When Bitterness Bites
I was at my local shopping centre recently with Henry in his pram. We were meandering through the shops that were open, and I was pointing out things to Henry that I liked. He was snacking, happily in his element on his toy light-up phone. It was the start of a good day. I was one takeaway coffee into the day, and we were in Kmart. Life could not be better.
I had to dodge a few people as the shops were becoming more and more busy as COVID-19 restrictions were beginning to ease. Me and another mum gracefully dodged each other’s prams, our boys looking like they were the same age, doing the same things. She and I smiled to one another. As she was passing me, I noticed a bulging baby bump under her grey t-shirt. She looked as if she was in her second trimester. Glowy, most likely in that middle part of pregnancy where you didn’t feel sick and tired anymore but weren’t feeling like the size of a house. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, but I moved on. I put the box away in my mind and focused on how good our day was going. We kept walking around the shops and went in and out of as many I could get to before Henry became bored. The more we walked it seemed the more pregnant women pushing strollers or trolleys of toddlers kept appearing. It was like they were splitting and then multiplying at an exponential rate. Each one that passed I became more and more upset and I was thinking more and more how I wanted to be in their shoes right now. I would have given a lot to be pushing a pram with a baby bump in that moment.
Bitterness comes in many different forms and is a complex web involving a plethora of emotions. I personally have felt jealous bitterness (my shopping trip!), unfairness bitterness and anger bitterness just to name a few. Sometimes and more often than not for me, they roll into a mega bitterness monster with three ugly heads. We all know it is a completely toxic and useless feeling that can spiral and snowball very quickly and unexpectedly, and it arise in many different circumstances wearing all different coloured capes.
You may have felt bitter when a co-worker got the promotion you were going for even when she was less experienced than you. Maybe you have been a bridesmaid for all your closest girlfriends, but you have not been as lucky as them in falling in love. Perhaps it’s a general feeling of ‘her life looks easier/prettier/fuller/more together/richer than mine and I am angry about that’. A common one-liner for me to say to Josh is, ‘of course that awesome XYZ situation happened to them, and we are handed with this unfair situation.’ It breeds quickly in our minds, often clouds our vision, and hardens our hearts.
I have been jealous of others many times throughout my life. Of course, the menial things spring to mind first, and they do not seem as scary or painful. I used to be jealous of Josh and his non-milk making pectorals. And then there are some second-tier areas that I become jealous of, like when friends build a fancy home, or further their study to receive a master’s degree. Still these don’t eat me alive, and rather push me to be inspired. But third tier jealousies hit deep. The most painful area I am jealous of right now is pregnancy. Naturally, I believe, because it’s hitting where it hurts and at my most fresh and vulnerable spot.
After the pang of jealousy hits, its usually shortly followed up by the unfairness feeling. I feel the jealousy, and then I feel hard done by. Seeing those women happily traipse around the shops with their glow and their toddler made me instantly jealous and then made me think of how and why I was dealt an unfair hand. I feel unjustified. Unexplained. My head was full of neon signs that say ,’why me?’ or ‘if only if it were different’ and I am left with an angry aftertaste and most likely anger eating Tim Tams or spooning Nutella out of the jar feeling sorry for myself. I sometimes paint a fairy tale of an alternate reality in my mind where I get my way and the stranger was robbed of hers instead. A kind of role reversal. It makes me feel great for a second, but then I hit earth again in a crash landing, Nutella tablespoon still in my hand.
I surveyed a few people about how they dealt with their bitterness, and each one gave me unique responses. This makes me think that bitterness is an insanely personal reaction and feeling, and it is crucially dependant to each of our individual circumstances. One friend said that she has a major meltdown and vent and then a big cry; one friend sits in the moment and allows herself time to consider the root cause of the bitterness, and one friend turns to gratefulness, assuring herself someone has it worse than her. You may adopt one of these strategies, or you may circle through all of them and more. I personally think there is a lot of power in each of these strategies.
Venting, melting down and crying can be the gateway through to healing. It is a moment where we accept a situation and become totally vulnerable to it and surrender. You may not be a yeller or an angry venter, perhaps you are just a quiet unicorn who is suddenly word vomiting to your closest confidante, not even realising that the situation was under your skin and crawling fast. Talking a situation through can help us unpack what is eating away at us and can take its fuel away once it is out in the open. If you are not a talker or prefer a more reserved approach, you might prefer the jog/bubble bath/facemask/journal strategy. Sometimes we need to analyse by ourselves in a space of complete honesty and quiet what type of warfare is going on it our heart. Is it anger? Does it feel like a situation has been poorly handled or is unfair? Is it a feeling of being stuck? Is it a longing for something that feels too far to reach? Writing things down and letting our thoughts flow onto paper in words or drawings can be just as therapeutic as speaking it aloud. This step is so important. Once we recognise it and allow ourselves to be honest about our bitterness, we can begin moving forward to heal through it.
I have generally resorted to the gratefulness route lately. Before I miscarried, I had been journaling 3 things I was grateful for each day, so I guess it was just habit by the time the bitterness hit me. My sister once said to me, ‘life is fair, because it is unfair to everyone’ and as each day goes by, I believe that more and more. Bitterness and unfairness aren’t on reserve for a specific group of people, we all feel it. But even though we all experience bitterness but we also all experience blessings. I have things in my life that I am sure someone else would love to have in theirs. That woman has blessings in her life that another woman would kill to have in hers. When we literally count our blessings we notice lots of those small but meaningful things that make our lives full, and we realise that even though we feel robbed or lacking in a particular aspect of our lives, many other aspects are beautifully robust and full. Shifting our focus isn’t sweeping our hurt under the rug, it is a decision to look to something that fills us with hope and directs our next steps to healing and growth with confidence.
We need to find the balance between channelling our energy to enjoy joyful parts of life and sorting through the bitter parts. I think we need to recognise and accept the areas that we carry hurt and injustice as areas to grow and work through, but we don’t need to over-indulge it with all our precious energy. If we aren’t careful the bitter attitudes can gain momentum and feed into lots of areas in our mind, and then we begin to become a bitter person. We carry that energy into our jobs, our relationships, and our homes. Recognising that we are bitter about something is important and necessary because it is in that moment, we get to choose our next move. Our first option is we can tackle it head on by actively seeking help, listening to other’s back stories to gain perspective, and choosing to not feel pity for ourselves. Our second option is to fake it until we make it, pretend we have dealt with it by shoving it away in our minds, but take no authentic action in healing through it. Bitterness breeds in the darkness.
Overcoming bitterness is not a point A to B venture. Sometimes we feel full of hope and excitement for what our future holds or full of perspective, but then other days we have to turn the TV off because it’s a constant reminder of what we don’t have but desperately want. Its natural to flip flop between, but my number one piece of advice is to make the plunge to keep moving through it. Bitterness does not own you and you don’t need man handle it. You are worth more than that. Own hope. Own confidence. Own the fact that better things are coming for you and good things are always in motion, about to sweep you off your feet when you least expect it.