All bitterness starts out as hurt with left-over feelings and questions around ‘Did the person who provoked the hurt have malicious intent? Or a grave injustice toward you? Or how could they have wronged you?’
We are likely to experience anger and resentment whenever we conclude that another has seriously abused us. Left to fester, that righteous anger eventually becomes the corrosive ulcer that is bitterness.
Bitterness is a chronic and pervasive state of smouldering resentment. It is one of the most destructive and toxic of human emotions. If we repeatedly ruminate over how we’ve been victimised, “nursing” wrongs may eventually come to define some essential part of who we are and take hold of our very personality. We could end up becoming a victim and staying a victim.
Bitterness is the inevitable result of becoming obsessed with blaming someone else for our misery. We may refuse to acknowledge that external hindrances or setbacks that block us from pursuing our goals. Frankly, it’s all too easy to hamper ourselves by falling into the trap of righteously obsessing about our injuries or outrage. Doing so does afford us the gratification of feeling that we’re better than, or morally superior to the source of our wrongs.
The ill effects of bitterness can:
- Prolong or exacerbate your mental and emotional pain
- Lead to long lasting anxiety and/or depression
- Precipitate vengeful acts that put you at further risk for being hurt or victimised
- Engulf you in a never ending, self-defeating cycle of getting even
- Prevent you from experiencing the potential joys of living fully in the present
- Keep you dwelling self-righteously on the past wrongs inflicted on you
- Create or deepen an attitude of distrust and cynicism
- Contribute to hostility, paranoid thinking and an overall sense of pessimism
- Lead you into a bleak perspective of life that prompts others to turn away from you
- Interfere with cultivating healthy, satisfying relationships
- Lead you to doubt, or disparage, your connection to others
- Compromise or weaken your higher ideals
- Adversely impact your personal search for purpose and meaning in life
- Rob you of vital energy
- Stop you from realising your desires or achieving your goals
- Undermine your physical health and erode your sense of wellbeing
- Blind you from taking any form of responsibility
Forgiveness - Forgiveness alone enables you to let go of grievances, grudges, ill will and resentment. It’s the single most potent antidote for the venomous desire for retributive justice that poisons your system. If this impulse hasn’t infested you physically, it’s at least afflicted you mentally and emotionally. Learning to forgive your “violator” facilitates your recovering from a wound that, while it may have originated from outside of yourself, has been kept alive from the venom you've synthesised within you.
If anger intimates an almost irresistible impulse toward revenge, then forgiveness is mostly about renouncing such vindictiveness. When you decide to forgive your perceived wrongdoer, you’re doing so not so much for them but for yourself.
Questions to reflect upon:
- Did the person who hurt you consciously intend to treat you maliciously?
- Did they really have a personal vendetta against you? Or might their motive simply have been self-interest?
- Did they wish to hurt you?
- Could their motive be retaliatory?
If they perceived that you had hurt them prior to them harming you back, their act may have seemed altogether just to them. In which case if you are to move beyond your acrimony, you need to amend your negative assessment of their behaviour. To the degree that you might actually have contributed to their actions, so it might be time to ask yourself whether you conceivably were to blame in their harming you.
You need to be willing to regard the other person anew not as villainous, which may conveniently have served to justify your bitterness. And instead choose to see them as ignorant and insensitive to your feelings or general welfare.
Even if the other person has been guilty of intentionally hurting you for no reason other their own perverse satisfaction, it still makes sense to forgive them. Whether they’ve displaced their rage onto you or whether they’re totally devoid of any empathy or common decency, your bitterness nonetheless causes you far more harm than it does them.
Taking personally what they did also represents an irrational distortion of their motives. In such instances forgiving them is really about letting go of retaliatory rage simply so that you can move on to enjoy your life.
- Identify the source of your bitterness and what this person did to evoke your resentful feelings
- Develop a new way of looking at your past, present, and future - including how resentment has negatively affected your life and how letting go of it can improve your future
- Write an unsent letter to this person, describing their offenses toward you, then forgive and let go of them
- Visualise having a better future having neutralised the negative impact of resentment
If bitter, resentful feelings remain, return to the beginning and repeat each step again