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, the concept of socializing, the idea of having to change, or specific activities such as going to parties or playing sports. While a bitter person's underlying complaints may have some truth to them, the emotion itself is toxic and counterproductive.

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 these negative emotions all the time just isn't good for your day-to-day mood.

Bitter people aren't much fun to be around

Bitter people aren't enjoyable company. They're prickly and negative and moody. 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. You can't hang out with certain people when they're around because they might set off the bitter person's baggage in some way.

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. Some 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 assholes? No doubt. But not every guy who's on a baseball team or who owns a lot of football jerseys runs around stuffing people in lockers. Most so-called jocks are regular, decent people who happen to be really 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 and everyone in a certain group is the same to you.

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 all dudes in fraternities are loudmouth idiots. 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 towards certain types of people you may unconsciously act in ways that agitate them and cause them to be hostile towards you, confirming your preconceptions. A more alternative girl who resents fratty, pretty boy 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 to her 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 your bad relationship to them.

They make their decisions in reaction to what other people do

If someone is bitter about a certain 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, "Oh, 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 person to point out that they're ironically still letting their lives be controlled 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'll only be half-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 like, but she has some of the mannerisms of the girls who used to pick on you in high school so you don't pursue a friendship further. You can miss out on a lot of fun things just because they're associated with something you're bitter about.

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

People may give you a hard time or not appreciate your natural personality. Society may be biased towards certain types of individuals. Still, there may be ways you could change and grow that would legitimately make your life fuller and happier.

When you're bitter you can be really stubborn about this. Changing means conceding that the enemy was partially right. If changing means becoming more like them in some way, you feel like you're selling out. If you have an Us vs. Them attitude, it feels like they're 'winning'. No one's keeping track of this stuff of course, but it all can seem very important in your mind.

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 help keep you there. You can end up painting this scenario in your mind where it's good that you are where you are. You're nobly sticking to your principles. You haven't given up your values to seek success at a game you don't even care about. You've held your ground where others have failed. This thinking can take on a martyr tint as well, where you get some sort of mental reward out of seeing yourself as a victim.

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 them in high school, or who didn't believe in them. What's the saying? "The best revenge is living well"? What's that other cliche? That the smart, unpopular kid works hard to become the next Bill Gates so at his high school reunion he can throw all his success in the faces of the jerks who teased him, and who 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 negative 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 your 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 any more. 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 consciously shifted their focus.

Meet your social goals

People get bitter 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 should dissipate (that could involve taking practical steps to make more friends, or learning to deal with negative judgments better). You'll still remember the negative things that were done to you, but emotional sting will be gone.

Focus on what you have control over

Say you're an Asian foreign student going to college in a small-minded town in the U.S., 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 anger 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've contributed to your situation. Bitterness makes you want to put the blame on outside forces, and they do play a role. However, with many social problems there are things you could be doing better as well. 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 and balance out your bitter beliefs

Like I said, bitter individuals 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 replace them with more realistic alternatives. You don't have to completely excuse the forces that victimized you, but you need to stop looking at them as entirely bad and out to get you.

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 a certain type of person, gains more familiarity with them, and can no longer view them in such a stark, negative way.

Forgive people

Depending on how bad your past experiences were this one may not be for you. Forgiveness isn't about excusing or condoning someone's actions, or deciding they didn't hurt you after all. It's more about making a decision to not let your feelings have such a grip on you anymore.

Here's a personal example: I wasn't horribly bullied in high school, but there were one or two people who sometimes gave me a hard time. For years afterward it still got under my skin, and I'd sometimes daydream about how I could even the score if I ever ran into them on the street. Then one day, and I'm not sure why, I just thought, "I've got to let this go. So some guys were jerks to me when they were fifteen. I could be an immature dick at that age too. I'm sure they're decent enough people nowadays. We all make mistakes, and where would we be if no one ever gave us a second chance?... I forgive them." My feelings were never the same after that. I still don't think what they did was right, but it doesn't trigger the anger it used to.

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 really 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 sort out your issues and 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.