If ever there was an, “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in”, experience with respect to being tied to our past it’s when we feel bitterness.
I make specific mention of this because of the ease with which many of us have slipped into it and the power it can have over us… if we let it (I hasten to add). It is usually the final stronghold for us as we are closing out our past and moving forward. The final shackle that tries to jump out at us, reattach itself, and hold us back is that age-old trap of resentment.
How do we deal with it when it shows up? How about the same way we deal with everything else? 1) Don’t take the bait. 2) Refocus on what you are grateful for today. 3) Accept that moving forward does not erase the past, it simply leaves it to fade in the rearview mirror of our lives as we enjoy the scenery of our new life.
The usual retort of our unhealthy thinking is, “Ya but….”. Ya but what? Fill in the blank with a thousand different things: ‘It wasn’t fair’, ‘You’d be bitter too if it happened to you’, ‘I can’t shake it’.
I’ve said all of these and a hundred more. Yet I found that any statement that rationalizes bitterness or resentment of a past event is part of my less-healthy side fighting for its own survival. It needs fuel to burn and the fuel it wants from me is to engage the thoughts of the wrongs (or perceived wrongs) of the past, then convert them into feelings to add strength to the resentment.
Does this mean we should simply stuff or ignore the past? No. We need to first wind it down and close it out in some healthy way. What do each of us need? Hard to say. For me, I have founds counseling, reading, blogging, dialoguing with others with similar histories, and working the 12 steps to be the most helpful.
I think we are wise to take reasonable time and make reasonable effort to address the wounds of the past. But once that is done, it is time to let go. Surrender it and form new thought habits. Habits that focus on today and the next step forward. Not 5 or 10 steps forward, just one.
If a bitterness or resentment persists, maybe we haven’t done the work and closed it out. If we haven’t, we should once again seek the help we need. Spending time in the bitterness and stewing alone in our thoughts, however, will not help. By doing so, we are only re-rehearsing old self-destructive patterns.
Resentments born of some legitimate harm or injustice will sting harder and burn longer. They carry a greater emotional charge. And much in our culture tries to suggests that we deserve to have resentments. So there is often a lot of unravelling and retraining to do.
The bottom line is that most of us will find bitterness the hardest thing to shake. But it can be shaken. We need to stop participating in it, close out the issue with the appropriate help, and develop new habits of thought that carry us to better places today and in the future.