How being bitter only poisons you


I love that quote by Nelson Mandela because we are capable of creating our own prisons if we're not careful with our feelings. If we hold on to bitterness and hatred then we will be imprisoned in our own mind, unable to achieve the freedom that we deserve. I get it. When you've been hurt from something like bullying, you feel angry, you feel bitter, and you feel hopeless to overcome that hurt. But, here's the thing - we're the ones responsible for causing ourselves any current hurt by remaining bitter about a past hurt. 

In the previous post - 5 key differences between anger and bitterness - we looked at how anger and bitterness differ. Anger can be very bad in its own right, but bitterness takes the cake. Anger is being mad; bitterness is being resentful. Unlike anger and other emotions, bitterness has no outward physical signs associated with it. In this post I want to talk about where bitterness comes from, what bitterness looks like on the inside, how it causes you problems, and what you can do about it.

I'm going to break this down into 4 sections:

  1. How bitterness develops
  2. Why bitterness persists
  3. Problems bitterness causes
  4. Solutions for bitterness
How bitterness develops
  • Bitterness comes from things happening that are beyond your control and that you perceive as not being your fault. Examples include: unwanted experiences; failures; disappointments; setbacks. Being bullied can certainly be considered an unwanted experience.
  • Bitterness also comes from being publicly humiliated or feeling taken advantage of. Again, being bullied can certainly qualify here.
  • Another way in which bitterness can develop is from feeling betrayed. Betrayal can occur during bullying if you were bullied by someone you knew and trusted.
Why bitterness persists
  • If you were hurt by someone you knew and trusted then it makes it that much harder to let go of your bitterness. In your mind it doesn't make sense that someone you knew would do such a thing to you and that can be hard to deal with. So, you're not only struggling with the trauma but you're also struggling with your trust. This only compounds the hurt and bitterness.
  • Bitterness also persists if you feel like the person who hurt you could have prevented that hurt. This seems especially true when it comes to bullying. Remember, it's not your fault you were bullied. You were bullied for no good reason. The bully most certainly could have prevented what happened by not bullying you in the first place. When you see the bullying in this light then it can make you angry and bitter because it was senseless.
  • If you're angry about what happened, and you feel a sense of injustice about it, then that anger can turn into bitterness. You may wonder why the bully can get away with what happened while you're left to pick up the pieces. It isn't fair, but I can say that revenge is not the answer. It's one of those things that you're left to process in order to deal with it and it makes sense that you would become bitter over it. (I definitely struggled with this one myself, and it wasn't easy, but it's important to overcome).
  • Another one I struggled with that caused me to become bitter was feeling like I missed out on things as a result of being bullied. I'll be honest and tell you that I still struggle with this sometimes. It's not that I'm still bitter about it, but I'll sometimes think about how much further along I might be in life if I hadn't been bullied. Maybe you experience this, too, where you feel like you're trying to play catch-up in life. Maybe you feel like you've missed out on social opportunities during your late teens or early twenties. It's like feeling a sense of loss, and that can certainly lead to bitterness.
  • Bitterness can also persist if your feelings keep getting triggered by new events that remind you of the past. This can also happen if you keep replaying the bullying over again in your head. I used to replay thoughts of getting back at the bullies. I did this for a long time until I realized that I had to stop in order to let go of the bitterness. This is a clear example of being your own worst enemy. If you're reminded of what happened in the past by new events or by replaying old ones, then you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Problems bitterness causes
  • One problem that should not be ignored is physical illness. When you're bitter, you're causing your body stress, and sustained stress can make you sick. I talked about this in a previous post about anger and this is certainly true for bitterness as well. It's even more of a problem with bitterness because bitterness lasts longer than anger.
  • Since bitterness can consume you, it will take over any positive feelings you may have, and all you'll be left with will be negative, bitter-laced feelings. Bitterness robs you of your chance to be happy.
  • Remember, bitterness causes you to suffer, not those you're bitter towards. Think of that quote you maybe see sometimes - "Bitterness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die." Bitterness is a poison, and you don't deserve it. That other person might not even remember you anymore. It doesn't make sense to be upset with them for hurting you, yet to be okay with allowing yourself to remain bitter. You owe it to yourself to work on overcoming the bitterness.
  • When you're bitter, you're so focused on the past that you can't enjoy the present. The way I look at it is that you've already lost time in your life to this terrible thing that happened to you, so why lose even more to your own doing. Life is too short to make that kind of sacrifice. This relates back to what I talked about above in regard to missing out on opportunities or life experiences. You're going to keep feeling this way if you don't stop living in the past.
  • Along those same lines, you're going to have a hard time finding purpose in life. In order to find your purpose, you have to focus on the present and even think about the future a little. You can't do that when you're hung up on the past in a way that negatively affects you.
  • I think it goes without saying that bitterness can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as trouble sleeping. Our bodies don't like to be stressed all of the time so these effects are kind of like our body's way of letting us know it's not happy. The mind and the body affect each other.
  • Aside from the internal problems that bitterness can lead to, it can also lead to some external problems, like hostility and cynicism. It may seem very easy to be hostile or cynical when you're feeling bitter. Bitterness makes you this way and then feeds off of it. Of course, if you are acting this way then it's going to be difficult to experience any personal or emotional development that you should be experiencing normally.
  • Being bitter can also lead to trust issues and a loss of self-confidence. If you're bitter and cynical, then it's hard to trust others. You're always going to see something negative in them that will make you question their actions. This can make others not want to be around you, which can affect your self-confidence.
  • Being bitter causes you to feel helpless. This can be due to the fact that when you're bitter you place the blame on someone else. If you're placing your happiness into the hands of someone else then you're going to feel helpless if that person has hurt you. This makes it even more important to deal with feelings of bitterness so that you can stop feeling helpless and take back control of your life.
  • Last, but not least, is that being bitter can cause you to attribute all of your problems to one thing. Let me give you an example. When I was bitter about having been bullied, I found a way to tie every problem I had back to the fact that I had been bullied. It became my excuse for everything. Granted, if the effects of being bullied are pervasive in your life then it is possible that it could be the cause for the way some things turn out, but we also have to take responsibility for things. When you're bitter, it becomes a lot easier to blame everything on what happened to you or the person who did it to you.
Solutions for bitterness
  • One of the things that can help is to work on other problems first. If you work on solving other problems first, and are successful, then you'll start to feel less helpless. Small victories can make you feel empowered, and that can make you start to feel less bitter. Think of it as like trying to push the bitterness out. You have to find your way back to being positive so that the positive feelings will start to fight back and push out the negative feelings. One thing's for sure - you can't beat bitterness with more bitterness.
  • When trying to overcome bitterness, you have to realize that you're the one who has to change, not the world around you. This one is hard to hear, but the sooner you can accept it, the better. If you wait for things to change around you, then you're going to be waiting forever. Forget about revenge, forget about apologies, or whatever. Take charge of your happiness and learn to let things go. I know it's not easy, but it does get easier over time.
  • Along with essentially shifting your mindset and letting things go, you have to forgive. I know that this is the toughest one of all. It took me many years to find forgiveness - for those who hurt me and for myself. The most important person you need to forgive is yourself, even if you don't realize it yet. Until you can let go of any anger or bitterness you have toward yourself, you can't fully move on. The topic of forgiveness needs its own post (or two) so look for those on the blog soon.

As you can see, bitterness is a nasty thing. If you're experiencing bitterness then I hope this post helps. I was angry and bitter for many years and it caused me a lot of harm. Being bitter is like digging yourself a hole that you keep digging every day. And the deeper you dig, the longer the path back to the top. No one can fault you for becoming angry about what you've been through, and maybe no one should fault you for becoming bitter, either, but you owe yourself so much more than that.

What helped me overcome my bitterness the most was learning to forgive and let go. I was tired of feeling that way and giving up happiness in order to hold on to something that did me no good. I don't really believe in regrets, only learning from the past, but if I were to say I had any regrets then being bitter for so long would be it. Don't be the only thing holding yourself back from the one thing you really want. From this day forward, tell yourself that you won't lose any more time to this.

What do you think about this post? Did you find it helpful? What was your biggest take away? I would love to hear your thoughts so go ahead and leave a comment below. 
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photo credit: symphony of love via photopin cc


  1. What if the bitterness is caused by ongoing things – like a bully neighbour who harrasses you and you can’t afford to sell up and move? And the police won’t do anything as I can’t get evidence or even his name? What if it’s in your face everyday and there’s not a lot you can do about it?

    • I’m sorry to hear about your situation, Carolyn. I can imagine how challenging it must be to have to deal with that every day. You deserve to live in peace and to not have to move to have it. Are they harassing other neighbors as well who could support you in this? It’s too bad that the police aren’t doing anything. I hope that things get better for you.

  2. Hi Melissa, I’ve just read your article, which I found using a general search for more information on bitterness and I just wanted to thank you for being so honest about your own experience but also for how you structured the article. I’m not one for the hearts and flowers or biblical Oprah approach to problem solving or self help so your practical and logical article really appealed to me. The how, why, cause & effect and solution structure is exactly what I’m looking for when trying to find answers to such important questions. There’s also a refreshing lack of ego and posturing that is truly refreshing and I sincerely appreciate not being patronized. Thank you.

  3. I live abroad with my aunt and uncle for mt studies, and did not do well last semester so now they want to take charge of everything regarding my academics and my father gave them full power which hurt me alot because he feels i am always wrong and they are always right. I feel bitter towards him and my aunt and uncle. My father insulted me last night infront of them and told me i have to do as they say.

  4. Nandini says:

    I have a friend who is struggling to fix his relationship with his brother. 4 yrs ago, my friend adviced him about which college he should be going to pursue engineering. That college was 2nd best in the country. His brother dint do so well in the entrance exam to land himself in the 1st best college. However, my friend was a graduate from 1st best college. My friend dint have any wrong intentions and gave him his best advice. It went fine for 3 yrs, but in the final year of engineering his brother doesn’t seem to be happy and even after graduating he blames my friend that because of his decision his life is all screwed up and he could have done better in life. Only because he trusted his guidance he is living a life of compromise. Now his brother has turned bitter and is rude to everyone irrespective of how they behave with him. My friend tried to talk to him, took all the blame on himself and asked him to have a forward perspective about what has happened cannot be changed so let’s focus on what can be done. But he seems clueless about what he wants and there’s no change in his behaviour. Please help us as to how to approach and how do we help him

    • Hi Nandini. Your friend is right that what’s happened can’t be changed and it’s best to focus on what can be done. It seems to me that your friend had good intentions and has done what he can to help. It’s up to his brother to take responsibility for his own life. There’s not much more you can do other than continue to provide support but ultimately his brother has to want to make changes for himself. Other than that, maybe give him some space and try not to encourage his behavior.

  5. I am bitter because my fiance passed away right in front of me four years ago. I am angry with God and I feel awful inside. I would have thought by now I would be better, but I just realized I am just bitter

  6. Thank you! Your article inspires me a lot about forgiveness.
    I saw the person who has hurt me terribly still living very good and has a great achievement in his job this afternoon on the Internet.
    I find that I still feel very sick and angry. Why didn’t him being sent into the jail.
    I spend four years to recover from this trauma but he just forgot what had happened and live a good life.
    What should I do?
    I feel very upset and I know he will never apologize for what he had done…

    • Hi Hus, thank you for the comment. First off, it’s normal to feel that way if you see the person who hurt you doing well. It doesn’t seem fair, I know. But that’s why we have to focus on ourselves and doing well for ourselves. If you want to be able to forgive, then you actually don’t need an apology from him. Forgiveness is for us and not them. I have a couple posts on the topic here on the site that might help. And, as they say, the best revenge is a life well lived. I wish you well on your journey!

  7. It’s true.. bitterness is its own poison.

  8. Marak smith says:

    Brilliant post, finally helped me realise that I was bitter all this time and putting spanner in the works!!!Thank you 🙂

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