Overcoming Bitterness

By Amarachukwu Okpunobi

Bitterness can feel worse than anger because it involves feeling helpless. Referred to as ’embitterment’ in psychology circles, bitterness happens when you feel there is no action left to take because everything is out of your control.

Is overcoming bitterness worth the effort? Bitterness not only causes symptoms of trauma like sleeplessness, fatigue, and lack of libido, it can in the long term lead to low self-confidence, negative personality shifts, and an inability to have a healthy relationship. So, it’s worth looking at. Below are steps thought not just needful but also helpful by Sheri Jacobson,  in dealing with bitterness. Hope you also find it helpful…

  1. Do a serious re-evaluation: Bitterness thrives on sympathy. And often, in telling our story to others, we stop telling the truth to ourselves about what really happened and what is truly upsetting us.

Ask yourself good questions to dig deeper into facts and feelings. What about the situation which really upsets you when you go through it? What are the details that actually haunt you, versus what you tell your friends bothers you because they all agree it should?

Re-evaluate the thing that was actually lost, too. Do you still want it? Is it still attainable? Or, is it all something you really have long since outgrown?

  1. Put your story on hold: Telling the story of what happened to you to those whose job it is to help you, or because you are trying to find new and positive ways to deal with your situation, is one thing. But telling the story of what happened to you again and again in a negative way to everyone you meet is often a form of keeping yourself stuck in victimhood.

It might be harder than you think to not mention what happened to you at all for some time, but give it a try. Enlist friends to keep you on track, or try putting a rubber band around your wrist and ‘pinging’ it just enough to cause you a sting each time you find yourself telling your story again. This is thought to train the brain away from entrenched patterns.

  1. Take what responsibility you can: As for that victimhood that your story generates – if you are a victim, you are helpless.

If you can see your hand in things, it means you had power then, and still have it now.

Of course not all situations contain personal responsibility. But many people who are bitter know they had a part in what took place, but are too ashamed to admit to it.

Remember, the point of acknowledging your responsibility in what transpired is not to blame yourself, which is counterproductive, but to reclaim your personal power.

  1. Stop spying: Unfortunately, today’s technology and social media provides the perfect fodder for bitterness if there are other people involved. Spying on the person who triggered your upset is really a form of self-torture that involves comparing yourself to others unfavourably, and inevitably it lowers self-esteem.

Spying on others can also be addictive. If you can’t stop spying, you might need support.

  1. Face up to your hidden fears: Bitterness often is a perfect disguise for a fear of change or of failing. If you deal with the fear, you won’t need the bitterness anymore.

For example, if you are claiming you will never do the PhD you dreamed of, because you were scammed out of all your savings, you might discover that actually, you are terrified you aren’t smart enough to finish the PhD. Is it possible you are holding on to your bitterness about money when you could work on your confidence, take a student loan, and get on with your dreams?

  1. Forgive – but only at your own pace: Forgiveness is a great psychological release – but only if you are ready and it’s real.

Fake forgiveness can be a way of just denying how you feel, or even hold you back from processing emotions and situations.

  1. And don’t forget to forgive yourself, too: This might be the hardest but most important part of moving on from bitterness.

It’s possible to hold on to bitterness for a long time so you can focus your anger on someone else, because the truth is you are furious at yourself, and that feels too hard to face.

Finding ways to reframe what happened in ways that show yourself compassion can be a great release.

  1. Step into the now: Bitterness often consists of “dining out” on the awful thing that happened to you, and fantasising about revenge or thoughts of where you’d be now if things had gone differently. In other words, it lives in the past and the future.

Get into the now moment by concerning yourself with current opportunities and goals that are about you and a positive future.

  1. Branch out: Bitterness tends to fade in the face of excitement and joy – in other words, new and better experiences. Explore a longtime interest, re-connect with others, choose some new things to put into your life.
  2. Set mini goals for yourself each day: Bitterness is a powerful tide, and best intentions to do things like try new things and be mindful can soon be caught in its tug. The way around this is to not just make big goals, but also small goals every morning that keep you on the road away from bitterness.
  3. Try a new perspective: A mood of embitterment can have us seeing life from a very narrow perspective indeed. A great coaching tool to help you move forward in life is to imagine what the situation you are struggling with would look like from a different viewpoint entirely.
  4. Seek support: Yes, we keep saying it. But the truth is that bitterness can be quite a battle . And sometimes the strongest tactic and easiest way forward is to accept help. If your friends and loved ones are great listeners with no agenda, perfect. But if you need an unbiased viewpoint and a place you don’t feel judged, again, try a support group or a counsellor or psychotherapist.