I am not, by nature, a bitter and twisted person. In fact, I probably forgive others too easily. This is not to say that I never have fleeting moments of bitterness, because I do, but they tend not to crystallize into crunching resentment and vengeance.
I could have become hunched with bitterness over the past couple of years – and some would probably have understood had I done so: It is galling, and distressing, when people you think you can trust prove to be shallow and bail out when you most need support; it is soul-destroying to have to go through the emotional trauma of unsuccessful counselling followed by the nastiness of divorce; it is deeply distressing to be painted as insane and a liar and rejected by a small minority on that basis.
But – I have a theory regarding bitterness. It may or may not have any basis in truth. But here goes: I suspect that bitterness starts when private wounds have been forced violently out of the consciousness and rammed into the deep pool of forgetfulness/denial. Pain and unhappiness, when not actively felt; tears, when not shed; softer emotions when vilified or denied are all leeched of their life-giving liquidity and become the acrid and heavy ‘salt’ of bitterness.
Bitter people are those for whom barbed wire has, metaphorically, grown over emotional cuts and grazes instead of new fresh skin. It seems to attach itself to those who hoard their misery like misers and who stoke the flames of fury with a strong sense of entitlement: They have a right to be happy, wealthy, successful and popular – and any infringement of this unalterable right causes rage and bitterness.
Bitterness actually changes the physiognomy. It can cause massive fissures in even the youngest face and these lines of discontent remain, like cicatrices, for all to see. It tightens lips, furls brows, can make eyes appear slitted and sinister.
As Above, so Below: If the manifestations in the physical body are marked and ugly, this is as nothing to the effects of prolonged bitterness under the skin. Certain serious illnesses are reputed to be aided in their course by the acid constant bitterness flings into the system. Digestion can easily be affected, as can breathing. A personal bitter winter of discontent can add years, if not decades, to someone’s looks!
Having said all this, bitterness is, at times, a huge temptation. It is a siren call that’s hard to resist when everything seems to be going wrong at once; when life seems to be sticking fingers up left, right and centre; when insecurity, rejection, vast change and loss all approach from the same direction and pretty much simultaneously. I can understand, all too well, why people, unable to cope with that one extra straw that breaks every camel’s back, open the door to bitter thoughts and resentful emotions; when a scream of, ‘Why me?’ seems like the only answer in the lonely void.
All I would say is this: We have no absolute RIGHT to anything in this life – and the illusion that others have better luck than we do is just that: Illusion. I say this because we can never know the full inner story of those we envy and feel bitter towards, and our assumptions may be way off the mark of truth. Financial wealth, for example, may mask spiritual and emotional poverty (and often does); great beauty often comes with a heavy price; a plethora of expensive possessions may not bring happiness into a life; living in a big house is not synonymous with being in a loving and happy home (as I know from my own experiences).
Phrases like, ‘It’s all right for him/her; he/she has got…’ are, in and of themselves, completely meaningless and only exist because we are, as a species, greedy, prone to envy and endlessly competitive.
Some people, however, actually enjoy food that has a bitter taste – and come to crave the bitter side of the taste buds. The same is true emotionally, I am sure: Just as some revel in being depressed, others wallow in bitterness and positively welcome its bite and burn.