How to Get Rid of Bitterness
Bitterness is a horrible feeling I have a long and overly intimate history with. But now that I have learned how to deal with it, it shows up much less often than it did when I was ill.
Bitterness is a completely useless feeling, and nothing good comes out of it. The only positive feature is that it can serve as a signal telling us that something is fundamentally wrong and that we need to take steps to change the situation that has led to the feeling.
If we listen to this signal, take it seriously, and manage to implement some changes, the feeling of bitterness can help us move in the right direction.
Most of us experience bitterness from time to time, it is a normal and very human predicament. But it is also important to acknowledge that there is nothing good about it and that one should take steps to get rid of it.
I wrote in ‘Rise from Darkness’ that bitterness is an emotional dead end. To get rid of bitterness, take a few steps back, and then move forward again. Here’s a recipe you can use to accomplish this:
1. Accept the situation that is creating the bitterness
To solve any problem, you must first accept the situation you find yourself in. You need to look at your feelings, and the situation you are in with an objective eye, and then realize that you have become bitter. Why are you bitter? What causes your bitterness?
What lies behind bitterness is often the difference between expectations and reality. If you have had years of your life virtually ruined by depression or another illness, it is a very understandable source of bitterness. The same if you had great expectations for your own career and success, but reality was a disappointment.
Life can be hard and brutal. As a rule, life turns out differently from what we hoped and expected. But at the same time, it can be filled with all sorts of enjoyment and fulfilment. And in the latter lies a central part of the redemption from bitterness.
An effective way to accept the situation is to write about it. In your own words, formulate what it is that has made you bitter, and especially what you can do about it.
Once you have accepted the situation you are in, you can decide to do what it takes to improve the situation and reduce the feeling of bitterness. Take your time in doing this, acceptance is often a gradual process that takes time.
2. Use the Serenity Prayer
The prayer reads as follows:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer is an almost inexhaustible source of wisdom. In many ways, it is the only doctrine you need and can be applied to almost all challenges and difficulties. It can also be used when struggling with bitterness.
When using it with regard to bitterness, it is important to objectively analyze what you can do something about and what you can do nothing about.
You can’t do anything about the years before today. But you can do something about how you relate to those years. And you can do something about the days and years that lie ahead.
It is always the case that you can draw a line through your life at any time and say that from now on you are fighting for the remaining days in your life. No matter how many hardships you have in your past, it is worthwhile to make the days ahead as great as possible.
This is closely related to how to handle grief. When someone dies, when a relationship ends, or an opportunity is lost, one enters a process of grief. But you cannot change what has happened. You can only change how you relate to it, and you can change how you want to move forward.
In your case, what can you do about that which causes bitterness and what do you simply have to live with? It is important to take care of your thoughts here, as those who struggle with depression at often have thought patterns that are not entirely rational. It may be a clever idea to discuss this with someone who can help you view the situation as objectively as possible. You can talk to your therapist or a wise and good friend.
Based on this objective review of the situation you are in, create a plan on how to improve the situation.
3. Alter Expectations
As mentioned, bitterness often occurs when there is a distortion between your expectations of something and the outcome of those expectations.
You can thus reduce the bitterness by altering the expectations you set toward various arenas in life.
One way to achieve this is to compare yourself to others to a lesser extent and rather use your own life as a yardstick. Forget how much money and apparent success the people around you have. It is not relevant, nor do you have any clue how others feel. I have no number for the times seemingly successful (whatever that means) people have come to me and talked about things they are struggling with. Suffering and difficulties are part of life, for everyone.
If you are bitter about not having achieved something you had hoped for, alter your expectations to a level that is more realistic to reach. If you are bitter about a lack of support or commitment from others, lower the expectations you have towards them.
If you are bitter about something you hoped to happen that never happened, stop being remorseful and then move on. Remember the Serenity Prayer.
The same is true when something happened that you didn’t want to happen; deaths, accidents, illness, abuse.
It requires some effort and some courage. You can accept the situation, end your regrets, and then move on.
4. Implement the plan and use gratitude to change your focus
So far in the process, you have accepted the situation you are in, as well as used the Serenity Prayer and objectivity to distinguish between what you can do something about and where that’s not possible. You then altered the expectations for those areas that led to bitterness.
The remainder of your actions is to implement the measures that will improve the situation. You may need to do this in several steps. Sometimes you have to test out different steps before you know what effect they will have. It is one of the core principles of the program in 14 Steps to Happiness. You take action from multiple angles and develop and keep the ones that work best for you.
Another crucial element for reducing bitterness is to take advantage of gratitude exercises. By employing gratitude, you shift the focus from what is painful to what is actually good in your life. It’s there, even if you don’t see it right now. Gratitude is a direct antidote to bitterness.
When you feel you have nothing to be grateful for, this can seem like a difficult step. But here is another principle that will help you: Start small, then gradually build your effort and ambition, with time.
No matter how bad things are today, keeping a gratitude journal, will help you hold on to the good in life. By doing this every day over time, you will gradually shift your focus to the good and the positive.
And with this approach, your life will gradually change in a positive direction.
I wish you all the best and good luck!