Bitterness arises from a sense that things should be otherwise. The means by which we gain any idea of what should be is many and varied, including most significantly social conditioning as well as past experience, but as with all human experience it is all purely subjective. If the circumstances and events that are the cause of our bitterness cannot be changed, the only thing left is to change our strategies for coping with it.

It is always possible to change the way we see, and respond to, life events and circumstances. Changing the story we tell ourselves about our circumstances is not to diminish the gravity of the events themselves or their effects. It is, rather, merely a coping mechanism we may be prepared to consider once the pain of the bitterness we are carrying around in our body and mind becomes intolerable.

We know it is possible to change how we view our life because we know that another person in the same circumstances will quite possibly have a different response - a quick survey of all the optimist/pessimist studies make this readily obvious - because people interpret and process experience differently. Thus it is not the circumstances themselves that create our pain, it is whether we choose to feel pain or not.

Of course this choice may not be conscious, and often it is the most predictable and rational possible response, but this does not alter the fact that a different response is actually available, one that enables healing, growth and wisdom.

An example from my own experience is when I discovered that I had been seriously betrayed. I have to admit to an initial temptation to allow my outrage to harden into an enduring bitterness was great. There was potential for entrenched hatred of half the human race to settle into my world view but eventually the pain of clinging to my bitterness grew too great and I had to work hard to change my response to this experience.

After significant time had passed I decided it was time to look at my role in the whole thing. If I was totally honest with myself - and all personal growth and development opportunities require brutal self-honesty - I had had signs.

This person had revealed their true self several times over the years but, for reasons I didn’t actually understand at the time, I chose to dismiss the information they provided. Now, after having done substantial work to understand my own (mostly unconscious) motives, needs and desires, I see things I had absolutely no understanding of previously.

I came to see that I was addicted to this person. The charge I got from our deeply intimate spiritual, intellectual and physical connection was so intense, unique and precious I could not take in anything that had the potential to endanger it. In fact, I was no different to someone with a heroin addiction. I would allow nothing and no one to get between me and my next &ldquot;hit.&rdquote;

I didn’t understand that one could be addicted to a person, it was only when I was able to accept my situation that I created the space to start researching the psychology of relationships. I read broadly and deeply, learning so much about myself that I now know I &ldquot;chose?&rdquot; - albeit mostly unconsciously - the circumstances of my life that led to betrayal. In fact, betrayal was almost inevitable, it was part of the psychological make-up of the person I chose to be with, I just couldn’t see it at the time.

Now that I know myself better, and have greater wisdom generally, I choose differently. I can detect the signs that those who are capable of deep deceit and trickery and I allow such people to pass me by.

If I had not been able to accept the circumstances of my life I would still be ranting and raving about this enormous injustice. This experience has been one of the most profound vehicles for self-awareness and self-knowledge in my life, something for which I can honestly say now that I am grateful for and, it seems to me, gratitude is the quickest and most effective remedy for bitterness.

Eileen McBride
Eileen McBride is the author of Love Equals Power, and a spiritual seeker and teacher. This article was published on October 1, 2018.