- Feeling bitter is typically a consequence of accumulated anger and sadness as a result of past experiences.
- Work and personal relationships are often impacted when a person has become bitter.
- Adopting a new approach to life—taking action—can reduce bitterness and increase one’s hope for the future.
The progression to becoming emotionally bitter is much like the progression of the physical growth of a child. While the parent of a young child, for example, doesn’t notice how much their child grows in height each day, there comes a time when the parent suddenly recognizes how much the child has grown over time. The progression to becoming bitter happens in a similar way—slowly but following an escalating pattern until a difference is clearly recognizable later.
What does “bitter” mean?
Feeling emotionally bitter refers to feelings of sadness and anger, especially accumulated anger over time. Because feeling bitter involves a mix of emotions, it can often be difficult to identify and express in simple terms.
Read on for multiple signs of bitterness to conduct a quick self-inventory to determine whether you may have become bitter.
You find yourself getting irritated frequently, triggered by little things that probably shouldn’t bother you.
When a person becomes bitter, the most obvious effect is on their mood. Specifically, the bitter person’s baseline mood is often angry, disappointed, or irritable. The feelings are difficult to let go of and often don’t seem to have a clear precipitant.
A simple way to measure your own mood is to think about the past several days and ask yourself, on a 1-10 scale, how content and positive you felt, on average, each day. If you’re being honest with yourself, and your average numbers are low, that’s a clear sign. An additional way to measure your mood is less obvious. Think about the past several days and ask yourself if you did any of the following:
- Sent an angry or frustrated email or left a similar voicemail
- Got into a verbal conflict of any kind with anyone in your personal or professional life
- Had a negative emotional reaction to a stranger you encountered while driving, at work, or running errands
- Snapped at anyone in response to something they said or asked
If you engaged in any of these behaviors in the past few days and also have a habit of doing any of these things on a regular basis, you may have gotten into a bitter spiral that requires your attention.
When taking inventory of your closest relationships, you feel that others don’t fully understand you or appreciate all that you do.
As a rule, the quality of personal and professional relationships suffers when a person has become bitter. While relationships are intended to be sources of support, encouragement, and openness, the bitter person comes to feel that relationships are frustrating and unsatisfying. Bitter individuals have lost faith and trust in others close to them, telling themselves that relationships are not worth the hassle because no one ultimately cares enough about them anyhow. A simple measure to assess whether you have grown bitter in your relationships is to ask yourself the following questions based, again, on a 1-10 scale:
- How appreciated do I feel by my romantic partner?
- If single, how appreciated did I feel by my last romantic partner?
- How much do those around me understand and validate my feelings when I share them, especially my frustration or anger?
These questions and the data they produce are important because they point to clear self-help areas to focus on if your numbers fall in the wrong, negative direction.
You’ve come to believe that it’s possible you may never feel truly happy.
When you consider unhappiness, you may first associate it with depression. It’s true that depression includes feeling unhappy, but many times individuals who feel unhappy actually feel more angry or bitter than depressed. Bitterness is not only a mix of sadness and anger but also an accumulation of disappointments across the various parts of a person’s life over time.
It would be difficult for anyone to feel positive and hopeful if what they’ve experienced is a series of situations and relationships that leaves them feeling misunderstood, overlooked, uncared for, or even erased. When a person becomes bitter, there’s often a sense of betrayal about how life has treated them. A self-pity or victim mindset can take hold, which leaves little room for hope for the future.
An action plan to move beyond bitterness.
It’s crucial to understand that anyone has the feelings they have for a reason, and bitter individuals are no exception. Becoming bitter is the likely consequence of feeling invalidated and unappreciated in one too many situations and relationships, but the problem snowballs when the hurt, bitter person gives in and gives up. Instead of giving up, two words—taking action—can make the difference between a life that is isolated and one that is connected.
Specifically, the tendency to overthink and over-feel are part and parcel of bitterness, so the next time you engage in either practice, spring into action by shifting to a productive activity that distracts you. Increase your sense of connection by calling a friend or talking more with someone you live with than you normally would, including asking questions that show curiosity about how they have been doing lately. Take inventory of your self-care practices that are peaceful and reflective in nature, including outdoor walks and meditation, to soothe your central nervous system. Finally, consider seeking out a mental health professional who can provide helpful support.
Ultimately, the process of becoming a bitter person is sneaky and slow, making it difficult to detect while it’s happening. Asking a few simple questions can help to identify the difference between an occasional bad mood and a more serious pattern of emotional bitterness.
A pattern of bitterness is concerning, but the bitterness doesn’t have to be permanent.
Adopting a new approach to life—taking action—can reduce bitterness and increase one’s hope for the future.
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