The Trap and Pain of Bitterness
by Michael Toebe
August 12, 2020
Bitterness has the power to dominate our thoughts and trap a person’s peace and happiness. Getting stuck is a danger. No one likes becoming a prisoner of bitterness and people want to break free yet it’s not always simple and quick.
If one holds on to bitterness tightly and for too long, it can become a difficult mindset and personality to adjust. It’s also who we can become to be seen by other people — bitter.
That then becomes part of one’s reputation. We likely don’t see it. Others do.
A strong tolerance for this disease of the mind can develop. So, how problematic can this trap become?
German professor and psychiatrist Michael Linden “was the first to propose that bitterness should be its own psychological disorder, calling it ‘post-traumatic embitterment disorder’ or PTED,” writes Sheri Jacobson in her article Bitterness — Why It Is a Real Psychological Concern, at the Harley Therapy Counselling Blog.
That makes for a significant problem in our lives, no?
Bitterness can make the likelihood of cynicism and paranoia more prevalent. This is just as true from an observational perspective as it is from a scientific finding.
Some psychologists have found that we are not aware that the root of it is different than we believe.
“We might claim our grudge and bitterness is only because of ‘fairness’ or ‘a sense of justice,’ but there is usually a deeper psychological reason we hold onto something,” Gregory Popcak wrote.
No matter how much mental health experts and spiritual leaders recommend forgiveness, our pain and strong will often stand in the way of us doing just that — forgiving. So, it’s not surprising then that there is a saying that reflects what happens next.
“Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.”
There aren’t many beautiful thoughts, communication and other behavior that result from the toxic power of a lack of forgiveness and bitterness.
Some smart thinkers speak to it well.
“Bitterness is so ugly,” film director Amy Heckerling has said. “I don’t want to go there.”
If we think of it like that, like a location, why would we want to ever go there or better, remain in a location that is “so ugly?”
Imagine a depressing or offensive locale or a dangerous one. Would you want to visit or live there?
“Growth in wisdom may be exactly measured by decrease in bitterness,” said philosopher and social critic Friedrich Nietzsche.
What was he saying? By decreasing the bitterness in our minds, we were learning the pointlessness and harm of it even when we believe it makes sense to us emotionally.
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host,” the late, great poet, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said.
If one has ever witnessed a loved one experience cancer or has experienced it themselves, what Angelou wrote and said might become more visual, felt and deeply understood. Do any of us want to have the cancer of the mind that she says bitterness resembles?
Cancer most consumes the person with it, not whoever or whatever caused that initial or ongoing pain. Who would reasonably want it, to be trapped by it and long endure suffering.
No one wants to be controlled. Bitterness is controlling.
Michael Toebe writes Red Diamonds Essays, the Red Diamonds Newsletter and Red Diamonds Features, all on Medium. He is a specialist for reputation, professional relationships communication and wiser crisis management. You can connect or contact him on LinkedIn.