One of the hardest things to do in life is to let go of bitter feelings towards others, ourselves, and God. Bitterness is defined as an attitude of extended and intense anger and hostility. It is often joined by resentment and a desire to “get even”. It is the result of not forgiving someone and letting hurt and anger grow until the pain and resentment hurt the person’s view of life. Bitterness is also a sin that can destroy life. Romans 12:19 commands us not to seek revenge, but instead to let God avenge.
The key elements of bitterness are unresolved anger, the inability to grieve, and a lack of control:
- Unresolved anger – Ephesians 4:26 says that we can be angry without sinning. But when anger is unresolved and allowed to stick with us, it turns into bitterness.
- Inability to grieve – When we experience trauma and loss, and relationships that don’t live up to expectations and fail to meet our needs, we experience sadness and loss. When we fail to properly grieve and experience appropriate anger, this can turn into bitterness.
- Lack of Control – When people do not meet our expectations, we can become obsessed with trying to fix them or thinking about ways the person could change. The reality is that we cannot typically make others meet our expectations, we can only hope to control our own behaviors.
The key action steps to let go of bitterness have to first involve a process of acceptance and forgiveness.
- Make a list of the people who have hurt you and write what you needed or expected from that person.
- Next to each person, write how it made you feel when your needs were not met by that person.
- Finally, write down whether you think that person will ever be able to meet your needs. Be very honest and realistic when you make this list.
- Ask God to help you forgive. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and your desire for revenge. Realize that you are powerless to forgive unless you have God’s strength. God does not ask you to do something without giving you His strength and power to do it (Psalm 29:11).
- There is a need to have compassion for the ones who have offended us. Again, God can give us this compassion when we ask for it.
- Look in the mirror and think about areas in which you need to forgive your own actions and behaviors. Bitterness towards others can be made worse when we are carrying around shame and guilt about things we have done. Remember that God’s forgiveness is available for all people, you included.
Other important factors to remember is that stopping bitterness is often like breaking a chain. Bitterness can exist throughout generations of families. When a parent does not meet a child’s needs, that child can become bitter and is then unable to meet his or her own child’s needs. If we are living with an emotionally bitter person, remember that bitterness is very crippling and difficult to overcome. Just as you would not expect a person in a wheelchair to get up and run a race, we cannot expect an emotionally crippled person to meet our needs. We have to ask God to help us show love to that person and learn tolerance and proper boundaries.
Michael Linn is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Pennsylvania and a Nationally Certified Counselor. He is the owner of Resolute Counseling, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He can be reached by calling 717-264-0450 or visiting www.resolutecounseling.com