I want to be less consumed by bitterness
August 3, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to let things wash over me and become a less bitter person generally in life?

I feel bitter. I know it hurts no one but myself. It's not what I want to be, not who I want to be. But right now, it strikes me that I am not a healthy person.

I feel so angry and hurt about it when I feel like friends aren't as giving and gracious to me as I feel I've historically been to them. Like they're not being good friends to me, and it's not fair, and how could they, and all those entitled, self-righteous, unpleasant trains of thought that arise in such moments.

I am more interested in improving my reactions and letting go of petty scorekeeping like this than in trying to convince these people to be better friends to me. I recognize that my angry, hurt, bitter reaction to stupid things hurts me more than them, and hurts me more than anything they're directly doing. I don't like the person I'm turning into. I don't like feeling prone to anger, ranting, trying to remember who not to give anything to because I know they won't ever return the favor, all that nasty stuff inside my head. (No special snowflake details. I am the everyman.)

How do I stop? How do I learn to let go of the bitterness and just let things wash over me instead? I want to, I do, but I honestly don't know how.

Have any of you learned to improve and become less bitter as people, and if so, what's your story? Any tactics or techniques?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to search through the anonymous questions from the last month or so - I could swear someone asked a very similar question recently anonymously.
posted by amro at 2:46 PM on August 3, 2010

I've been reading Buddha's Brain and finding it helpful.

Yoga and other forms of exercise help. I walk for an hour every day, helps clear the head.

If people don't treat me right I figure it's their problem. If they do it too much I cut them out of my life.

I hope you feel better soon.
posted by mareli at 2:50 PM on August 3, 2010

Expect less from your friends and you will be less disappointed by them. In my own case I have certain good friends, just a few, who I will help without hesitation if I can be of help, and who are similarly helpful toward me, and it would not even occur to either them or to me to try to keep track of who has been more helpful to whom. I also have other friends whom I help only to a limited degree and who only help me to a limited degree. So, you need to have an idea of just how good a friend any particular friend of yours may be. This is something that is learned by experience. It is not learned by protestations of friendship. Talk is cheap.
posted by grizzled at 2:51 PM on August 3, 2010

I think it was Ivanna Trump who said the best revenge is living well.

Are those you feel bitter about the least bit aware of how they have wronged you?

I'll bet they aren't--and even if they did feel a tinge of regret about the things they said or did- you can well imagine they spend little time grieving about it.

And neither should you. Wrap it all up in a box called C'est la vie and fuggedaboutit!
posted by AuntieRuth at 2:55 PM on August 3, 2010

For me, this was a symptom of clinical depression. It stopped once I got treatment. YMMV.
posted by smilingtiger at 2:57 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You seem to be describing this: "Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies."
— Augustine of Hippo

I've found, with lot of attempts, successes, backsliding, and inching progress, that working on cleaning up my side of the street and not concerning myself with the other side seems to have helped a lot with similar feelings. It's really not at all about those people-- it's about not making yourself sick with things you can't control. If you are taking care of your own stuff and yours alone, and managing to let go of that "other side of the street", then you aren't giving anyone else that kind of power over you.

Also, check in with a professional. Obsessions and mindracing can be symptoms rather than the disease. Meds + practice of the above has helped me with my issues with other people, and though those issues take a different track than yours, at one time they were making me just as miserable.

I hope you feel better soon.
posted by mireille at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2010 [14 favorites]

When I was younger I hung out with a group that I thought were good friends, but I was constantly miserable, I felt angry and bitter and generally pissed off all the time. They seemed like a reasonable bunch, so I assumed it was all me, which only made matters more horrible. As things degraded, the gang went through an ugly falling out, reacquainting, falling out cycle and I left me the worse for wear.

I'm not sure what finally broke inside of me, but I reached a point where I decided that I would rather be alone than deal with this poison. So I just abandoned the lot of them and spent a year more or less on my own. In this time, I met a few new people unrelated to my old group of friends, and I made a promise to myself; if I was going to find friends I was going to do it with people I would trust my life with, and more importantly, who would trust me in the same way. None of this half measure shit.

And it totally worked. It took a while, but eventually, I surrounded myself with people that I cared about, and I discovered something important; it wasn't me. Or, more specifically, it wasn't just me. The people I had thought of as friends early on were toxic, bad people. But they were all I knew, so I didn't understand that what was wrong was my environment, not just what was in my head.

Once I had people I could trust, I turned my attention to the anger in me, and I discovered that spending time with people who didn't judge me for the little (or big) shit, made it incredibly easy to let go.

I don't know that this is what you are going through, but when I was in the middle of it, I never knew. Look at the people you are getting bitter and angry at, and ask yourself "Is it actually me? Or is it this situation?" because if it's the latter, you can always just walk away.
posted by quin at 3:01 PM on August 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

I have had the same problem but a few things have helped.

The first was to manage my motivations.

Could it be that you're giving too much? Maybe you're just giving to people who can't or won't give back for whatever reason. If you're not okay with that, just stop doing it. Are you giving in order to create a debt of gratitude? Are you giving so they'll like you better? Are you giving just because that's what "good" friends do? Maybe look at the motivations behind your generosity, and possibly just stop being generous for a while, even if you feel weird about it.

When I have the urge to do something these days, I stop and think: how will I feel if the recipient ignores it or isn't grateful? Will I be irritated? If so, I really think twice about doing it at all because it's not much of a gift if it has strings attached.

A friend of mine told me to "give from abundance, not substance." As part of that, you should only give what you feel you can give freely, without any expectation of reciprocation.

The second part was to stop creating a story about everything. You really really don't know what's going on with your friends, even if you talk often. It used to be that when someone didn't reciprocate, I would come up with a whole thing in my head about how they didn't appreciate me, and they must think this, and it must mean they disrespect me, and and and... Crazy, ja? And it was never a kind story- it was always the worst interpretation possible.

There were enough times that I found out a back story that didn't match my made-up story that now when I find myself doing that, I have to do a mental override and just tell my brain to shut up already! And if that doesn't work, I have a few friends and an awesome roommate I can call up and make fun of myself for doing it. Laughing at it makes it much much less powerful.

Not sure this is useful, but I have totally been there and I sympathise.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

But, you're not giving and gracious.

It doesn't hurt to crap on yourself a little until an appropriate level of humility is reached. Wallow in your filth, become painfully aware of your own shittiness, of your own darker humanity.

Always ask what the reason for unpleasantness might be. There're loads of wounded people walking around; take into account their struggles, force yourself to empathize. Let go of "I can't believe he did that to me" and change to "How heartbreaking that he was so poorly treated in the past that that's how he now deals with the world."

Start committing acts of charity and kindness anonymously. You need to do this with no thought of reward, and sometimes do it until it hurts a bit. I am no follower of organized religion, but some of them do have useful tit-bits. What did Jesus teach about charity? Pitch out the god stuff, focus on the unselfishness.

And, at some point, stop beating yourself up. Point yourself in the direction you want to go with this, make periodic self-checks: you can't change how you have behaved in the past, but, are you doing the best you can right now? Then cheerfully bluster onwards.
posted by kmennie at 3:08 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Always remind yourself that you can't control other people, but you can try to control your own response to their behavior. You can also try to control who your friends are—changing your environment can change your outlook.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 PM on August 3, 2010

I don't like feeling prone to anger, ranting, trying to remember who not to give anything to because I know they won't ever return the favor, all that nasty stuff inside my head.

Well, there are two general ways this could go.

The first is to assume that your friends are generally toxic -- that they don't return favors because they are all basically selfish, lacking in generosity, etc. If you truly believe your friends are not decent people, then, the answer is to start surrounding yourself with new people who actually possess the qualities you want to have in your life: loyalty, kindness, empathy, etc.

The second is to assume that you are setting the bar too high -- that your friends are in fact basically decent people, but what you consider a failure to return favors is actually reflective of your unrealistic expectations of ongoing attention, special treatment, etc. In this case, the answer is to recalibrate these expectations so that you no longer believe that it's your friends' job to anticipate and meet your particular needs in the way you currently expect.
posted by scody at 3:17 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

For me the key is to not get caught up in a spiral of negative thinking. You can't really force yourself to never think bitter, uncharitable things. They're going to crop up in your mind whether you like it or not. But you can learn to notice when you start thinking that way (and it sounds like you HAVE started noticing!), and then you can learn to change your thought patterns. So when you catch yourself thinking, "Man, that guy is so selfish," you can either give in to the temptation to continue with, "Doesn't he think of all the things I've done for him? What a prick. Why am I even friends with such a jerk?" etc. etc. Or you can force yourself to say in your head, "He must have something else stressful going on that put him in a bad mood." or even "Hey, what's on TV right now?"

It doesn't matter if you don't quite believe your charitable thoughts at first. The key is to break the habit of dwelling on the negative thoughts. So whether you pay mental lip-service to some nicer thought, or just distract yourself, at least you're not sitting around being bitter. It's hard at first, but gets easier with time. And personally, I've found that the original grumpy thoughts seem to jump in less often in the first place, if I keep trying to practice this.
posted by vytae at 3:20 PM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

It is okay to be unhappy with a pattern of unfair treatment, but perhaps that unhappiness is a prompt for you to do something about it, just as stomach-growling hunger is a prompt to eat. If people act to push you away, why not grant them the consequences of their actions? This can be a great kindness to everyone involved.

Personally, what I found useful was, in situations with friends, either speaking my mind, or, if that was ineffective, speaking my mind and not being around for a while. If "friends" keep this up, they become friends I see rarely.

If the problem with your friends is restricted to a certain situation, make your move within that situation. I have friends who would almost always lose DVDs, CDs, and books I loaned them. I no longer loan them these things, as I will not get them back. If they ask me for loans of items, I will flat out say, "I'm having a hard time getting these sorts of things back from you. I wanted to see/listen to/read that again." If my items return, I am happy to resume trading items around.

Ultimately, I had to make the move from trying to be BESTEST FRIEND EVAR to being as good as a friend as they are to me, then adding 20% to make the world a better place, and finally extending a little credit, because everyone screws up now and again.

However, before you do this, I strongly suggest you take a step back and take an objective view of your relationship with each person. How would a complete stranger, who knew neither of you, view your interactions? It is possible that you are viewing things subjectively and negatively towards them and your reflection with too much charity.
posted by adipocere at 3:25 PM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

My rule: I help people when I feel I can and want to, and I don't expect anything back. I do it for me, not for them.
I don't keep track.
If I need help, I ask whoever I think might be most helpful and willing.
There, I do keep track a little, to be sure I give something back, if only true thanks.
If I were to ponder this and weigh it, I have no idea whether I'd learn I'd given more or received more.
And that's fair enough, because nobody gets exactly what he/she deserves in life, right?
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:28 PM on August 3, 2010

Bitter, table for one?

Oh, yeah -- I know what you're feeling.

Maybe you have some shitty friends. Your question doesn't indicate that you're a general misanthrope, it indicates that maybe you have friends that take you for granted. And even if that's not true, perception is reality.

Here's the deal: I don't know how old you are, but I'm guessing you're in your 20's. I remember that decade as being one of upheaval, friend-wise. The old ones -- the ones that were still around -- were just that: Still. Around. Static. While I've been able to reconnect with them 20+ years later, we all had our own paths to walk back then. We had to let each other go.

This happens over and over again for some people; you change, they change, situations change. You move on. The trick is to NOT burn the bridges you may want to cross back over when you're older and more settled.

So, your friends don't 'fit' you any more, that's obvious. Maybe you don't 'fit' them either, and that's why they don't make the effort to be more thankful for the gift of YOU every day. Let it go.

Move on.

Make new friends.

Learn from this. You don't have to be a doormat to be a good friend.
posted by kidelo at 4:24 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something that I think works for me to set the bar at the right height so I'm not disappointed is to try to be meaner--to not invite them over for dinner, to not make plans, etc.

This helps in 2 ways:

A) In as much as I'm keeping score, it's even.
B) I remind myself that I -like- to invite people over for dinner or that I like making plans with my friends and seeing them and it's in my power to do things I like. And so I start back up again.
posted by oreofuchi at 4:37 PM on August 3, 2010

People often forget that they have a direct say in how they feel. Make your mood your top priority. The minute you start to get bitter, decide to do something about it. Go for a walk, buy a latte, rock out, meditate, pet a kitteh, or think a thought that makes you feel better. Notice when you start to get bitter, acknowledge the bitterness and the source of it and then do something about your mood. Try to get the feelings out in a nondestructive way. For instance, in your head, or on paper, list the reasons you are bitter. Then list the reasons you have to be grateful. Try to make the second list twice as long; make shit up. You'll feel better, and with practice you'll find that feeling good most of the time has everything to do with deliberately deciding to feel good, and zero to do with your friends, other people, or your life situation in general.
posted by MXJ1983 at 4:47 PM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

I feel so angry and hurt about it when I feel like friends aren't as giving and gracious to me as I feel I've historically been to them. Like they're not being good friends to me, and it's not fair, and how could they, and all those entitled, self-righteous, unpleasant trains of thought that arise in such moments.

Anger has a purpose - it's our mind's way of letting us know that we deserve better. When we don't listen to the anger, or use it for any other purpose than a warning light, then it can become resentment, which is a lot like having the "check engine" light on your car constantly on - useless and annoying.

It sounds to me as if you are ignoring your unhappiness with your friends and simply trying to change your response to that unhappiness. Why would you want to do that? Self respect is a valuable thing, you should nurture it, not neuter it. Find some friends that make you feel grateful for knowing them. They are out there, and they are awesome. Listen to your feelings and go find some new friends.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:01 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

trying to remember who not to give anything to because I know they won't ever return the favor

This may be key. Use the other person's behavior as a guide for the level and type of friendship you have with them. Different friends are for different things. Some are good time friends... fun to hang out with, but not really interested in being your support system when you have a problem. So hang out with those people if you enjoy their company, don't go to them with problems, and importantly, don't take on the role of supporter for them when they have something going on. This is not the kind of friendship you have.

You can make nice gestures to certain friends to see if you can take your friendship to another level, but if they never respond in kind it's ok to quit. It's not shitty, it's just a way of figuring out how this particular friendship is going to work. If you remember their birthday but they never remember yours, don't take it personally. Just accept that they don't do birthdays (or only do birthdays with certain friends) and adjust your behavior and expectations accordingly.

Being supportive and giving is often a good way to cement and deepen a growing friendship, but if your efforts are not returned in kind it doesn't reflect badly on you or on them. They may simply not have the time or energy to add another friend to their inner circle. You can accept the level of friendship they are willing to give, or you can gracefully back off and move on to look for someone more receptive.

If your non-supportive friends expect you to give but never give back, that's a different story. You don't need people like this in your life.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:11 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh dear. My answer might be different if the thought hadn't crossed my mind that you could be this kinda-sorta friend of mine who I suspect has been pretty pissed off with me for a few days now. (But you see, what I did - and what my friend regarded as a slap in the face - was simply a consequence of my need to reclaim my own boundaries and to communicate about it honestly. I knew all along it wouldn't look like that to my friend.)

So, I'll write to you as if you were the person I'm thinking of. Since you're everyman, you might as well be them.

First of all, just... relax. I mean literally. Unclench your jaw, feet, stomach, wherever the tension is. Straighten your back, gently, pull back those shoulders, release them and - breathe. Let go, physically. Take a moment to feel good in your body. Go for a walk, enjoy the simple feeling of your muscles working. I don't think you get enough exercise.

You know, you're still you, as good and as imperfect as you ever were. Nothing other people, including me, do or fail to do will ever change one iota of that. None of our criticism, none of our praise, right or wrong. You'll still be just who you are. You don't have to take other people's shortcomings so personally if you realize that your worth really doesn't depend on them. It's not something I can take away from you, not even by being a jerk to you. It's not something my validation can add to, either.

I have my own struggles, my interpretations and narratives and frustrations and all that stuff that buzzes around in my brain. We will never get a direct view into each other's thoughts but rest assured, the same situation looks completely different from my side of the table. You might not be ready yet to consider my perspective - or who knows, maybe never - but just acknowledge that it wouldn't be the same story you're playing and replaying in your head right now.

And people may be thoughtless, or careless, or they may even choose to act in ways that they know will hurt your feelings because they don't know how to get where they need to go without stepping on your toes. They have their reasons which may or may not be selfish, but unless they're very weak, mean or pathetic individuals, it's not their goal to hurt you. (And weak, mean and pathetic people only deserve your pity anyway.)

Anyway, I think you've been pretty stressed out lately. I've noticed that that's precisely when you have this tendency to get stuck in negative thought loops and to generally feel unappreciated or under attack. Consider the possibility that as painful as obsessing about these things may be, it still gives you a certain focus, and a certain rush, and that might be the lure of it. When you give in to bitterness and anger, it's a little adrenaline bump; it doesn't exactly feel good but it still helps you put up with the stress hormones and bear the vague uneasiness you feel in your daily life. In a weird way, you're almost self-medicating by focusing your mental energy on being angry with me. Consider what is it you can avoid facing by staring yourself blind at this.

And remember, when you're not appreciated enough for what you do, you can always look for it inside you. Let yourself fill with pride: you've been a good friend. You've been giving. You've been patient. You've been kind. Those are reasons to feel good about yourself, even if nobody else ever tells you so. It's a reward in itself. You should be proud.
posted by sively at 5:25 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I sometimes got stuck in this feeling, that I wasn't getting enough from my friends. I sat down and thought out, calmly, exactly what was making me feel that way, about each and every one of my friends -- was it because they asked me for favors all the time but never did the same? Was it because they always seemed to interrupt me in conversations? Was it because they never seemed to want to go along with the ideas I had to try to get everyone together?

Once I had the specfics in mind for "what person X is doing", I then asked myself -- for each and every one of my friends -- do I trust this person enough to have a talk with them about this?

In some cases, I certainly did - and I sat those friends down and had a CALM talk with them about how I felt, using the kind of "I feel like X when you do Y because..." rather than being accusing. (The only example of which I can think of right now is that I felt one of my friends wasn't really listening to me when I had serious problems I needed to talk to someone about.) I told them how I felt -- and then, I listened to what THEY had to say. In some cases, I was interpreting the situation wrong -- the guy who kept blowing me off was having to work way longer hours than I thought he ever was -- and in some cases, they just said, "...I don't know what to tell you, this is just how I am." And in other cases, they apologized and said they'd try to do better.

And...then I adapted accordingly. With the friends who tried to do better, I hung back a bit to see if they could, and when they did, I was all the more motivated to give to them (because they were now giving to me too). When they said stuff like "I'm sorry, that's just the way I am," I adjusted my own behavior accordingly. And that helped a lot.

But you are perfectly within your rights to have a talk with them if you feel your needs aren't being met. You ALWAYS are -- I recently had a talk like this with a really good friend that really helped a lot. He and I run a theater company together, and I was feeling like I wasn't getting enough appreciation for my work. First I did a lot of soul-searching to figure out why I felt that way -- to make sure that it wasn't because I was slacking, and also to see if maybe he hadn't been giving me positive feedback that I'd been missing -- and I realized that it wasn't so much that he wasn't acknowledging me as such -- because he was -- it was more like I just happened to be wired to need a little bit more than I was getting, was all. So I framed it that way -- that getting more vocal feedback would be a big help to me, if he could maybe help me out by doing that -- and the VERY NEXT DAY he started doing that.

But I'm getting long-winded. The ultimate point is that I figured out specifically why I was feeling the way I was feeling, and turned that into action. I talked to the people I trusted would listen to what I said -- once I knew specifics of what to talk about -- and I adjusted my actions based on how those conversations went.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Figure out who your friends are who make you feel like a good person. Spend more time with those guys.
posted by kelegraph at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

People are unpredictable (you and me included).

The tighter you hold to your own expectations and the more vehemently you judge an experience, a person, a thought, a . . . the more you'll suffer.

Things don't always turn out the way we want them to
People aren't often who we want them to be
Things just are. People just are. It's not personal.

Try to step back and as someone above said, take care of yourself and your stuff.

Also, when your mind starts racing and you start asking unanswerable questions or any questions that aren't helpful, try "don't know" practice: For every question or statement you come up with, the answer is, "don't know" - it's pretty liberating and it helps me at least, gain some perspective about what I actually have control over.

Always remember you have choices about how and with whom you spend your (free) time.

Few guarantees in this life but lots of possibilities - keep moving and be kind to yourself.
posted by nnk at 7:36 PM on August 3, 2010

Buy a drumset. Beat the shit out of that. Seriously, worked for me.
posted by mannequito at 8:01 PM on August 3, 2010

Try reframing your outlook. If you have the ability and desire to give to others, that is compassion. Compassion can be developed as a very valuable tool for seeing the context of a situation, and considering long term consequences. Compassion can help you see that often events have a whole web of agendas and actors who often unintentionally undermine, assist and restrain each other.

People are naturally very self-absorbed, and to expect them to be otherwise is to set yourself up for a lifetime of bitterness. Narcissistic people often tend to undermine their own long term interests since they are so childishly immediate. Developing compassion in an intellectual sense can help you overcome a short sighted pitfall for many human beings.

Aggressive, arrogant people also tend to see compassionate people as suckers. Compassion will help you see long term patterns, and avoid getting hurt by arrogant narcissists. One key thing to understand about narcissism, compassion and arrogance is to not explain away the actions of another person who hurts you and disrespects you repeatedly.

I love the films of the Coen brothers for exploring this topic. Their characters often destroy each other with their different agendas and narcissism. Often the core character is actually someone who has very little screen time. In "the Big Lebowski", it's Turturro's Jesus. In "Barton Fink" it's the woman. In "A Serious Man" it's the last Rabbi. Their films are great meditations on the human condition, and how little we all really see each other.
posted by effluvia at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2010

I have a similar problem, not so much with bitterness, but with caring and ruminating on what other people think too much. Learning to let things wash over is a thing that we are both struggling with.

I would suggest traveling. Or meeting lots of other people. Doing this forces you to not put so much stock into one reaction, or one type of person (your closest friend(s)). Or even in other people altogether.

I've been on the road for three months now, all over this continent. I've met a lot of people. Because of this, I've been forced to recalibrate my measure of what people are about. There are many who will listen and help and will generally be awesome. But those are also the same people who will often be careless, distracted, self-absorbed and petty. It's the nature of the beast. But seeing this in all its forms, especially when you only have brief or temporary encounters with others, really drills in the idea that this behavior is not about you at all. It's surprisingly comforting. And it makes it super refreshing when you stumble across a person who, for whatever reason at that time (maybe it's just who they are all the time, so that's an encouraging thought!) is really, truly there, undistracted and ego-less. And those people, with their quiet, internal peace, really make you realize how much time you* spend in the same trap that you* condone others for. So go out there, and don't make it about you or what you're getting. Ask questions, get to know other humans better and how they work and think and what motivates them, observe, and try to reroute any internal dialogue that leads back to what purpose they're serving you in relation to what you're putting out there.

Oftentimes what we're 'giving' is really a demand for someone's time, energy and validation anyway.

*rhetorical 'you'.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:09 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, congratulations! Recognizing a negative pattern is the first step toward changing it.

I've never tried drugs or therapy (they scare me) but this is what's worked for me.

Basically, after a lot of tumult rooted in the same basic problem you describe, I decided I need to do things differently. I looked around for a model and the one that made the most sense for me was Buddhism's noble truths.

Basically, the root what you describe as bitterness is clinging to the idea that you should be compensated for your friendliness. For doing a good deed you are owed one in return, etc. As long as you cling to the idea that you're owed things by people you will suffer when your expectations are not met.

The key, then, is to abandon expectations. See what you're doing, see what the other people are doing, but don't get wrapped up in the politics of it or who owes what to whom. When good things come your way, greet them warmly but don't expect them to continue. When no good things come your way, greet that as a chance to work harder to earn them.

If you'll excuse some self-pimping, I wrote something about this, recently from a more general perspective. I call the basic disposition detached openness, and have an eponymous essay.

This is not an easy process. It's been six years since began from the place I believe you are, and I still struggle from time to time with my anger towards people or situations. Two things that can be helpful along the way:

Present-centeredness. If you feel yourself getting worked up about what a person did or didn't do, try to ignore it entirely and focus on something in your immediate experience. The classic example is your breath. Feel the in-breath, then the out-breath. If your mind wanders, try to gently bring it back to your focus. Other things you can focus on: the feel of your feet on the ground, or the wind on your skin, etc.

Sit with it. Again when you feel your bitterness welling up, just focus on looking at it clearly. Try not to go into the machinations of the cause of the feeling, instead just sit there and look at the feeling. What is it like, why's it coming now, what does it want? This can be hard at first as you get drawn into the thoughts around the feeling (how Kevin's being real jerk) rather than the feeling itself.

If anything I've said has resonated, I would recommend taking a look at some of the books that have helped me. The one I'm most passionate about is Matthieu Ricard's Happiness: A Guide..., it was the one that really made me feel like I could understand this stuff. But I've enjoyed a few of those by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh as well.
posted by davidbhayes at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a giving person by nature, possibly because I feel like I've been dealt a pretty good hand to start, so why not help friends and others who could use it? And I'd offer to help with small things, when it seemed it would make the process work more quickly, or I was idle and had nothing better to do.

But a couple things have happened over the years. The first was one Christmas in high school. I had a job that provided a steady flow of money, and it was easy, fun work that wasn't ever contracted or really structured. I worked a while, I got some money, life was good. So I bought a bunch of presents for my friends, and I put thought into each one. We swapped presents together, and some were really happy with what I got, others mildly pleased, but no one got me anything of the same level for me. I felt shorted. But they weren't being selfish, everyone had given each-other gifts. I hadn't evaluated what they might give back, and if that would change what I got for others. Lesson learned.

Then in my late 20s, I had some friends who gave me a place to stay for free for a while. I was really thankful, as I wasn't working yet. Money wasn't really an issue, but if I didn't have to spend any on rent, all the better. So I did all the little things they asked of me. Glass of water? You got it! Take that dirty dish to the kitchen? Sure! But it got old. A while into that pattern, I started to feel used, and every way I could say "no, do it yourself" sounded like I was suddenly bitter, and I didn't want that. Now, I'll say "your turn" in the happiest way possible. I still help out, but I'm not always on the spot to do so.

In short: take a moment to think about what people are expecting and noticing, and go from there. Either keep doing what you're doing and let it go, reminding yourself that you have the time / money to give or help; or cut back how much you give, and only do what you now feel is suitable. And remind yourself that everyone has their own burdens, priorities, and viewpoints that you may not realize or understand.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:59 AM on August 6, 2010

did you watch "This Emotional Life" on PBS?

I did some googling to try to find a more specific answer for you but . . . had a hard time finding it. In any case, one guy was featured who had some freak accident- a balcony broke, someone started to fall, and grabbed this guy and pulled him over too- and he was extremely angry and bitter about it for years. They showed him attending some gathering. I think it was referred to as a "forgiveness class"- IIRC there was an instructor of some sort. But everyone there shared what they were bitter about, and the instructor talked about forgiveness, etc.
it kind of seemed like an AA meeting. And it seemed to help the guy.

So maybe if you were able to find some sort of physical gathering of people in the same boat as you- with a goal of overcoming it- that might be helpful?
posted by lblair at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2010

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