If you’ve landed up on this page, it is likely that you’re curious about your consistent state of discontent or you’re someone willing to dig deep, modify and acknowledge it. Read on to know the signs that you have become a bitter person and what you can do about it.
Bitterness, and mind you I say this as a person who’s been there, is as experiential as it can get. It doesn’t really matter how much you possess in life or how much you have lost. This context isn’t very dissimilar from happiness.
Ever heard of the saying “happiness is an inside job”?
Well, bitterness too is a bit like that and by saying this, I, in no way mean that they aren’t valid feelings.
When I fell into the grasps of “it” a few years ago, not knowing my life’s purpose, feeling like i was changing more rapidly than I could keep up with.
The first time I was able to overtly articulate, I described “it” as something like this: an entourage of heavy clouds rising from the pit of my stomach, spreading inside of my body and soul, poisoning every inch of my being. Soon enough, I was feeling vexed and frustrated all the time, at everybody and at everything.
It took me a while to realise that this onset had been an insidious process. Perhaps a slow coming out of and a slow-growing into something else. Initially, I didn’t track it for weeks, as it spread through me, dripping ever so slowly into my consciousness that I could easily pass it off as another bad day.
However, you can imagine what happens when the bad days add up. Even when you are backed up with compassionate and genuine friends, an inherently enriching work, understanding and satisfying interpersonal relationships or talents that can get you places- none of these things matter anymore when bitterness begins to grasp you.
Now the question is,
How do you know you’re becoming bitter?
I didn’t know or even attempt to stop and look for almost two or three months, as it was happening.
What signs should you then look out for?
Here are signs you are turning into a bitter person
1. The grudges keep building
Bitterness has a lingering feel to it. You want to enjoy a drink with your coworkers but all you can think of is how one of them shortchanged you in a petty political game at a recent meeting.
You’re with your mother over the weekend watching a film after ages, but all your thoughts are directed to the one time she should have apologized the way you’d expected it.
The instances that I just cited are in no way uncommon. Coworkers can act as backstabbers and mothers become the imperfect figures we don’t want them to be, but here’s the fact : you get over these instances either by talking about them or by reassessing what can or can’t happen or even by thrashing it out with your therapist.
With bitterness setting in, that’s not how it works. You’ll mull over it and sit on it, without perhaps even lifting a finger and doing something about it.
At times it also feels like home; you refuse to give it up at any cost.
2. The anger won’t subside
Another master sign you are turning into a bitter person. I remember that time when one day my partner had passingly mentioned how he’s not able to find his favorite mug in the kitchen. This was right in the middle of my bitter phase and the mention of something so innocuous had my hair standing.
I remember having experienced an inordinate amount of anger and the trail of thoughts was never-ending, “he’s actually telling me I am at fault”, “he’s always giving these subtle hints”, “what have I gotten myself into?” “Decision to be with such a person is my own stupidity”, “Damn, I can’t even do one thing properly.”
It’ll probably not take much for you to see where this is heading. It is a guilt trip, an accusation trip, a bile trip, all of it, all at once. In a different state, you might be able to look at the situation at hand and say, “Ok, let’s see what to do about this”
With bitterness setting in, you feel far from that place.
3. The conversations won’t happen
As a bitter person, you’ll find it earth-shatteringly difficult to talk about what’s happening. Even with the people you know really well. Especially with the people you know really well.
Intentionally or unintentionally, they may say or do something that doesn’t sit with you, but you’ll not call any of it out. If you’re reading this piece, you might already know that bitterness can be a lump in the throat. You can’t get rid of it and you can’t gulp it in. It sits there, tight and unrelenting.
You sit with it, sulking, angry, complaining, even though you know talking about it might ease at least part of the weight.
So you might now see how each point resonates, but then what after it?
Is there a way to meet bitterness head on?
4 Ways To Handle Your Bitterness
Personally, after the initial phase, I began to cultivate the patience of taking care of my bitterness. This involved doing a number of things that I’ll now talk about.
1. Go into a dialogue with yourself
As someone who’s been bitter and seen bitter people, I know one thing – the basic answers almost always lie within ourselves.
The burning bile I experienced during those days of unending bitterness suggested to me that I could at least talk to myself, if not anybody else,that I could contemplate about what possibly is causing the misery.
In my own experience as well as that of witnessing others who have been through similar experiences, one emerging insight is – anything unresolved could potentially become the cause of bitterness.
2. Take responsibility
Every time I have experienced myself as a bitter person, I have held someone else responsible for it. It has been family, neighbors, the political state of the country.
In that state, I have often and successfully so, projected all internal disharmony on to other people. As a corollary again, I’d say it’s not like people are not to blame. Rather, it is an opportunity to see what you can possibly change about yourself.
Instead of holding on to the bitterness you must try to spit it out. By doing this, you can take back the power for yourself.
3. Express it in “safe” ways
At the peak of purposelessness, the bitterness I felt took extreme shapes.
I wanted to hit out, lash out, do anything but to feel that way. When I found a way to work with my bitter feelings, I saw the need for “safe” expression.
And so began the crazy drawings, the incessant use of black and other heavy colors, the scratching and scrawling with the pen, using words exactly as I wanted in my private journal. I found words to describe my state and this led me to also open up conversations with other people.
This was a initial phase of self expression which helped me loosen up and be open to other possibilities of expressing my bitterness like talking it out.
4. Work it out with your therapist
If you’re already seeing someone who can hold a mirror for you, you have the support you need. I don’t have to tell you that this is perhaps one of the safest ways to work through your bitterness.
As someone who practices expressive arts therapy and someone who has perhaps seen the entire gamut of bitter feelings, I am surprised by how this subject is often handled. There is harshness, critical judgment and a lot of distancing and retrospection of what could really be causing bitterness.
If you’re reading this, please know that owning it and acknowledging it is perhaps the first steps to ultimate relief. You can always find a way to come out of the vicious cycle of bitterness.