Bitter to Better

by Belinda Munoz on October 14, 2009

bitter to better

Recently, my husband and I took our little guy to a 3-year old’s birthday party.  It was held at a gymnasium replete with a huge trampoline, a pit full of squishy foam, balls of all colors and sizes and sundry things most would think twice before picking up, crawling through or getting on.

Having limited experience with kiddie parties, I unsuspectingly got a generous hit of that magical spirit toddlers are famous for.

Magical is such a fitting word for these little beings.  They bring so much light and joy to those around them, even the ones with hardened hearts.

As fragile as they may look, they’re amazingly resilient.  They fall down, then they quickly get back up to play even if bruised or cut.

They’re uninhibitedly passionate.  When they cry, they cry like the world is in collapse.  When they laugh, they laugh like it’s exactly what they’re meant to do in life.

They’re so in touch with their core and so unencumbered by all the baggage we acquire as adults.  Baggage that we unwittingly collect over the years.  Baggage that distances us from our core.  Baggage that can beat down our magical spirit.  Baggage that can cloud our judgment or path or decisions.  Baggage that can make us bitter.

Having all the magic of little toddlers fresh in my memory, I will now state a possibly offensive and maybe even overly judgmental observation:  there’s a lot of bitter people out there.  Maybe not you, dear readers, but I’ve encountered them more times than I’d like.

WHAT IS BITTERNESS

I know a little bit about bitterness.  Not too long ago, a progressive political candidate whom I backed completely with all my heart, mind and soul didn’t win.  For a number of reasons that made sense to me at the time, I didn’t think I was bitter over this loss.  But I had to re-consider when my husband, someone who knows me better than anyone, told me I was.

This candidate was someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.  Someone whose amazing work I’ve been deeply inspired by and learned so much from.  Someone whose campaign I willingly gave my time, heart and money to, knocked on thousands of doors for and pulled many all-nighters for not for extra credit or  a good grade.

When this candidate lost, I was devastated.  My husband was right.  I was bitter.

But guess what?  Today, much of the bitterness is gone and I’m well on my way to getting over it completely.  Sometimes, when the woulda-coulda-shouldas re-surface, so does a little bit of the bitterness.  But I remind myself that there is simply nothing I can do to reverse the outcome and I proceed to move from bitter to better bit by bit.

WHAT MAKES US BITTER

  • A failed relationship
  • A missed opportunity
  • An unsuccessful venture
  • An ill-advised priority, career or life path
  • A broken dream
  • A trait or condition we might blame our parents for

These are things that can knock our sense of balance and cost us precious days, years or even a lifetime tinged with acrimony.

But in reality, we can trace bitterness to, and this may sound overly simplistic, our own perspective.  We become bitter if we hold on to the idea that we don’t have something that we are entitled to, something we’ve worked hard for, something that’s rightfully ours.

We become bitter if we give in to the mentality that someone else is to blame for our own unhappiness.

When we encounter bitter people, it can be an unpleasant experience.  We’re often bothered by some of the nuances in the words they utter, the way they treat people, the way they view the world, the way they make us feel.

HOW DO WE DEAL WITH BITTERNESS

As someone who is acutely aware of getting older, I’d like to put some thoughts out there about dealing with bitterness, as, selfishly, I would prefer to encounter it less instead of more in our precious remaining time.

1) Acknowledge bitterness. When we have bitterness, we know it deep down.  How can we not?  We carry it with us.  It’s why some of us don’t recognize a good deed.  It’s why some of us are unresponsive to those who reach out.  It’s why some of us lose our ability to be moved.

If we deny it with our words, our actions and attitudes will betray us.

If we’re bitter, our good friends, if we have any, may tell us.  We should listen to them, as hard as it may be to do.  They mean well and are trying to help.

If we’re so bitter that we’ve alienated all our friends, we should determine if this is how we want to live out the rest of our lives.  I recently watched Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List.  If bitterness is in your comfort zone, I recommend this movie with Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman.

2) Be willing to move away from bitterness. When my husband told me I was bitter, I was in denial.  But after an honest confrontation with myself, I decided I didn’t want to be that person.  It’s taxing.  It’s joyless.  It’s negative.  It’s a waste of time and energy — two precious gifts we have in limited supply.

3) Discover the trigger. What’s really causing this bitterness?  Finding out is a process that will require brutal honestly.  It can lead to territories we may initially be unprepared to visit.  It can lead to realizations about ourselves we may not be ready to accept at first.  We can do this alone or with an objective person whom we trust.  Sometimes, it’s worth seeking professional help.

4) Letting go…

ON TO SOMETHING BETTER

Releasing ourselves from the dead weight of bitterness is a favor we owe ourselves.

Why?

Because when we do, we permit ourselves to soar, baggage unclaimed, and ultimately open ourselves up to, for lack of a grander term, good things:

  • Good things for which we can trade in our baggage so we may be free to explore new ideas, experiences, adventures.
  • Good things that enhance our multi-dimensionality so we may recover from any damage and begin to thrive again.
  • Good things that can lead us to self-actualization so we may pursue our passion with tears and laughter.
  • Good things that we have every right to have in our lives.
  • Good things that enable us to build our legacy.
  • Good things that can help us find and carry out our life’s mission.

QUESTION

Do you have bitter baggage you’d like to trade in for something better, maybe even something magical?

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image by Hamed Saber

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben Leon Guerrero October 14, 2009 at 6:40 am

I have many reasons to be bitter my Belinda. First of all, the decimation of my culture, the loss of the language and respect for the land. A whole world that does not understand where my people are coming from in our struggle to free ourselves from colonization and second rate citizenship and simply live as we did. But we still laugh and smile and fiesta because that is who we are. Sometimes it is hard to let go of these bitterness but reading your post I can know that some bitterness is already leaving me. It will be a fight, a long fight to win some of the battles I am facing and also to loose the bitterness in total. But I thank you graciously for the help in this, again.

Reply

2 Justin- AlittleBetter.net October 14, 2009 at 7:12 am

I can understand politics making one bitter. I have some ideas myself that I think could make things better but I have no idea how to spread the ideas enough to make them catch on, but part of overcoming the bitterness this created was realizing that there were some things I didn’t have any power over and to just give it my all, and let go of what I couldn’t do.

Reply

3 Jeffrey Tang October 14, 2009 at 7:28 am

A great post on a difficult topic, Belinda. I love the way you tie bitterness to both a personal choice and to blaming others or circumstances for our misfortunes. It’s hard not to be bitter when you’re denied something you truly, rightfully deserve (assuming that thing is positive, of course … no one ever gets bitter over a denied punishment).

I would like to read a bit more about the “honest confrontation” you had with yourself. How did you get into this confrontation? How did you keep yourself honest? How did you direct your emotions towards something positive? I think it’d be helpful to have some specific, actionable steps.

My humble contribution (which you touched on in your wonderful post): The antidote to bitterness is action. Bitterness stagnates. The best way to move past bitterness … is to move. Denied something you deserve? Keep pursuing it. Don’t accept defeat. Stop blaming other people or outside circumstances and focus on what you can do.

Reply

4 Bill Bowden October 14, 2009 at 10:12 am

You have inspired me, you have helped me! By this feeling of bitterness you “HAD”, I have heard God speaking to me through you. Thank you.

God bless,
Bill

Reply

5 schmabes October 14, 2009 at 11:02 am

“it had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.” — James Baldwin

Once again, a great post. I myself have a spiritual teacher who helped me understand how to see bitterness and the victim mentality that I was living under. As you mentioned, this was not an easy process at all! But it was ultimately liberating and if I may, empowering. The most important thing to understand is that it is an on going process. I am constantly having to check in to see if I’ve slipped back into that mind set–that of blaming and focusing on the actions of others.

Thanks again.

Reply

6 Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities October 14, 2009 at 4:36 pm

“They’re uninhibitedly passionate. When they cry, they cry like the world is in collapse. When they laugh, they laugh like it’s exactly what they’re meant to do in life.”

Imagine if we all stayed this way. What would the world look like? Passion and laughter and meaning. Imagine that. As always, gorgeous words. Thanks.

Reply

7 Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 14, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Belinda, this is a beautiful, beautiful post. And it did make me look at my own bitterness. I realize that in my personal life, I’ve let go of much bitterness and regret over the years, and I don’t go there nearly as often as when I was younger. But on a grander scale, I’m very bitter that I live in a country that’s so polarized it can no longer have a civil discussion. That instead of rejoicing when our president receives a Nobel, we pick it apart beyond recognition. The only way I’ve figured out how to deal with this kind of bitterness is to tune out and pay attention to the small every day joys that make me remember how sweet life is.

Reply

8 Positively Present October 14, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Really great post, Belinda! Thanks for sharing these insights.

Reply

9 Anastasiya October 14, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I know what bitterness is and I’ve been dealing with it for at least a year now. I’ve moved to the US just a little over a year ago and I left my family and my friends behind. I moved here with my beloved husband and my two precious girls who are 19-months old now. These changes in my life have been wonderful but there is one thing that bothers me and makes me bitter. My mom can’t get a visa to go to the US to see her grandchildren and me (I am the only daughter and my girls are like daughter to her). She has applied for this stupid thing 4 times by now and every time she gets rejected. We got the last rejection just about a week ago so the feelings of bitterness are still fresh in me.
No matter how much I want to be mad and and bitter at the people in the consulate, at the politicians who make these stupid rules and the rules that do not allow a mother to see her daughter and her grandchildren I make myself let go of it. Finding somebody guilty will not solve this problem and it won’t make my life more complete or balanced. Some situations we just cannot change and we have to acknowledge this and move on (like you’ve mentioned it in your article). If something makes you bitter then you must find a different way around it.
Thank you for this post Belinda, you’ve published it at the perfect time for me to read it. It helped me look at my situation once again and share my troubles and thoughts with you and your readers 🙂

Reply

10 Belinda Munoz October 14, 2009 at 11:35 pm

@Ben, thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts. You’re absolutely right. When entire cultures are destroyed, bitterness is expected. The people who survive may even revolt. But this can only lead to further destruction and yes, more bitterness and anger. I think we have the capacity to end this cycle of bitterness. But it needs to be a conscious decision and it will be hard, no doubt about it.

@Justin, yes, letting go, when there’s nothing left to do, is the only thing left to do…

@Jeffrey, great questions. I’m glad you asked as I wanted to touch on those things but didn’t want to bore readers in the post. Now I can bore them in my comments .

On honest confrontation — When I began to acknowledge that I wasn’t quite my usual happy self, it was time to ask the hard questions: “Why is this loss affecting me so much?”, “Why am I so bitter when I’m not even the candidate?”, “How much of my identity is tied to this candidate?”, “How much of this defeat represents my own personal defeat?”, “Does this really mean doom and gloom for the constituents?”, “Did I wish I hadn’t invested so much?”, “What’s left to do after the loss?”, “Why am I unwilling to let go if there’s nothing more I can do?”

On keeping myself honest — In answering the above questions, truthfulness is the only way to go. Negative sides surfaced (in my case, pettiness, petulance, anger, contempt, etc.). But I had to stay honest because I didn’t want to linger in that unhealthy space. So, I kept reminding myself of the facts that I couldn’t reverse (that the people had spoken, the votes were in, someone else won. Democracy was in action.)

On directing energy toward something positive — After the loss, I gave myself a little break. A little down time. I began to look for good qualities the winning candidate possessed that I could learn to appreciate. I reminded myself that the times that I met him before all the election hoopla, I was impressed. I liked him. That had to mean something. I eventually ended up doing some work on his campaign because I knew it was the right thing to do.

@Bill, I am truly, truly humbled and honored that this post has helped you. Thank you so much for letting me know. It means a lot.

@Schmabes, great James Baldwin quote! (Hey, he wrote that play that you were in, that my husband named a band after, that I loved – which reminds me I need to read his work!) Anyway, thank you for pointing out the most important thing to remember: that letting go can be an ongoing process… ps. can’t wait to use one of your beautiful photos!

@Aidan, so great of you to stop by. Thank you for your gorgeous words. Looking forward to the release of your currently-no-title-book with much anticipation.

@Patty, you are a woman full of wisdom. Thank you for your generous compliment. You’re so right about us being a polarized nation – why do we not all agree to celebrate our President’s Nobel? Why do we not have universal health care? Or a comprehensive climate change policy? Why do we sometimes forget how lucky we are to live in this country full of hope and dreams? Perhaps because we’re all seeking – asking questions – some wrong ones, some right ones? Perhaps we’re at the halfway point in our maturity as a nation?

@Positively Present, so glad you liked it!

@Anastasiya, first, thank you for visiting. Second, your openness about your bitterness is disarming and I really appreciate you sharing your frustration. I feel for you. I wish I could help. I think it should be a crime to separate families who wish to be together. But just think: when you finally see your mother, when she finally sees her precious twin granddaughters, it will be so, so sweet and the waiting will have been worth it!

Reply

11 Malo October 15, 2009 at 12:19 am

Beautiful post! And very timely for me too. I was just talking to a friend yesterday how I was struggling to not let something negative make me bitter. It was a conscious decision that surprisingly wasn’t so hard to do, especially when you feel relief as all the anger disipates.

Reply

12 Fr. Michael October 15, 2009 at 10:51 am

Great points Belinda. I once heard a sermon once and the priest made a great point that has always stayed with: suffering can make you either bitter or better. It’s the difference of one letter, but it’s a huge difference. We can make the choice to become bitter or better when we encounter suffering or disappointment.

Reply

13 Mimidsay October 15, 2009 at 11:38 am

Belinda,

After reading your post I felt an inside fire begin to ignite. I wanted to blurt out all the reasons I have for bitterness, and wanted to be validated and justified, which is another part of human nature not to be ignored. Perhaps you could write on that topic someday…You take on such a difficult topic here, though, I really have to commend you.

After I thought about my own bitterness for a little bit, and the things I wanted to blurt, I felt those flames do thier work — at my core was a discovery: You are talking about the Parable of the Sower, here. Whether we are strewn into the fertile grounds where our seeds may flourish— or not, we were still given the gift of life. I believe this is the truth that Jesus was trying to portray in the parable of the Sower. Thank you for inspiring these thoughts in me, these self confrontations. All we can do is work through bitterness through inspiration and change our minds as we take on different perspectives. Not easy but possible.

Blessings,
The Mimid, a new reader and fan of PC Munoz’ writing.

Reply

14 Jai kai - SharingSuccess.TV October 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I think for myself I may have some bitterness towards my parents because of the fears they may have passed on to me from their belief systems. I have now been able to successfully let those fears go and forgive them. In fact I look at it as a great learning experience to get me where I am today… so god bless them…. and thank you for a wonderful post.

Reply

15 Everything Counts October 16, 2009 at 1:13 am

Quite a thought provoking post and also quite informative. Thanks for sharing both the knowledge as well as the ideas.

Reply

16 Geri Langlois October 17, 2009 at 9:53 am

Hey Belinda, very nice post. I was once that progressive candidate (for State Rep) that all my supporters worked so very hard for. I won many elections and then lost one and it did take me and my supporters a long time to get over it. Your suggestions for releasing the bitterness are right on target. Sometimes I have to remind myself that when one door closes another one opens.

Reply

17 Micropixie October 19, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I love this Belinda, thank you for saying it so clearly.

empee, x

Reply

18 jane woodman October 28, 2009 at 9:38 am

hi belinda –

i found your post by way of pc. i just wanted to say how fantastic it is, and very inspiring. this particular post got to me because i’ve probably gone through everything you talked about; in a different way of course. i keep reminding myself to let go and move forward – release the blame on yourself and others, and take control of the flow of positive things into your life. it is difficult at first, but once it takes, it’s like a domino effect, and feels great. people and loved ones will start to take notice, and your life will change. thanks again.

Reply

19 Belinda Munoz November 2, 2009 at 12:04 am

Hi Jane, thanks for reading, for your comment and for the compliments! BTW, Pc speaks very highly of you.

I’m glad you brought up the domino effect. The hardest part is getting started, getting unblocked. But after that, it’s so liberating that you have to wonder why you held on to bitterness for so long.

Reply

20 Eileen January 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm

What a thoughtful piece about bitterness, which is an issue that I’m working through. Thanks for the insight.

Reply

21 Caroline Fan February 28, 2012 at 7:27 pm

A lovely and reflective article. I’m glad I came across this, it’s something I used to struggle with but I’ve come out the other side. I think especially in progressive politics, it’s easy to be bitter about primaries or bitter about how a bill we’re passionate about came this close to passing but didn’t.

At the end of the day, it’s partially about expectations. Someone very smart once said,
HAPPINESS = REALITY – EXPECTATIONS

so if our expectations are outsized, we will be disappointed. I find this formula works whether it’s for small things like hype about a movie or restaurant, or if candidates make promises about moving sweeping agendas and fail to do so. So it’s been a helpful barometer for me.

Reply

Cancel reply

Reply to Malo:

Previous post:

Next post: