What Is Bitterness? The Cause — And Costs — Of Becoming Bitter

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Bitterness results when you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly by someone important to you.

Are you bitter about those people and those situations? Do you harbor resentment, anger, or ill feelings towards them?

Are you resigned to "living with" the problem? Have you ever thought about seeking revenge?

Have you ever said to yourself, "I’ve been cheated"? Maybe you said, "I’ve been mistreated." Or, perhaps, you thought to yourself, "I deserve better than this."

You’re not alone.

RELATED: 5 Unnattractive Habits Of Bitter, Emotionally Draining People

Bitterness doesn’t happen in a single instant.

It comes in three components: You feel that you’ve been maltreated, the person exploiting you is important to you, and the source of irritation occurs repeatedly.

Do you resent poor service at the hands of a rude store clerk? Sure, and you’re not going to lose any sleep over it. That clerk is significant to you only in that single moment.

You may harbor some momentary resentment, and yet, after a short time, you’re going to forget that that clerk ever existed and that encounter ever happened.

Do you resent poor treatment at the hands of someone you love? Yes, simply because you believe — or want to believe — that your feelings are as significant to that loved one as that loved one’s feelings are to you.

There’s a lot of truth to the saying, "We only hurt the ones we love." After all, these are the people in your life who should know better — people we want and expect to know better and treat us better.

And for passionate, heartfelt bitterness to occur, it has to build incrementally over time.

The first time you get irritated by someone important to you, you might laugh it off. The second time, you might decide to "get over it," or you might say something to them.

The third time, you start making a list. The fourth time, you get out the fattest Sharpie you own to make your notes.

Any and every subsequent occurrence and you eventually reach the conclusion that this person or situation is never going to change.

You’ve got your "kill list." You’re bitter. That’s how you got here.

How do you contribute to your own bitterness?

Whether you recognize it or not, putting up with whatever it is that irritates you adds fuel to the bitterness fire. That process of "gathering evidence" about how unfairly you were treated is not in the least helpful.

Again, it’s fuel to the fire. Not discussing the situation with your loved one also contributes fuel because this approach allows the situation to fester.

You are so right about this other, significant person being wrong. Self-righteous indignation feels so good, doesn’t it? You’re right. They’re wrong. Enough said.

Well, maybe…

RELATED: 6 Ways To Stop Feeling Bitter And Resentful After Being Cheated On

What is the cost of bitterness?

To you, the cost is massive.

Bitterness lingers. Bitterness festers. Bitterness is bumping around your thoughts and heart 24/7. Bitterness is eating you alive.

While you may find moments of peace outside of the bitterness, those moments are fleeting. And when bitterness returns, it returns with a vengeance.

The cost of bitterness to your loved one? Yeah, not so much.

After all, your loved one doesn’t know about bitterness you’re suffering (‘cause, you know, you haven’t really discussed this because you were too busy gathering evidence and making notes).

So, the only time your loved one may be confronted by your lingering bitterness is when you two get together and you’re distant, cold, and unfriendly.

Your loved one senses that "something" is going on with you and is left in the position of guessing about possible causes or waiting for your old, happy self to return.

And the cure for bitterness?

Conversation. An ongoing stream of conversation.

Now, this isn’t going to be just any casual conversation. For this first conversation, there are a number of points that you have to address with your loved one to eliminate the source of bitterness and reestablish a loving relationship.

Take some time to prepare yourself and leave the drama behind.

Here’s the place to start: "I love you and you’re important to me." This is always a great place to start or to end a conversation with a loved one.

Why does this matter? Because it signifies that you’ve taken off your boxing gloves and want to have a loving, non-combative conversation.

Then, take off the boxing gloves, drop your evidence, and set up the framework of the conversation by stating that you're troubled by a certain issue, you’re committed to resolving this issue, and you’re committed to the partnership.

The conversation might go something like this...

"I have an issue I’d like to discuss with you. Can we talk now?" (And, if this isn’t the time, ask "When?")

Clear space and time, without distractions, in which to speak.

"I see/feel/sense that this (describe the situation) is going on. I’m unhappy with this situation and am committed to resolving it with you."

What you’re doing is inviting your loved one to see the world from your point of view. Equally as important, you need to open yourself up to your partner’s point of view.

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Keep in mind that, with this particular issue, your partner has never seen this issue from your point of view before and may find accepting your point of view a challenge.

After all, your partner may even be surprised that "this" even is an issue for you. Shock and surprise can be responses instinctually offered: Don’t judge your loved one for failing to be immediately empathetic.

Empathy is a skill learned over time with practice.

On the other hand, sympathy — feeling sorry for someone else — comes much more easily. You’re not looking for a quick apology so that all may be forgiven.

An instant kiss-and-make-up won’t suffice when you’re already bitter. Bitterness is heavy and requires a measured, thoughtful response.

"The resolution that would work for me is (describe your preferred outcome)."

Come to the conversation with alternative outcomes in mind.

You’re looking for a resolution that works for both of you, one that you both can honor and keep.

Be kind and straight with your words. Listen carefully and openly to the responses your loved one gives you. Be kind and straight in your listening.

As much as you’re asking your loved one to consider your point of view, be willing to consider their point of view, as well.

While bitterness is a one-way street, a loving relationship is a two-way street.

It took some time and multiple injuries for you to become bitter. You invested a lot of energy and effort in gathering evidence. It will take some time and work to resolve your bitterness.

By addressing and eliminating the source of your bitterness, you’ll renew your relationship with your loved one.

By increasing the number of issues that you can talk about with your partner, you’ll strengthen your relationship.

By enhancing the quality of your conversations with your loved one, you’ll build a relationship that can weather any future storms.

And if you can’t negotiate a resolution that works for you and your partner, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.

The choice to be bitter is yours.

You can address and eliminate this source of bitterness and get a renewed relationship in the process. Or you can end the relationship and move on without bitterness.

How to avoid bitterness in the first place? See something, say something. Clear the air. Don’t let any upset build into bitterness. You’re only poisoning yourself.

RELATED: The 5 Worst Traits Of Bitter, Unhappy People (And How To Avoid Becoming One Of Them)

Tony Vear is a relationship coach, specializing in personal development and business coaching. He strives to leave people better than he finds them by making relationships as simple as driving. Contact Tony for a free 15-minute consultation if you’re feeling bitter.