One of my clients has gone through a difficult divorce. Years later, she still feels bitter about the whole thing. She didn’t get a fair settlement and has struggled financially ever since. She can’t seem to talk about it without the bile rising up. So, she chooses not to talk about it. But burying the bitterness doesn’t make it any better either. In fact, it eats you alive, from the inside out, and shows up at odd intervals. You may even be surprised to find yourself inappropriately lashing out at innocent bystanders.
What does it feel like to be bitter?
It feels like a raw deal. It’s like you are the one who has to pay the price for decisions or actions that you had no control over. As Debbie Ford so aptly says, “Unforgiveness is the poison you drink every day hoping that the other person will die.”
You got handed the short-end of the stick due to circumstances beyond your control. Now, you are probably experiencing a whole host of negative emotions including anger, shame, and resentment. Holding onto these emotions can make you bitter. It feels especially unfair if the other party has accepted and moved on from the situation. How could they move on when you are feeling so betrayed and hurt? But you really need to ask yourself, “What is the point of nursing bitterness, clutching it to your chest, when it hurts so much?”
So how do you let go of bitter feelings?
“I think the first thing to understand is that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It is a gift you give yourself.” — TD Jakes
Psychologist Andrew Bridgewater says that bitterness is related to unforgiveness and “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different.” Bitterness is also about the desire to change the past—unlike forgiveness.
It helps to remember that life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, and that no one ever said life was fair. Instead of resisting your painful feelings, write about them in a journal in as much detail as you can. What actually happened? Imagine you were an outside observer. How would you document the events as they occurred? Who said or did what to whom? When did it happen? Why are you upset about it? What should have happened?
Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves for getting into a bad situation. We also need to let go of the shame we feel about how things turned out in a failed relationship. Once you stop beating yourself up for what happened in the past, you can forgive, make amends, and move on. This is easier said than done. I recommend reading The 9 Step Formula for Forgiveness for detailed instructions on how to forgive and move on.
Once you get all this down on paper, then you can create a ritual to release all the pain and bitterness. Take these papers and tear them into pieces and burn them. As you watch the paper burn (in a fire pit or a metal bowl), release the feelings and let them go. It may take a few times before you’ve released it all. Massage often helps release stored emotions, too.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Now take some simple steps to add happiness and joy into your life:
- Make a list of positive, fun things you like to do.
- Make sure you have at least one thing to look forward to every day.
- Surround yourself with positive, happy people.
- Watch a funny film that makes you laugh out loud.
- Make a list of everything you are grateful for.
- Book a holiday.
- Plan a celebration party now that you are free at last!