Learning from our Bitterness and Resentment

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Bitterness and Resentment are probably some of our least favorite emotions. No one wants to be that bitter "ole’ hag" or that resentful jerk who whines about how unfair life is. And yet sometimes like an uninvited guest at the party, bitterness and resentment keep popping up and insisting on drinking angrily in the corner while giving everyone a glaring side-eye. Our attempts to tell resentment to go away only seem to make it increase its sneering and rude noises.

So what to do with this hideous uninvited guest?

Well you could keep ignoring it. You’ve probably tried that before. And maybe that’s all you’ve got time for right now, because dinner isn’t going to cook itself. There is a cost to avoidance however, mostly in how draining it is to have a snarling snippy intruder showing up whenever you let your guard down or get too tired to scoot into the next room. So annoying.

You could also give yourself lectures about how irrational and unnecessary your bitterness is. With a few sidebars about how "life isn’t fair" and "get over yourself," and "why do you think you’re special" and "stop being a snowflake," and "put on your big girl panties." This tactic may work for a while, until it doesn’t. Mostly resentment spits in the face of your logical arguments and blows raspberries in the general direction of your shaming pep-talks. Resentment is super immature that way.

You might even sit down with resentment and talk to it sincerely about why it should just stop existing. You can tell it how it’s not useful, and doesn’t feel good and how you want to be a better person. And it’s all true. Bitterness isn’t useful, it doesn’t feel good, and you do want to be a better person and most of you is totally on board. Even resentment may feel appeased. Until Aunt Sue comments on how tired you look, and resentment rises like a phoenix from the ashes screaming BURN! Or maybe that’s just me.

So what do you do with an uninvited guest who you can’t keep out and who won’t go away and refuses to die? Stick with me here . . .

How about . . . making friends?

And you’re all like: “But resentment is a hosebeast, I hate it, and I don’t want to be friends.” Or maybe you're like: “But bitterness is ugly. If I make friends, I’ll be one of the uglies too.” Or even: “I don’t want to give it that kind of power. What if resentment takes over and I get stuck drinking in the corner giving everyone side-eye forever. Ewwwehhh! Gross.”

Issues. Am I right?

I mean I know your bitterness is a jaded clotpole. But just maybe it showed up for a reason? Maybe it’s here to tell you something important, and if you sit down on the couch, listen to it carefully, put your arm around it and stop telling it to “stawwwwp bothering me” you could learn a thing or two about why it’s here. Maybe?

What I’m *not* saying is to put the ugly clotpoles in charge of party planning or give them the keys to the car. What I am saying is that you can learn to listen to them and appreciate them for who they are (they’re probably trying to protect you), while keeping in mind that they have terrible taste in hors d'oeuvres (they want to put poison in everything and you don’t have to let them).

Here’s the thing about bitterness and resentment. They’re basically anger; fancy anger with a side of stuckness or powerlessness. So there are two big sources of information there. Get curious. What’s driving the anger, and what’s going on with your power? These are not easy questions to answer by any stretch, but if you can give your bitterness some validation and take its concerns seriously, allow restment to take a few minutes of your time and believe it when it tells you that "something isn’t right here." Then you and your new friends can work together to move toward a party where all your parts are comfortable and welcome.

Lisa Butterworth, LPC, NCC has a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Idaho State University, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, women's issues and sexuality. She is the founder of the popular Feminist Mormon Housewives website and support group. ​

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