Sam’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. Ever since life has been extremely difficult for Sam and his family. The woman who killed her was only given a light sentence. Same is better about the unfairness of life.
Katherine’s ex-boyfriend was extremely critical of her. He was always humiliating her in front of their friends and treating her unfairly in their relationship. It’s been along time since their break-up but Katherine can’t seem to get over it and still fantasizes about revenge.
Jake’s parents constantly belittled him as a child. As an adult, he suffers from anxiety and depression and can’t figure out why he cannot let go of it all.
Sheila’s husband does not seem to care about meeting any of her emotional needs. She has tried to talk to him about it, but he is always so distant and cold that it only makes her more frustrated. She is giving up the hope that their relationship will ever get better and can’t see any point in continuing their marriage.
DEFINITIONS & KEY THOUGHTS
Bitterness is an attitude of intense and prolonged anger and hostility. Often, it also involves feelings of resentment and a desire for revenge. Bitterness is the result of a person’s failure to forgive another and their allowance of hurt and anger to grow until pain and hard feelings cloud their view of life. Therefore, bitterness can only be conquered through forgiveness.
Among the key elements of bitterness are unresolved anger, inability to grieve, inability or unwillingness to face the reality that a certain relationship is never going to fulfill all of one’s needs or hopes, and lack of control.
Key characteristics of bitterness include obsessive thoughts of revenge, resentment, sarcasm, self-righteousness, unkind or critical comments, conflicts with others, controlling behavior, aggressiveness in relationships, and hostility.
The fact of the matter is that others may never do what one desires or expects them to and they cannot be made to- one can only control their own self. If people were to accept these truths, much bitterness could be avoided.
If a person doesn’t realize that the root of their problem is bitterness, the counselor may wish to give them information about bitterness, its effects, and the destruction that it can cause in order to assist the person in seeing what is going on in their life. The counselor should also empathize with the bitter person to help them to acknowledge their legitimate needs that were unsatisfied (often by a spouse or parent). The counselor must validate the bitter person’s sadness and loneliness that is the result of not having their needs met. The counselor can do so by rephrasing what the bitter person is saying so that they know they are being heard and that their pain is being understood. Last, the counselor should make clear just how destructive bitterness is to a person’s relationships with others. They should emphasize that forgiveness is the only way to eliminate bitterness and to restore their relationships. Last, the counselor should emphasize the importance of following these action steps in order to rid oneself of bitterness:
- Acceptance. Make a list of all of the people who have hurt you. Beside each name, record what you needed from that individual, how it made you feel when they did not meet that need, and whether or not you believe that individual will honestly ever be able to meet that need. If the answer to this question is no, than accept and grieve your loss.
- Forgive. Let go of anger and your thirst for revenge. Realize that you may not be able to do so through your own strength and that you may need the help of others. Try to feel compassion for those who have hurt you.
- Break the chain. Often bitterness runs through several generations of families- if the you were the child of a parent that was unable to meet your needs, and are now a bitter parent that is unable to meet the needs of your own child, find the love and forgiveness necessary to break that chain.
- Look for support. Strengthen the healthy relationships that you currently have and look at those around you who could potentially be a part of your life and meet your needs.