“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
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to overcome bitterness in life.
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
“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