Bitterness About Being Socially Misunderstood

People who have a past of being misunderstood or rejected for being different are sometimes quite bitter about it. Their bitterness may be directed at a certain group of people, society in general, activities like going to parties or playing sports, the idea of having to change, or the concept of socializing itself.

It's not someone's fault if they were picked on or not accepted, and are still upset about it years later. Their bitter complaints may also have some truth to them. Still, the emotion itself is toxic and self-sabotaging.

The effects of bitterness

Bitter people just aren't as happy

When you're bitter you're angry and resentful. Your mind dwells on the ways you've been wronged and how life isn't fair. You could be having a great day, and then something will remind you of an old wound and you'll become grouchy and lost in your head for the next three hours. Obviously, feeling this way so often isn't good for your day-to-day mood.

Bitter people aren't enjoyable company

They're sullen, prickly, and negative. You never know when they're going to turn on you for being "just like one of them" and "not understanding what they've been through". At any moment they could go off on the same old rant about all the ways they've been mistreated. They can't be in the same room as some of your other friends, because that sets off their baggage and leads to an argument.

They develop a mentality where they believe all their problems are the fault of one thing

There are guys out there who think that everything that goes wrong in their lives is because women are fickle and selfish. I've come across self-described introverts who blame all their problems on the fact that extroverts don't understand them. Other people's complaints are more abstract, like they'll dwell on how society is anti-intellectual. These things become scapegoats. Sure, certain groups or faults in society can cause people problems, but it's not realistic to think they're at the root of every setback someone experiences.

They negatively stereotype and write off entire groups of people

If a bitter person feels they've been wronged by a member of a group then they'll sometimes paint every last person in it as their enemy. Even the people from that group who are friendly and on their side won't be given a chance. For example, jocks are the classic bully villains in high school movies. Are some jocks awful? No doubt. But not every guy who's on a baseball team or owns a football jersey runs around stuffing people in lockers. Most so-called jocks are regular, decent people who happen to be into sports. More and more you'll even meet guys who seem like jock bros at first glance, before they start going on about how many hours they've sunk into their favorite RPG. When you're bitter, you don't see any of this.

They see what they want to see and hold certain groups to higher standards than others

Continuing the previous point: Part of being prejudiced is that you look for information that agrees with what you already believe, and ignore whatever doesn't. If you're at a bar and you see a fratty looking guy doing something obnoxious, well that just goes to show that everyone in a fraternity is a loudmouth idiot. But you ignore the fifty similar guys who are behaving themselves, or the people from other subcultures who are being annoying too.

They unconsciously cause people to act exactly how they expect them to

If you're bitter toward certain types of people you may unconsciously act in ways that provoke them and cause them to be hostile to you, confirming your preconceptions. A more alternative woman who resents frat bro types may be really rude whenever she's around them, and interpret their most harmless behavior in the worst possible light. Naturally they often won't be that friendly in return, which plays right into her view that they're all douchebags who didn't understand people like her.

They develop an Us vs. Them mentality

Other people are the enemy. It's introverts vs. extroverts. The shallow mainstream vs. the misunderstood geniuses. The cool kids vs. the uncool kids. Everything becomes black and white. You fight little wars in your head. As this point and the others get at, once you've decided a certain type of person is your foe, you'll tend to act and think in ways that lock you into a combative relationship with them.

They make their decisions in reaction to what other people do

If someone is bitter about a group, they may make their choices using the rule of, "I hate them, so whatever they are for, I have to be against." It's, "Everyone is starting to like that band I enjoy? I guess I'm not going to listen to them anymore." When they act like this feel like they're being non-conformists, or fighting the system. I'm hardly the first to point out that they're ironically still letting their lives be dictated by the people they dislike, rather than just doing whatever makes them happy.

They avoid potentially good things because of the unpleasant associations they bring up

Your friends invite you to come over to watch a hockey game. It'll probably be fun to spend time with them, even if you're barely interested in the game itself. But sports make negative thoughts bubble to the surface of your brain, so you choose to avoid anything that has to do with them. Or you meet someone you click with, but she has some of the mannerisms of the girls who used to pick on you in high school so you don't pursue the friendship further. You can miss out on a lot of fun things just because they're associated with the past.

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They see changing themselves as selling out and "letting them win"

Society is biased. Many of its messages about how you should mold yourself to the mainstream are wrong, and should be ignored. Still, there may be ways you could change and grow that would legitimately make your life fuller and happier, like overcoming social anxiety.

When you're bitter you can be really stubborn about changing in any way. It feels like you've lost to those jerks who criticized and picked on you. If the change means becoming more like the enemy in some small way, like being more sociable, you feel like you're selling out.

They stay in a rut, but think it's their noble destiny to be there

If your life isn't in the best place, being bitter can keep you stuck. You can end up painting a picture in your mind where it's good that you are where you are. You're a martyr. You're nobly sticking to your principles. You haven't given up your values to seek success in a game you don't even care about. You've held your ground where others have failed.

They achieve more than they normally would, out of a desire to 'show them'

Okay, so maybe bitterness has one positive side effect, even if it doesn't have the healthiest underpinnings. Some bitter people do a lot with their lives because they want to spite the people who picked on or dismissed them in high school. What's the saying? "The best revenge is living well"? What's that other cliche? That the smart, unpopular kid works hard to become a billionaire, so at his high school reunion he can throw all his success in the faces of the jerks who teased him, and now all work in grocery stores? The only drawback of this is that being successful probably won't give you the satisfaction and feeling of comeuppance you want. No matter where you are today, nothing will change the fact that when you were fourteen people made fun of you. Still, if you're going to have bitterness affect you in only one way, you'd want it to be this one.

So how do you get over your bitterness?

I don't think bitterness is something you can get over in an afternoon. You can't just magically stop caring about legitimately hurtful things that happened to you in the past. In a way it would be wrong to not care that you were once treated unfairly. But still, you've got to take the edge off those feelings, even if you never get rid of them entirely. Some ideas:

Pledge to stop being bitter and letting past hurts have so much control over you

This seems very easier said than done. There's got to be more to it than simply deciding not to be bitter anymore. The thing is I've heard a lot of people talk about getting over their bitterness in these terms. They were mired in resentment, and then one day they realized how much of their mental energy they were pointlessly wasting, and they vowed to work to shift their mentality. It's not all they needed to do, but it was the start.

Meet your social goals

People get bitter in part because they feel like outside forces have unfairly denied them something they want. Socially, these could be tangible things like friends, as well as more abstract concepts like respect. If you can reach your social goals a lot of your anger could dissipate (that could involve taking practical steps to meet new people, or mental shifts like learning to deal with negative judgments better). You'll still remember the harmful things that were done to you, but the emotional sting won't be as strong.

Focus on what you have control over

Say you're an Asian American going to college in a small-minded, mostly white town, and it's been hard to make friends due to many of your classmates' bigoted attitudes. That's an objectively crappy situation to be in, and it's justifiable to feel angry about it. However, stewing in that bitterness won't address the problem. At some point you need to focus on the things you can change. That's not letting anyone off the hook, it's just pragmatic. How can you find non-prejudiced friends? How can you handle ignorant comments? Would it just be easier to switch schools, if that's possible?

Part of focusing on what you can control means accepting responsibility for the ways you might have contributed to your situation. Bitterness makes you want to put the blame on outside forces. They do play a role and no one's giving them a free pass. Sometimes people are pure victims and shouldn't be blamed for it. However, many people with social problems have areas where they could make some adjustments. For example, if you don't have a lot of friends you may not be putting enough effort into meeting people or addressing your anxiety, you may be too picky, and so on.

Question your bitter beliefs and see if there are more balanced alternatives

Like I said, bitter people usually develop a distorted view of the people or factors they feel have wronged them. You can cut into your bitterness if you examine your beliefs and try to replace them with a more realistic perspective. You don't have to completely excuse the forces that victimized you, but you need to stop thinking in certain ways, like that a group is All Good or All Bad, or assuming you know exactly how they think.

Expose yourself to the things you're bitter about

This isn't the easiest advice to take, but you may gain some relief by exposing yourself to the things you feel bitter toward. Prejudice is partially based on ignorance, right? Try to learn more about the things you feel resentful about, and try to give them a fair chance. For example, if you're touchy about sports, choose to explore them more. You may find they're not all bad and release some of your baggage. Another example would be someone who dislikes sorority sisters, gains more familiarity with them, and can no longer view them in such a stark, begrudging way.

Work through any painful, angry memories that feed your bitterness

When people survive a really upsetting life event, and don't properly deal with the emotions it brings up at the time, those feelings and beliefs can get "frozen" in their mind. Down the road they can get called up by a similar situation. It's like their mind temporarily snaps back to how they originally felt. For example, someone got horribly teased for not being good at sports as a kid. They felt rejected, angry, sad, and resentful as it happened, but stuffed it all down. As an adult when their co-workers talk about basketball they feel that anger rising again. It sets off their awful old memories, and the emotions attached to them. Through that lens they may see their colleagues as the kinds of douchy jocks who gave them a hard time.

It's possible to emotionally process your unpleasant memories, and release the feelings they're associated with. After that's done, looking back on the same incident doesn't feel as raw or emotionally charged. It seems more distant and abstract. You have more of a sense it's something from your past. Present-day reminders of it don't trigger a surge of decades-old resentment or irritation.

You don't suddenly become okay with what happened. You still know you were treated badly, and that you were wounded by it. Like I said, it's just that the sharp emotional edge will be gone. You won't instantly change into a basketball fanatic either. If your classmates are chatting about last night's came you may still think, "This isn't interesting to me. I've never been into team sports", but you won't feel angry or like you're about to be picked on all over again. You'll treat the situation as it is in the present moment, a conversation that's somewhat tedious to you, without a bunch of old stuff coming into it.

Possibly forgive the people who wronged you

There's disagreement on this one. Some people believe forgiveness is an essential step on the healing journey. Others think it's helpful and freeing if you genuinely want to do it, but no one has to be forgiving.

Forgiveness isn't about excusing or condoning someone's actions, or deciding they didn't hurt you after all. It's about making a decision to not let your anger or desire for revenge have such a grip on you anymore.

I think it's best to decide whether to forgive people on a case-by-case basis. Say four people bullied you in high school. You may look back on three of them and decide, "They were immature kids who didn't know any better. They insulted me, but didn't take it further than that. They seemed to be following the crowd more than acting out of malice. I know for a fact one of them was having problems at home, as cliche as that sounds... I'm okay with forgiving them."

However, for the fourth bully you may think, "He wasn't like the others. I really believe he took sadistic pleasure in making my life miserable. He physically assaulted me, which is inexcusable. I'll do what I can not to dwell on how he treated me, but it would be completely fake and forced if I tried to forgive him. It's not happening."

Sort out your other problems and live a good life

I already mentioned how the target of your bitterness can act as a scapegoat for other problems in your life. You're actually unhappy because you've ended up in the wrong career, but your mind wants to blame it all on the fact that the world doesn't respect people who are quiet and reserved. Similarly, when you're in a sour mood your mind naturally gravitates toward other negative thoughts. It's funny, I find when we're fairly happy we may intellectually acknowledge that, say, our society is too materialistic, but it won't emotionally bother us. But as soon as we're in a crappy mood, suddenly we're grumpy about the same issue. I've found that the more you can get your life to where you want it to be, the less old injustices get to you. You may still acknowledge certain things as problems, but they don't have the power to rankle you like they used to.