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Doc@DrIrene.com


 

How Do I Get Rid of Bitterness?

Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 1999 7:41 PM
Subject: Bitterness...

Hi Dr Irene,
Do you know of a practical method to get over bitterness?

Let me explain. Years ago I married. We had three children. She was alcoholic, mildly violent and quite controlling. She and my friend took off, leaving me with the babies. They never did come back. I had to leave my home because of the way custody laws worked. I moved to Ohio and raised my kids. I got involved in the custodial dad's movement and went back to school. After eleven years, I married again. I was careful to pick a woman who didn't drink. I spent so much time paying attention to the not drinking that I missed some pretty serious problems. Those problems nearly killed me. She was seldom very violent, it was the constant derogatory remarks, the belittling, the blaming me for everything that happened in our lives that lead to my breakdown. I was hospitalized for weeks. My family support her in all ways. The "Poor __ " is still a problem for me with all but my younger child. These three years later and my youngest is still angry with me for subjecting him to her. 

As a male I have to say a) I never hit her, b) I never raised my voice to her, c) I supported her hopes and dreams, d) I put her through college. I really did my part. There is more that has nothing to do with emotional abuse or domestic violence. I was attacked and nearly died some years ago because of my custodial dad's rights beliefs.

So? I'm bitter and angry. I wouldn't treat my worst enemy the way society and my family have proudly treated me. I don't want the bitterness. I don't want the anger. Yet, they are there, a daily part of my life. Any ideas? Any suggestions?

Jimmy J.

Dear Jimmy,

You are riddled with bitterness because you carry anger and a sense of helplessness with you every single day. Bitterness is the result of powerlessness in the face of anger.


From the tone of  your letter, it is likely that you are angry because you repeat thinking patterns and behaviors that got you into trouble in the first place. The angry experience is therefore present not only as a memory, but as a daily occurrence. That you were so focused on your girlfriend's not drinking that you missed significant problems strongly suggests that you were too anxious to have a warm body next to you. You had to have made excuses for her - denying reality and diminishing yourself in the process.

You have clearly not mastered the art of taking care of yourself. Start now. Pay attention to your anger. It is your friend and is trying to tell you something. Don't "stuff" your anger or ignore it. Anger is your signal that something is wrong and needs your attention.

If you find yourself slipping into bitterness, tell yourself to get out. Bitterness is a trap that takes you away from dealing with what you have to deal with. It keeps you stuck. Stay in the here and now with your feelings.

Be mindful; other people's mis-behavior is often subtle and easily missed. Notice how you feel and be patient as you build the skills to identify what your anger is about. Who is mistreating you? Who is not doing their part? Why do you persist in doing "the right  thing" no matter what is done to you or despite how you are treated?

Once you can identify the source of your anger, care enough about yourself to experience just a tiny bit of outrage. How dare they!

Do nothing until you figure out how you are going to handle the problem. Guidelines: Demand respect. Make no excuses, offer no explanations, engage in no passive-aggressive or otherwise disrespectful action yourself. Simply assert yourself and demand respect because any other outcome is unacceptable. You owe it to yourself to conduct your life in a way that increases your self-respect and maximizes the probability that you actualize your potential. Taking care of yourself is part of the potential that you need to nurture.

Take your power each and every day, in each of the hundreds of little interactions that make up daily life.  As you begin to take control of your life, you will no longer be left with a sense of powerlessness. Your anger and bitterness will melt.

Easier said than done, but definitely do-able. Good luck. Dr. Irene


Color code key:
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Dr. Irene's original reply to Jimmy

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Jimmy's comments & questions to Dr. Irene 

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Dr. Irene replies to Jimmy's questions


Thank You for replying. Very fast. I'm impressed.

"You are riddled with bitterness because you carry anger and a sense of helplessness with you every single day. Bitterness is the result of powerlessness in the face of anger. That sounds right. Do you have any specific ways to fight powerlessness? I've read "The Angry Book." (snip) Not unless you are in front of me in my office...sorry.


"You had to have made excuses for her, denying reality and diminishing yourself in the process. Yes. I see that. (snip)


"Don't "stuff" your anger or ignore it. Anger is your signal that something is wrong and needs your attention. I like that idea. I'm not sure what to do with it, but I like the idea. Pay attention to yourself when you feel angry. If you sit with the feelings instead of react to them, you will come to recognize what bothers you.

"If you find yourself slipping into bitterness, tell yourself to get out. Bitterness is a trap that takes you away from dealing with what you have to deal with. It keeps you stuck. Stay in the here and now with your feelings. Now here's where I'm confused. My feelings and the bitterness are synonymous. No. It only seems that way. The bitterness horns its way in and overrides any other feeling. For example, I was talking with my current girlfriend about her therapy (child molestation) and the bitterness that she would get a year's free therapy while I can't get any so filled my mind that I lost all track of the conversation. I know there were things she said that I should know, but they're lost to the anger / bitterness. How do I turn off something that takes control so totally? Irrational, automatic thoughts are disrupting your thinking and thereby affecting your emotional processes. Read some of Albert Ellis' books, the father of cognitive therapy, to get some familiarity with the process. Workbooks are also available (do a search at amazon.com or elsewhere) and try to deal with the automatic thoughts on your own. Better yet, go to a cognitive behavioral therapist to get you on track. 

"Be mindful; other people's mis-behavior is often subtle and easily missed. Notice how you feel and be patient as you build the skills to identify what your anger is about. Who is mistreating you? Who is not doing their part? Why do you persist in doing "the right  thing" no matter what is done to you or despite how you are treated? That sounds like good advice. I like those questions and will apply them to my life.

"Once you can identify the source of your anger, care enough about yourself to experience just a tiny bit of outrage. How dare they! Yes. How dare they? Thank you. (I needed to think
about that. You're right.)


"Do nothing until you figure out how you are going to handle the problem. Guidelines: Demand respect. Make no excuses, offer no explanations, engage in no passive-aggressive or otherwise disrespectful action yourself. Simply assert yourself and demand respect because any other  outcome is unacceptable. You owe it to yourself to conduct your life in a way that increases your self-respect and maximizes the probability that you actualize your potential. Taking care of yourself is part of the potential that you need to nurture. Yes. here I need to do some work. I over explain and clearly use passive aggressive tactics. Work to be done there!

"Take your power each and every day, in each of the hundreds of little interactions that make up daily life.  As you begin to take control of your life, you will no longer be left with a sense of powerlessness. Your anger and bitterness will melt. Easier said than done, but definitely do-able. Good luck.  Dr. Irene Thank You very much Dr. Your response is quite helpful and stimulates a lot of thought. I printed a copy and will re-read it.

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