It’s a fast, fast world we’re living in now. We barely have the time to stop and breathe. You can see it in the cities, people rushing like rats in a maze, cracking their knuckles, urgency in their voices when they’re talking on the phone. Every deal is a once in a lifetime deal. It’s go big or go home. It’s no surprise if someone bumps into you on the street and keeps walking without so much as an apology. Chances are, they’ll even yell ‘Watch where you’re going!’ when they’re clearly the ones on the wrong. Most of us will shake our heads and walk away without a second thought.
In the physical world it’s that easy. We’ve been learning how to get up after we’ve been pushed down since we were little children on the playground. In the realm of emotions though, we find it much harder to get up after a fall and this is precisely the case with bitterness. Bitterness. Isn’t it funny how there’s an element of taboo inherent in that concept? The word bitterness immediately gives off a negative connotation, perhaps because it has for a long time, been used to shame women in the dating scene. Hellen’s famous quote in Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman says it all, “I’m not bitter! I’m mad as hell!”
They say bitterness is like a stench that one carries with them, and needs no prompting to recognize. Men who catch a whiff of a bitter woman will turn up their noses much like a lady would avert her eyes upon seeing a wound that has festered – and that’s what bitterness is, a festering wound. It is the injury that we refuse to allow to heal. We pick on it and we prod it, holding onto the anger we feel either because we do not know how to process it or because anger gives us a false sense of power. Here’s the thing about festering wounds though, they’ll either kill you or leave you with very deep scars. Bitterness is the vine that creeps up a tree and chokes it to death – not all at once – but a slow and sure death.
It may sound hyperbolic, but a lot of the people alive today are actually dead inside. Bitterness can do that to you. It is the hardness in your chest that steals your smile, the tight fist around your neck that even though you may not be completely aware of it, slowly squeezes the breath out of you. It is the repulsive taste of staleness in your mouth that sucks the joy out of all the gravy, the blindness that blurs all the beauty and color of life.
You know what I’m talking about. Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Are the lines on your face from smiling or frowning? Do you remember when it got that way? Was it around the time some people in your life dropped off the radar? Have you driven the people who care about you away? Bitterness is a heavy and dense emotion that most people can’t handle in large doses. Perhaps some of them even mentioned it to you in the past but you were so caught up in your own feelings that the light bulb didn’t go on. You may even have felt misunderstood and pushed them away with mean words. Bitterness only spouts more bitterness.
It’s time you got out of that funk. The first step is to become aware of it, of its presence in your life. Reflect on it, see what it’s done to you, to the people around you. Then figure out what caused that bitterness. What happened? Who did what to you? It is a good idea to keep a journal of these reflections, but keep in mind that this should not be an exercise in wallowing. You may begin to remember some things that you had forgotten and reawaken old hurts anew, but these are the first steps in putting these issues to rest once and for all. Do this at your own pace, and avoid taking on too much so as not to overwhelm yourself. Bitterness builds over a long period of time, and what takes time to build does not often crumble in a day.
Once these old hurts are fresh in the mind again, it will be tempting to fall back to old habits and get stuck in the anger. Yes, they did a terrible thing and yes, you are probably justified in feeling hurt and angry. What you have to recognize is that this is only valid for a certain period. The universe itself is built to be dynamic just like human beings are. So, beyond a certain period of time, if you refuse to let it go, you will have taken the burden of suffering upon yourself. You will notice that your aggressor has moved on and this will only compound your suffering. How dare they move on when you have not released them from their debt to you? How dare they move on before you have fully healed and been restored?
The truth is, they may or may not apologize and they may not even be remorseful. Hard as it may be to hear, your power to heal and move on has little to do with them. What you have done essentially, is hand over that power to them. You have created a situation in which your happiness is now dependent on someone else’s actions – that’s just no good. You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t they just apologize?” What if they already have and you remain unpacified because they haven’t done enough? What if nothing is enough for you? Is it any wonder that they have chosen to move on? Even in an ideal situation where your aggressor does everything possible to appease you, it is still possible to grow bitter. My point here being that bitterness is about you, and not the other person.
Give up the false power of anger that you have been holding over their heads – it is hurting you. Take back the real kind of power, your own power to let go, move on and be happy in spite of what happened in the past. You have to start purging the anger out of your system. No, it is not fair and yes, life sucks sometimes, but it is important to focus on getting up rather than falling down. If a person trips you into a puddle of mud and you refuse to get up until they offer to help you up, you’re in for a tough time. For starters, you might be there a while, but not only that, you’ll get wet and muddy. Pretty soon you’ll start to see the world as a wet and muddy place and that’s a terrible way to live. Surely you don’t want to live that way.
Wipe the slate clean. Here’s a list of 10 ideas for things you can do to help let go of the anger.
- Scream in your pillow.
- Have a good cry.
- Take a class, whether self-defense or cooking, you can even do it online.
- Start a reading challenge – two books per month
- Start going for walks/runs in the evenings
- Start keeping a gratitude journal
- Take up yoga and deep breathing exercises
- Pick a mantra to say every time you feel the cynicism taking over
- Say your prayers and affirmations
- Write down all the things that make you angry on a piece of paper then burn it and watch them all turn to ash. It takes all the power from them.
If you’re still having trouble letting go of the anger after a reasonable period of time, reexamine yourself and the situation again. You may realize that there’s an element of pride and ego standing in the way. Your pride was hurt, you were humiliated and your anger is an effort to salvage that pride. Pride, like anger, only feeds a false sense of power and esteem. It is not a strength but a weakness, a house of cards that can easily be blown away. Remember the old saying, pride comes before a fall? Trade this false power for real power. Trade pride for self-respect. A self-respecting person knows how to get up and dust themselves up after a fall. A self-respecting person knows how to hold their head up high after a bad experience.
Decide that the past will neither rule your present nor your future. Choose to forgive yourself and your aggressor. Refuse to be a casualty of bitterness and instead, tap into your natural, God-given power to heal and rise above. Go on then, take back your power.
Your power to choose can never be taken from you. It can be neglected and it can be ignored. But if used, it can make all the difference.