Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

On Bitterness

45 Comments

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This cute little gopher tortoise showed up in our garden!

: having a strong and often unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet

: causing painful emotions : felt or experienced in a strong and unpleasant way

: angry and unhappy because of unfair treatment

Am I bitter?  I’ve been told that I am.  Okay.  Maybe.  It depends on which of these definitions you use.

Have there been experiences in my life that have left a bitter taste in my mouth?  Who hasn’t?  That might be a shorter list.

Have I had experiences that were painful or that I felt in a strong or unpleasant way?  Who hasn’t?  That might be a shorter list.

Usually, though, when someone calls you bitter it’s that last bit of the definition they’re alluding to.  Am I angry and unhappy because of unfair treatment?  The short answer is no.  At least I don’t see myself that way. Then again, we often have trouble seeing ourselves as we truly are.  But I don’t feel angry or unhappy.

Having said that, I do get angry sometimes when certain topics come up based on my experiences.  For instance, when someone – be it a man or a woman – says that a wife’s submission is the bee’s knees and that it’s a perfect plan for harmony within a marriage.  It’s God’s plan afterall.

You know what?  I’m not totally opposed to submission.  The way I experienced it had horrific results.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for anyone ever.  Sometimes men choose to submit, too.  Sometimes people just want all the little details taken care of and never to have to make any decisions.  If the two people involved are cool with that then who am I to say that submission is a terrible idea?

In fact, there are many relationships where one is submissive and the other more dominant.  And they aren’t all religious.  If it’s a free choice made because a person knows themselves well then I think it can make for a mutually beneficial relationship.

However, if the submission is based on coercion (i.e. lording religious precepts over one’s head)?  That’s where I can become angry.  If, based on your religious beliefs, you want to submit to your spouse, by all means go right ahead and do that.  But if, based on your husband’s religious convictions he forces submission by continually reminding you it is your wifely duty, that you are sinning if you don’t, or threatens you in any way – emotionally or physically – it isn’t willful or chosen freely.

In fact, if your husband is doing any of those things you might be in an abusive relationship.  The teachings on submission within religions are but mere weapons in the arsenal of an already abusive person.  Anyone who uses scripture to guilt you into doing things to suit them is being abusive, be they male or female.

So, the long answer to the question of whether or not I’m bitter depends on whether you believe that a person’s life experiences informing their ethics makes them bitter.  If you learn nothing from the experiences you’ve had, if you can’t recognize what you’ve been through and honor that with future life choices and held values without being labeled bitter it is likely that there is something wrong with the label maker – not the labeled.

That is all.

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45 thoughts on “On Bitterness

  1. Ruth, based on everything I’ve read – be it in your stories here on your blog or in comments you’ve made on others’ – I have never detected any kind of bitterness from you. Mind you, I think I’D be bitter if the things that have happened to you, happened to me. Just sayin’. . .

    It seems to me, that whoever is levelling this charge at you wants to somehow diminish what you’ve stated (I am assuming it’s something you’ve stated, in response to this whole ‘submission’ theory). I, for the life of me, CANNOT understand why anyone would want to embrace this submission business. To me, there’s a negative connotation attached, no matter how glowingly one presents it. I have heard dog trainers use this expression and I don’t even like to hear it then. Nope, doesn’t work for me and I fully agree – the person who’s telling you you’re ‘bitter’ is the one with the problem. Not you; I’m not buying it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, carmen. I certainly don’t see myself as a bitter person. Life’s too short. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

      I merely presented(or at least that’s what I thought I was doing) another side to the whole submission thing. You know, that it isn’t all roses. So I think maybe it just didn’t jibe with her idea of submission. Then I got labeled as broken, hurt, and bitter. *Shrug* It just made me think about what it actually means to be bitter and I wrote my thoughts on the matter.

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      • Ruth, I’ve read the back-and-forth about that whole submission gagginess (some use the fancy word, ‘complementarianism’ for what’s essentially a slave/master relationship) and I’ve come to the conclusion that women who uphold this sort of nonsense are doing so because it gives them a sense of power in a set-up that robs them of same. It seems to me, that in order to have any kind of power as a woman in many of those patriarchal systems, a woman HAS to trumpet its positive value, in order to hold on to their dignity. It boggles my mind, but from what I have read, on other blogs (and from seemingly intelligent women, too), if you can praise its merits and trumpet its virtues, then YOU (the ‘submittee’) gain power from your role as the martyred person. Like I say, that sh*t doesn’t impress me.

        Obviously, the person who told you were broken, hurt and bitter is projecting. (my humble opinion, of course)

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        • I think you’re right about that within a religious framework to a large degree. Those women who tout it’s positive value to gain any kind of power are likely those I’m speaking of who aren’t doing it as freely as they’d like you to believe. They’ve likely been shamed into it.

          On the other hand, I know some people – men and women – who submit for various reasons having nothing to do with religion nor abuse. They also aren’t necessarily trumpeting it as THE way to be in a relationship. It’s what works for them. If you hare having to play the martyr to gain self-worth in a submissive relationship then it isn’t a healthy relationship.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Excellent points.
            I have kind of a funny relationship to the whole idea of submission. I’m trans male and was raised an uber-conservative Christian homeschooler. I heard all the stuff about submissive femininity, and resisted it on a feminist level, but it also kind of resonated with me. Over time, I realized that what I am is a male, but one who is very easy going and comfortable with having a role below that of “alpha male.” After all, if everyone was the leader, jack shit would get done. I work as a teacher’s aide and often point out to people that I spend more time working with the kids than the teachers do; I never get pulled out for planning time, testing or meetings. Good leaders need good people to not only follow them but also help them out, and sometimes to call them out when they’re about to make a huge mistake.
            I’m now in a relationship with a gay man who is very dominant, but in really gentle and affirming way. Ironically, although I’ve rejected so much of the philosophy I was raised with I am definitely the more submissive partner. When we have kids I imagine I’ll stay home, take care of the kids and the house and have writing as a creative outlet and source of an income. He will be the breadwinner. We will be a traditional 50s family, just with no church and two fathers!

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  2. I am usually a very happy person. I get really angry when someone says I am angry.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ha! You do always seem to be a happy-go-lucky sort. Always a kind word.

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      • Being happy requires less energy from me than it would take to wear a frown. Besides, why be sad when life itself is an absurdity? Live like an eagle, fly above the rest and have fun. Fortune or calamity may visit you any moment

        Liked by 3 people

          • That reminds me, there is a close friend of mine who when I told I was godless said I looked too happy. She didn’t think I was serious

            Liked by 1 person

          • That’s one of the many things that cracked my faith. Then I was told that the reason the godless people I had met were so happy was because they were free to live a hedonistic lifestyle without the guilt and shame of their actions. None of the godless people I knew seemed hedonistic at all. They all seemed compassionate, empathic, giving, generous, loving and genuinely altruistic. It didn’t compute.

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        • Makagutu: Nice to read that proud advice again from another part in the world, Live like an Eagle. I love it, being the attitude in life that my grandfather started passing on to my dad and his eight brothers and sisters in Indonesia more than a hundred years ago. My eldest uncle wrote his memoirs under that title. Good reading.-

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  3. Hi Ruth,
    there is nothing wrong/unhealthy with bitterness and anger. Like friendship and love they are normal human emotions, all of which are in response to experience.

    When a person feels let down or worse, betrayed, not only is it utterly natural that they feel anger and perhaps bitterness, to block or deny those emotions is to block and deny the possibility of development past them. They must be accepted, experienced and reasonably acted on before one can move past them. The very acceptance and experience of them can be the engine for moving past them.

    I have had the achievements of more than 30 years of total commitment thieved from me at two of Australia’s ‘leading’ universities by time-servers who have contained and excluded me.

    A fundamental reason for why I have not been able to move forward, particularly with regard to the first experience 16 years ago, is precisely because I have never expressed my anger and bitterness to those who caused it – I would never allow myself to be less than my best. This is how I was brought up.

    I have learnt that I have to express my anger and bitterness – or to put it better – to express myself (and I think from reading your posts that we have this in common and for similar reasons), in order to move on, past my anger and bitterness.

    Through accepting and expressing those emotions, I can then move on.

    Accusations of anger and bitterness are always and only control mechanisms.

    Best wishes, Phil

    Liked by 1 person

    • “When a person feels let down or worse, betrayed, not only is it utterly natural that they feel anger and perhaps bitterness, to block or deny those emotions is to block and deny the possibility of development past them.”

      Yeah, that^

      I tend to think that bitterness is the result of anger not expressed. Anger is a natural and cleansing emotion. The problem, at least for me, is when/if the people I encounter attempt to write me off as “angry” in general..e.g…”Oh, look, another angry Atheist who hates God!”, yadda, yadda, rather than trying to understand that I might actually have totally legitimate reasons for being angry. They somehow think that in expressing anger that I must be bitter. Well, no, if I held anger *in*, then I’d likely end up bitter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, boomslang. Bitterness stems from anger that’s been bottled up for a while which creates resentment. It’s funny, though, that Christians can say they have “righteous” anger about sin but if an atheist expresses anger about something “Christian” in nature we’re bitter.

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      • Excellent point.

        I think there are two benefits in relation to expressing anger, the second coming from the first: in expressing this normal emotion, one is thereby beginning to move past it – although it might be very hard to see this at the time.

        And in expressing anger as appropriately as possible, the other person or people who you feel aroused your anger may well respond in ways that, at the very least, assist in your moving beyond your anger – even though your relationship with them might be ended (e.g. your expression of your anger might provoke them to drop their guard and expose their true position).

        That response would not have come if you had not expressed your anger.

        Phil

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  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Phil!

    I especially appreciated this:

    “Accusations of anger and bitterness are always and only control mechanisms.”

    I completely agree with you about feeling and expressing emotions. I think what people typically refer to as bitterness is that anger and resentfulness that has built up because it wasn’t expressed and dealt with properly. Anger is an appropriate emotion in some situations and expressing it isn’t wrong.

    There are a couple of things I see happen when we don’t express our anger properly. One is that it festers and we become bitter and cynical about almost everything. The other is that when we assume that our anger isn’t appropriate and feel guilty about being angry we then become doormats, allowing the same thing to happen to us over and over again. Neither is very good.

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  5. Bitter? Never picked it up from reading your stuff. I would imagine the only bitter in your life right now is the stuff the Brit. might drink. ( Unless he has succumbed to American Beer? ( the gods forbid)

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    • Well, the remark came from here:
      https://violetwisp.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/possibly-the-worst-post-ever/#comment-18676

      So…consider the source, maybe? I didn’t think I was bitter and angry. The remark just got me thinking about what that even means and whether or not it’s completely a negative to be angry about something.

      TheBrit does like some bitter beer.

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      • Ah, yes. Emily Rose I remember her… what can one say? Oh dear, Fundy Forever.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I just checked out her latest post. . sounds like she’s not 100% sure about her god. …hmmmm. .. . might her god-goggles have steamed up a bit??

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          • I’ll have to check that out. I don’t follow her blog and don’t frequent it because I’m bitter. 😉

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          • I think we successfully put that thought to rest, Ruth. .. 🙂 Plus, she’s young, by the looks of the pics. .. she’ll change her mind. Wait and see.

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          • “I just checked out her latest post”

            OTG!(Oh, their god!). That was painful! lol

            Liked by 1 person

          • It was, wasn’t it? I saw myself in most of what she wrote. The mental and emotional knots she’s tied herself into would rival a contortionist. I remember feeling the way she described many times. I doubted, but not the existence of God. Only the strength of my faith. It took some 20 years for it to occur to me that all that deferred hope was not a result of my lack of faith but rather the result of a nonexistent deity. No, I’m not bitter. In fact that realization was a relief.

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  6. When I started dating my wife back in Australia I quite literally said to her: “Listen, can you handle all the money. I hate banks, I hate bills, I hate doing tax… Please?” Win-win 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I suppose the distinct meanings of some of these phrases to do with our emotions can become blurred and so easily get conflated Ruth. It seems to me that resentment, in brief moderation, is a more-or-less unavoidable human response to injustices, morally dubious impositions, and so on. If we then become neurotic about the situation, the resentment can evolve or morph into an enduring and pernicious bitterness, which means we’ve shifted into another state altogether – we’ve transitioned from a rational and largely unavoidable, if unpleasant, condition, to one which is irrational, avoidable, and damagingly unpleasant.

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    • Great point, Hariod. I also think it depends on our reasons for becoming angry. If we are angry all the time or are easily angered over every little perceived slight then I think bitterness and anger might be an issue. Don’t get me wrong, most of us get angry over something small from time to time but it’s usually short-lived and self-corrected when we realize how short-sighted and petty we’ve been. But if we can’t be angry over injustice, not only done to ourselves, but injustices we see in the world what have we become? Robots desensitized to the suffering of others? And how do we become spurred to action when we see this injustice if we are not first upset by it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • We probably have a slight differing of opinions here Ruth. I do not pretend to know the truth of the matter, but I have never found anger to be a helpful or cathartic emotion. That, I think, is a very unfashionable perspective, and I am constantly reading about how we must ‘express our anger’ and so forth. It seems there is an alternative, and that anger is not a given response to the wrongs meted out to us or others. Rather than becoming ‘desensitized’ (to use your term), I think there is a place for heartfelt understanding and compassion. This doesn’t mean we have to like the other, and obviously have no obligation to accept their unjust acts, yet if we see the place of origin – which is nearly always the other’s own suffering, distress, ignorance or anxiety – then anger is really a most unhelpful response in my view. One might well ask ‘how does anger help?’ In what sense is anger a truly effective ‘spur to action’ (your phrase), and in any case, what action are we advocating when it comes out of such a deeply negative mind-state? I am not advocating adopting any drippy, New-Age nostrum to the perceived ills of the world, and unless our compassion and understanding are genuine, merely acting them out is likely only to inflame a situation.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm…perhaps we are operating on different definitions of anger. The anger that fuels rage is most unhealthy. But I’ve also learned through personal experience that not all anger is a negative mind-state. I think, based on what you’ve said here, we likely agree more than we disagree. I don’t view anger as an automatic response to be a healthy reaction or emotion. Generally speaking, the starting point should always be understanding and compassion, in my opinion. But I’ve also found in my own life that this leads me to make excuses for those who do unjust things. That isn’t particularly helpful either. Perhaps it is my own failing but there is a limit to my understanding and compassion. At some point those who act unjustly must accept personal responsibility.

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  8. “[…] the starting point should always be understanding and compassion, in my opinion. But I’ve also found in my own life that this leads me to make excuses for those who do unjust things.”

    Exactly, When things like reason, compassion, and understanding fail, anger can, and many times, *does*, prevail. If people didn’t get angry, heck, we might still see some people owning slaves.

    Anger that becomes rage isn’t a good thing. Agreed. But anger as a response gets things accomplished.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is such a fine line between empathizing and sympathizing. Empathy is a great thing as it leads to understanding and, if not understanding, some level of compassion. Sympathy tends to give unjust actors a pass.

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  9. No need to defend yourself to those who follow your writing Ruth! You’ve definitely never come off as bitter. I know from your writing you’ve dealt with some hard shit in the past and I often feel like such things are like ripples in time. Closer to the moment there can be great waves of anger, but as they get further away there still may be moments, but they are briefer and/or less intense. And since I am not you, and can never truly experience what you’ve gone through, I have no right to judge, and nor should anybody else. I would echo some of the sentiments above that even being bitter and angry is nothing to be ashamed of sometimes we have every reason to be that way. Good and wise people learn from it though and move on. You certainly have, as it is clear that you have bent your past into a lens that allows you focus on compassion and understanding for others, while also making a clear moral stand about why what you went through was wrong. I sometimes wonder if that commenter would say something similar to a man, or is it the old double standard that when a woman is adamant about her conviction she is angry, bitter, a bitch, but when a guy does it he’s manly and strong.

    In one of my favorite youtube videos that talks about how we don’t need God for morality they talk about an example of a society where women are oppressed and point out the obvious reasons why that is wrong. But then it asks the question “what if women consent to their oppression?” The video points out that this is actually cause for more concern, rather than less when a society or a religion has made those being oppressed actually complicit with their own oppression. That commenter’s response to you was a clearly symptomatic of her own brainwashing into a faith that clearly teaches women to “follow their man”. Her Christianity is so wrapped up in her identity that she has actually become proud of her own submission. That’s not healthy.

    Whether submission and dominance can be considered a norm between partners in a relationship (outside of the occasionally kinky sex game) is a bit of grey area. I think two people who love each other should always be trying to raise each other up, but again, if something works maybe I shouldn’t complain. There are always things that one person is going to better or worse at, so I always think that it’s okay to let a partner be dominant in one area, but to also have areas where you are dominant as well. Certainly the extreme is never good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought about the double standard angle of the comment, but now that you mention it, women who are angry are often handwaved off as bitter old bitches who are just petty. As if we have no reason to be angry. Women are supposed to be soft-spoken and demure. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I’ve been all that. And I’m mostly that now, but if I think I have reason to I’ll let a person know they’ve crossed a line, sometimes with my outside voice. Like Popeye, the Sailor Man; I am what I am.

      “That commenter’s response to you was a clearly symptomatic of her own brainwashing into a faith that clearly teaches women to “follow their man”. Her Christianity is so wrapped up in her identity that she has actually become proud of her own submission. That’s not healthy. “

      Been there, done that, and have seven days worth of t-shirts. The whole idea of two becoming one has been hijacked. What it means in many fundamentalist circles is that the woman, since she was made for the man and is his helpmeet, should become a mirror image of her husband; trying to make all of his wants and desires a reality and having none of her own; taking on his ideals and politics and having none of her own.

      What I mean by the concept of “two becoming one” being hijacked is that I fully realize that when two people get married they should have some common goals and be working together as a unit. That doesn’t mean that either one of them should cease being individuals with their own goals and personality, though.

      There are a couple of people who have commented here about ways they have “submitted” to their partners. Truthfully, I don’t see that as submission so much as realizing each others’ strengths and weaknesses and working as a team. That only makes sense and, to me, that is a partnership. When we speak of submission, we are talking about deferring in areas in which we’d rather not and either being left with little or no choice in the matter or being forced to submit. That’s why submission has such a negative connotation. And for good reason.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. How did I miss this? (in Spain probably) and … where was the professor?

    I think Swarn nailed it beautifully with his comment about sexual stereotypes. It’s like the old men are assertive, but women are aggressive one.

    Bluntly speaking women are expected to be submissive in whatever context. One of the classics, in the UK at any rate, is women cook meals and men can stay out – at the pub – as long as they want, and complain when they come home, hours later that the food is burnt. And why didn’t the telepathic submissive wife alter the cooking accordingly?

    I hope we have an adaptable relationship, by which I mean he should adapt 😉 Submissive no. Sometimes an argument isn’t worth having or winning though. There are bigger things in a relationship. Sexual submission or 24/7 D/s is somewhat different. I suspect.

    I’m clueless as to the bitterness accusations, and what a weird thread, as well I missed that, as I think you have always been the voice of reason and fairness.

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