All of us have had a person or a situation in our life that made us grimace as though we had just eaten a raw lemon. Life is difficult at times. Sometimes that includes people who hurt us, ridicule us, or just make life difficult for us or our loved ones. It could be a landlord, boss, friend, sibling, or parent, and it can even be a spouse. These things can cause bitterness.

When a person makes your life difficult, it can lead to bitterness and deep anger toward them. In that season, the last thing you would want to hear is what Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV)

As taxing or painful as your difficulties might be, bitterness is toxic. It can damage you and your relationships, and the best thing to do with it is to get rid of it.

How bitterness takes root in a life.

Bitterness can happen and take root in a person’s life in many ways and for varying reasons. It can happen after a once-off interaction, but it can also build up over years of negative interactions with someone. The reasons for bitterness are many, including:

  • Being snubbed, or treated in a way that feels disrespectful.
  • Someone taking advantage of you or your generosity.
  • Someone taking credit for something you did, or someone not acknowledging your contribution.
  • Not being shown appreciation for something you do or have done.
  • Someone not meeting their end of a bargain, like not doing chores they agreed to, or trying to get a job like they promised.
  • When you feel someone is responsible for a failure.

In so many cases, bitterness begins because an expectation that you held has not been met. We expect to be treated with respect, the same respect and consideration that we show others. When that expectation is not met, whether once or multiple times, feelings of bitterness and anger can start to rise in your heart.

When these emotions take root in your life, it can make you irritated and curt with the person who offended you. You may find yourself feeling more impatient with them and less willing to tolerate things about them that you could handle before. You may even begin to avoid or withdraw from them. Instead of being a source of joy, that relationship or situation becomes frustrating, tense, and burdensome.

When bitterness takes root in your life, it can spread like a weed, affecting other relationships too. Have you ever had a difficult day at work, and then, when you got home you snapped at your spouse, children, or even the family dog? They did not do anything to you that merited that response, but the difficulty is that we cannot always compartmentalize our emotions. Our feelings spill into and commingle with feelings from other relationships.

Overcoming bitterness in your life and relationships.

Bitterness does not stay put in your life. Think of it like a fast-growing weed that will take over your entire life if you do not uproot it quickly. Besides the damage that bitterness can do to relationships unrelated to the offense, it also takes a toll on your emotional and physical health and well-being.

Being bitter all the time can raise your blood pressure, increasing your risk of stroke and heart disease. It can also affect your immune response, your metabolism, or your organ function.

Bitterness, in other words, can lead to physical disease. One of the ways to begin overcoming bitterness in your life is to take stock of the fact that it is killing you. Bitterness harms you, and it harms your relationships.

Here are some ways to start overcoming bitterness in your life:

Keep short accounts.

If something hurtful happens, address it sooner rather than later. This may mean learning to rein your anger in so that you can express yourself without hurting anyone. Address the issue and get clarity before it festers out of control.

Reduce your news and social media intake.

These can be a constant source of frustration and can fuel bitterness.

Pursue forgiveness.

Instead of holding onto hurt, learn to forgive, and let go of it. Grow in leaving things in God’s hands to avenge you if necessary. (Romans 12:17-21) This leads to spiritual maturity.

Maintain healthy expectations.

Having healthy expectations that are clearly communicated can help reduce your frustrations with people. Such expectations can lead to maintaining accountability, which is necessary to counterbalance bitterness. So often bitterness results from believing you cannot do anything about your disappointment or hurt. Maybe you can!

Seek help.

Talk with someone like a counselor to unpack your feelings of bitterness and understand how they affect you and your relationships. Your counselor can help you to chart a way forward.

Getting help.

If you feel like bitterness is creating a stronghold in your life and relationships, reach out for help. Feel free to contact us today and we can connect with one of the many qualified Christian therapists in our directory. They are eager to walk with you into the release of bitterness and the freedom of forgiveness.

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