifice.
Hard Work Part 1
People who are bitter often have less emotional response in their daily lives. Yet beyond the tough exterior of the bitterness, there are tender feelings – sadness, pain, fear, fresh anger. After we acknowledge that the bitterness is justified, then we must bravely look at the feelings that are trapped inside it. This is “Hard Work Part 1.” It will take some journaling or talking it through with a trusted person. We need to recover vulnerability – even if it seems too callous to ever be soft again.
Take the time to come up with every feeling and fear inside that bitter root and allow yourself to look those feelings in the face. Be completely honest with yourself as you notice the fears, the sadness, the shame, the loss, and the anger that come up. Be prepared to feel them all over again and seek out the support you need.
Hard Work Part 2
When you have your list, you must decide if you are ready and willing to let go of these feelings and the bitterness with them. This decision is harder than it first appears. The bitterness has no-doubt protected you and served you in some way. And, if that’s the case, then why would you want to let go of it?
Take a moment to notice what it would mean to let go of your resentment. There are ways it has benefitted you; make a list of what those are and take them seriously. Letting go of bitterness will mean letting go of the ways it serves you.
But bitterness also takes up a lot of energy. It can keep you from using your talents or doing the meaningful work you are called to. It often blinds you from really seeing what is in front of you. In a way, bitterness lies to you a little to keep you safer.
Alison Armstrong, a relationship expert, makes a distinction between acting out of “human animal” and “human spirit.”
Human animal comprises your instinctual ways of acting and reacting in the world. The purpose of these instincts is to keep you safe. Armstrong says we would be surprised by how many of our actions are really instincts, even though we believe ourselves to be making choices all day long. Bitterness is an act of human animal– it protects in a situation where we have been hurt.
Letting go of bitterness is nothing less than an act of human spirit – choosing to let go of our protective instincts, even though we have all the reason in the world to hold on to them.
When you are ready to release your pain and bitterness, do it intentionally and out loud. Acknowledge your right to be bitter, thank the bitterness for the ways it has served you, read your list of feelings and fears, and then say out loud “I choose to release my feelings and bitterness.”
Do you know that satisfying feeling when you are pulling weeds and you pull one out with all the roots intact?
You can tell by how it feels that you got the whole root. Releasing these feelings will feel a little like that – you’ll probably feel it right in the middle of your chest. Like trying to pull weeds out of cold dry dirt, this will not work if you simply try to release the bitterness. Getting down to the tender feelings is like softening the soil.
If we could see the bigger picture, I think we’d be able to see how our bitterness is keeping us stuck.
It prevents us from the very healing and change that we want most. We hold onto resentment with a death grip – as though we might not be who we are anymore without it. Could it be that the change we fear may be the change that frees us? If you woke up tomorrow and your bitterness were gone, what would your life be like?
Candace McCallister, LAC – www.sweetwateroffering.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
“Bitterness and love cannot live together in the same heart. Each day, we must decide which one gets to stay.” ~Dave Willis
Bitterness does not feel good, but sometimes we get stuck in the emotions of frustration and disappointment. Then it can settle into our bodies and colors our perceptions. When bitterness is the lens with which we see the world, we’re stuck noticing all of the bad things in our lives rather than the everyday miracles trying to get our attention.
Here are some ways to think about and dissolve the resentment that is constricting your vision.
1. What is underneath the bitterness?
The feeling of bitterness is often the hardened shell of a soft emotion underneath. There is always a core emotion that is more vulnerable, and discovering it is a more direct way to address the root of what’s really going on. Feelings of disappointment, rejection, jealousy, or fear can masquerade as hardened cynicism and bitterness.
Once you identify the core emotion, you can work directly with its causes and start to heal. Offering your wounded parts self-compassion will lesson your need to put back on the armor of bitterness.
2. What is the feeling of bitterness needing from you? How is it trying to heal you?
All of our emotions are there to help us heal and teach us something, even the unpleasant ones. Your feelings of bitterness are there to point you toward a core suffering that needs to be healed. Ask yourself when you can first remember this feeling. How old were you, and what was happening? Perhaps long ago you decided life was going to disappoint you, and it was unsafe to get your hopes up or be vulnerable.
By lovingly tending to and listening to our feelings, they can point us directly toward the source of the pain. If something in the past did profoundly disappoint you, you can dialogue with yourself at that time and offer compassionate attention.
3. What are your negative beliefs, and how are you unconsciously feeding them?
Negative confirmation bias is the psychological phenomenon where our brains seek out evidence to confirm our negative beliefs. If you have a core belief that you will always fail, or that happiness comes to other people but not you, you will see that belief manifested all around you.
On the contrary, if you have the knowing that you are a capable, worthy, luminous being deserving of all the happiness in the world, you will see that truth played out. Instead of assuming the world is against you, shift your perception. Imagine the universe has your back and is conspiring to help you get everything you desire.
4. Think about someone you easily and wholeheartedly love. How can you love yourself and the world in that same way?
Cultivating loving kindness towards yourself and others can help you release bitterness, because there simply isn’t room for both. Bring someone to mind that you love and wish all the happiness in the world. Concentrate on that feeling. Now offer that same kindness to yourself.
When you can fully feel that loving self-compassion, expand it and offer it to all beings. We really are all in this together, and when you are caught in resentment it is very isolating. When you fill your heart with love instead of resentment, you retrain yourself to see the best in yourself, your life, and the world around you.
Sarah Bauer Hernandez, MA, LPC – www.sarahbauerhernandez.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
You may not, except with express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.