Is a feeling of bitterness coloring your relationship?
Bitterness can be described as a feeling of lingering disappointment, frustration and ultimately resentment over a perceived lack of fairness in one’s life.
While flashes of anger are typically over someone’s behavior or an unexpected event, bitterness is usually about a relationship or a prolonged situation in our lives. It often has an aspect of helplessness or resignation to it. People who feel angry often feel moved to take action to correct the injustices in their life. People who are bitter often feel rather powerless. Because of this, they may tend to wait for the next injustice to come their way.
This feeling of bitterness is understandable, in a way, because the person has begun to believe that an unending string of unfair treatment awaits them. As a result, they have largely lost hope of things ever being any different.
Unlike anger, a feeling which can come and go rather quickly, a feeling of bitterness tends to linger. It begins to feel less like a feeling at all, and more like a part of our personality. People who are bitter often say things like, “I wasn’t always like this.” It is as if their bitterness has become a part of who they are.
Bitterness as a life narrative
While bitterness is a feeling, it is also a narrative—a story you tell yourself about your life. It is a narrative of fading hope for positive change in important relationships, whether at home, in a friendship, or in the workplace. Bitterness is anger that has solidified and hardened into a habit of negative thinking.
One of the ironies about bitterness is that once it has settled in, it becomes harder and harder to obtain any sense of relief from it. As a result, even if the person we are angry at begins to make positive changes or does something nice, we greet the positive behavior with skepticism. As such, bitterness serves to protect us from further disappointments. Ironically, though, it also reduces our opportunities for joy. Being open to joy, however, also requires us to be open to negative outcomes as well.
The self-talk of bitterness
Here are just a few things that people feeling bitter often think to themselves when confronted by positive actions or events:
o It won’t last.
o Too little, too late.
o What kind of fool do they take me for?
o Do they really think that makes up for everything?
o What are they up to?
o Why couldn’t they have said/done that five years ago?
o I’d like to trust it, but I can’t bear to be hurt again.
o If I accept this kindness, they’ll think I’ve forgiven them for all the rest.
Each person has their own list of things they say to themselves that discourages hope. As a result, they become less open to the good things that might happen, however rare they may seem to be.
People who feel bitter are good people
It is important to say that none of the above is meant to pass judgment on the person who has become bitter. People who feel bitter are often generous people who may well have been taken advantage of or treated poorly. They often are people who are slow to really let another person know how much their poor behavior is hurting them. By the time the increasingly bitter person finally convinces the other figure in their life how upset they really are, it is often late in the game. By this time, the person with bitterness may be so angry, the anger having become solidified and intractable, that any movements in the right direction are met with more anger.
If the person who has behaved badly does seem to be genuinely trying, the question becomes:
How to regain a sense of hopefulness and openness?
To explore this question, follow this link.
The Bitterness Narrative Series
The Bitterness Narrative Series is written to help couples who are dealing with bitter feelings in one partner based on the bad behavior of another partner, such as addiction, gambling, cheating, and so on. Undoing the pattern of bad behavior and mistrust involves work on the part of both parties. The partner who is feeling bitter and distrustful may benefit from reading the first installment of the series, followed by the second entry. The third entry in the series talks directly to the “prodigal” partner who has lost the trust of their partner. It encourages patience. For the spouse or partner who has made some bad mistakes, please consider checking out this article to get started on your own path.
This the first entry in the series. For those embarking on this path, I admire your courage and commitment to trying to make things work in your relationship. Wishing you the best in this challenge.
Mark Carlson-Ghost, Ph.D.
Image courtesy of Pixabay