How to cure anger and feelings of bitter entitlement?
May 26, 2015 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I am middle-aged. Without going into my personal history, it is sufficient to say I feel like life is consistently, repeatedly short-changing me over time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I basically have no one available who truly cares about me on a level beyond what I can do for them because I have no social status to speak of and life consistently goes horribly awry for me.

In each stage of my life to this point, I've had major traumas, disappointments, bad things happening, and what's left is a only huge, empty vacuum where normally the social support of friends and family would be. I come from a broken and dysfunctional family whose near non-existent "support" is lukewarm at best, victim-blaming at worst. I have adult shyness and anxiety as a result of both my upbringing and life experiences, and to my chagrin, much difficulty making friends or connections despite doing all the things that outwardly should attract people (taking care of myself physically, trying to seem approachable, therapy). No one ever reaches out to me, and the people in my life seem completely indifferent to me. In my fleeting, momentary happy times, many of the people in my life wouldn't be happy for me and seemed to resent my happiness, making subtly disparaging and discouraging remarks or doing things to sabotage it. Not exaggerating, I could easily cease to exist and it truly would not affect anyone (being sad at my funeral doesn't count if no one cares what I'm doing or how I am while I'm still alive, or wants to spend any time at all relating to me on a level beyond superficial, brief small talk). In summary, I feel like a lot of the people I know are not truly supportive and do not have my best interests at heart, in good times or bad (rejoicing in my suffering, resenting my small triumphs, and generally being non-existent in my life despite attempts I've made). My life is literally filled with ambivalent people. I don't feel emotionally connected to anyone.

Still, I am struggling to find meaning and create the life I desire, but it feels impossible to do in a social vacuum. So here is the result and the problem: deep down, I'm now so unrelentingly bitter and angry about how my life has turned out so far. I had always kept a positive attitude in the face of many adversities until now, but I don't think I have it in me anymore. Intellectually I'm constantly struggling to find a positive attitude but the underlying resentment, bitterness, and sense of "unfairness" - like I am owed happiness - prevails and poisons my outlook and internal monologue consistently these days. I don't want to recount all of the awful things and "bad luck" - the details don't necessarily matter, except that I seem to have unusually horrible luck and I feel like I'm getting nowhere in life and have nothing of importance - no family, friends, or anyone truly close to me despite wanting these things that I consider important. Although I believe my values and motivations are pure, it seems the more badly I desire the things I want in life, the more they evade me. I've tried connecting with friends, family, acquaintances but I'm met with excuses, ambivalence, and just general disappointment. I am so tired of all of my interpersonal relationships being so one-sided, non-reciprocal, and only on their terms. It makes me feel like a non-entity. Bitterness ensues, and the cycle feeds itself - I realize I can't attract friends or forge bonds with new people in such a dismal, bleak frame of mind and seemingly no one even acknowledges my existence. I could be invisible.

How can I cure these feelings of bitter angry entitlement that I have? I feel truly that I've made my best efforts and nothing ever comes to fruition. I'll never understand why human connection, love, genuine affection have consistently evaded me my entire life. Asking people what I can change never produces good results because it inevitably leads to overt criticisms of me (especially by abusive family) and renewed self-loathing, bad feelings. I've read about CBT and Feeling Good by David Burns. I know the adages about "think about how much worse other people have it". That never makes me feel better - besides, it is a non-sequitur - my terrible feelings are completely unrelated to other people's terrible feelings since we're all separate entities; comparing myself to the less fortunate doesn't objectively make me feel better in any way: it's just a cheap way of trying not to feel like the lowest rung on the ladder.

I promise I'm not this openly whiny and self-pitying in real life. This is how I feel, though: that I desire the simple things that bring happiness, but I exist in a social vacuum of non-supportive, ambivalent estranged people. Consequently, nothing brings me pleasure or joy anymore, there is no laughter. Any tips for extinguishing pervasive bitterness and hurt? I try not to dwell on the sad and painful memories, but there are so many and they won't go away. There is no fun or laughter in my life, and I know I'll never be able to make new connections with people while these lingering feelings of anger, hurt, bitterness persist below the surface. I know several other bitter people and it really shows in their attitudes - I don't want to end up like them but I can't see any way out.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It's clear from your question that this is partly your real and unavoidable circumstances, partly a result of feedback from your underlying negative worldview (which itself is partly a result of some leftover garbage from your childhood), and partly a distorted view of the world on your part. (I say that last part because, hell, at least you have people who make small talk at you and would bother to go to your funeral.)

You are being incredibly hard on yourself, partly because that's what you're used to doing and at least it's reliable and perversely comfortable. It won't be hard to keep going like this forever. It'll feel terrible, but it won't be hard. It will be horrifyingly easy, in fact.

So, what to do? Firstly I would suggest whacking this thing upside the head with a few rounds of meds, just to see if it works. And you mention that you've "read about" CBT - have you actually tried it? I know you probably think it's bullshit, but even if it IS bullshit, well, who cares, it can't make you MORE incredibly miserable, and what else are you doing with your time?

Once you've done that... ok, so the crushing loneliness of your life is getting you down. So, is there anything tying you to your job, your town, your way of life? It probably feels like a grim grey trap, that's certainly the vibe I get from this question, but there's no reason it HAS to be. You say you have nothing - why not go pick fruit for a while or some shit? I am completely serious.

Also, I have a question, which maybe you just didn't bother to list in your question because it wasn't relevant, but - is there ANYTHING you do care about? Like really really enjoy? If the answer is no, then again, that suggests boring old non-existential chemical depression. I know, I know, how common. But if the answer is yes, then why not try devoting your entire life to that thing and just seeing what happens from there? Cause the best way to find Your People is not at work or at the bar or whatever, it's doing something that gives you actual pleasure. Do you have any pleasure left in your life at all? Cultivate the fuck out of it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:30 PM on May 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

You've read about CBT and the Burns book. Good start. What else have you done, other than try to have a positive attitude? That's not snark, it's a genuine question because I didn't see it answered in your description of the situation.

Coming from a dysfunctional family, sometimes we develop in such a way that we think we have to solve all of our problems ourselves, and that is simply not the case. It's the reason why AskMe's favorite answer is "therapy".

If you don't feel like you're ready for one-on-one therapy there are other avenues. CoDa (Codependents Anonymous) can be a great place to start. You don't even have to talk, you can just go in and listen to others talk. You may begin to feel less alone just from listening.

You haven't mentioned any communities you've tried to join, in order to build the "family" that you want. Many of us have had to do that, as opposed to trying to repair relationships with our families of origin, since they are not available. A special interest, a volunteer organization, even a church can begin to fulfill this role in your life. But you must be cognizant that you will only get out of these communities what you put into them, so you can't expect others to care about you if you don't equally care about them. If you are just superficial and make small talk without getting further involved, people will respond in kind. It took me a long long time before I was ready to open myself and trust the strangers in my new community because it's so much effort when you think you're going to get burned again.

Have you tried any meds for your situation? Sometimes a few months worth of a low-level anti depressant can take the edge off enough that you are thinking less about your feelings, and can think more about the root causes of your feelings and how to get at those root causes.

After years of going through similar thoughts and feelings I really highly encourage you to get professional help before continuing to try to go at this on your own. If you've sought help and it hasn't worked, keep trying. Not all therapists are a good fit, not all docs are willing to work to find the right meds. It's worth it to keep at it until you find what works for you.

Don't give up. It takes work to overcome a dysfunctional childhood, but the good news is you sound motivated to do so, so you're halfway home.
posted by vignettist at 11:39 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

showbiz_liz has some excellent advice. I would expand on a couple of things:

If leaving your job is too scary/not possible right now, take a holiday. Do something you would never normally do. Go to Burning Man or something, I don't know. The key things are different and away from home. While you are away, pretend you are someone else. Always wanted to be a witty raconteur? Be that person. Secretly envied the person who can strike up a conversation with a stranger in a bar? Do it. Don't worry about how, just believe you are the person who can do that thing. Pretend you are a character in a movie and be that character.

The point of this exercise is to experience that there is another way to be. Doing it away from home for a limited time minimises risk and consequences (as long as you don't want to, I don't know, imitate stunt men or have sex with everyone in the bar).

Other thoughts: try a different therapist, since you say you have tried therapy. Meds can also really help take the edge off. If your family are no good for you, stop trying to get what you need from them. Cut them out of your life. If nothing else, knowing that you will not have to put up with their undermining negativity anymore is a Good Thing.

And after you get back from your holiday from yourself and your life (if you do that), get a pet. I would suggest a dog simply because people seem to think that cats are only in it for the food and treat humans as servants (not true, but if you are telling yourself stories about how people only care about you for what they can get out of you, maybe better to avoid the question at all). The unconditional love and trust that animals give us is truly a beautiful thing, as is their complete indifference to all these existential problems we torture ourselves with. I swear my cat has saved my life.

And finally: not so much that other people have it worse than you (which I find I use as something to beat myself up with rather than making me feel better) but that whatever it is you are feeling, there is someone else out there who is feeling exactly the same thing. In other words, even when you think you are alone and no one understands you or cares about you, there is another person out there who feels the same way. You are not alone in your suffering.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:49 PM on May 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

There's a book by Hank Azaria's psychiatrist (Phil Stutz) called The Tools that might be worth reading for you. He did a podcast interview on WTF w/Marc Maron that you might want to listen to, as well. I found it and the Marc Maron interview with Hank Azaria pretty interesting and insightful.
posted by discopolo at 12:11 AM on May 27, 2015

How can I cure these feelings of bitter angry entitlement that I have?

Cure them? Who knows. Probably the most effective thing you can do at the moment is learn to cope with them. Ideally, with a therapist trained in CBT or DBT.

Depending on where you are, maybe also keep an eye out for MeFi Meetups in your area? (the IRL link at the top of the page). All the Mefites I've met in person have been fun, warm, kind people.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:36 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot of people are a mess and when they can barely be there for themselves, they can't be there for you. It is frustrating but I try to keep this in mind and have compassion for them - that's what helps me be less bitter - ultimately, you're the one who can make you smile, laugh, and have fun the most - it's not anyone else's responsibility.
posted by heyjude at 12:44 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

On the therapy front, have a look at Schema Therapy. It works with patterns of underlying negative emotions such as 'I'm a failure' or 'I'm unlovable' or 'people don't care about me' and associated behaviours. The basic idea is that these patterns develop for good reasons (e.g. in response to early childhood events), but can become dysfunctional over time, and are really hard to break out of. The therapy tries to help people build alternative approaches. Some key books are Emotional Alchemy and Reinventing Your Life.
posted by yesbut at 1:43 AM on May 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Personally, I found keeping a gratitude list really helpful. There seems to be space for only one emotion in my mind at one time, and thinking "The weather sure is nice today" or "that dog looks so happy playing with that ball" helped crowd out all of the negativity. Find three good things every day and make a list of them. When you're feeling down, remind yourself of the things on the list and try to call them to mind. You might start with "I have access to the internet" or "I can ask people for help". You don't need to think that other people don't have them and therefore you're lucky, just think that you have them and that they're good things.

You might also try the Feeling Good Handbook. It's more hands-on than Feeling Good and constantly challenges you to actually do the exercises, not just think about them.

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama is also pretty good. Lots of simple tips for being more happy from someone who knows what they're talking about.

It sounds like you're stuck in a feedback loop. You were treated in X way, so you engage in Y behaviour, which causes Z behaviour in others, which causes Y2 behaviour. The good news is that if you can break out of the Y behaviour bit, other people will react more positively to you. Those bitter people you know - how do people treat them? If you're experiencing being treated the same way as people treat them, it might be that people are staying at arms length because they perceive you as doing similar things. It's totally within your control, and also within your responsibility, to change your habits and your behaviours to something more aligned with the results that you want. Sadly, the universe isn't just. If what you're doing right now isn't getting you the results you want, it's your responsibility to try something different and keep trying until something works.
posted by Solomon at 2:01 AM on May 27, 2015

deep down, I'm now so unrelentingly bitter and angry about how my life has turned out so far. I had always kept a positive attitude in the face of many adversities until now, but I don't think I have it in me anymore.

I'll never understand why human connection, love, genuine affection have consistently evaded me my entire life.

Woody Allen "made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say [sic] my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me."

Show up. Make the effort.

I always say if you want to have a friend, be a friend. Be thoughtful, interested, engaged, generous, loyal, kind, and available for the people you know and meet and some of them will do the same things for you. You know, treat people like you want to be treated. It is really, honestly not any more complicated than this.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 AM on May 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sometimes it is exceedingly more complicated than trying. I don't buy that this is simply about you treating others the way you want to be treated. In fact, some of the kindest and most generous, loyal, and empathetic people I know seem to often be taken advantage of or manipulated. Abusive family or indifferent friends aren't that way because you're treating them poorly - on the contrary. Abusive people specifically seek out (and in some cases even mold) compassion and empathy in their victims because that makes them easier to manipulate. So I don't think "treat others the way you wish to be treated" is the answer.

But treating yourself the way you wish others would treat you - that's something else entirely. I agree with others above who say you are being excessively hard on yourself. You do deserve to be happy. It's ok to want happiness. It's ok to desire connection. Bitterness is not an emotion you want to foster - good on you for working on this, by the way - but it's a very understandable emotion. When I feel bitterness rise up - when I think about how badly I've been treated at many points in my life, when I think about how hard it is for anyone I love to tell me they love me back, when I reflect on my poor health or on the things I lack - you're damn right I can feel bitter. Why shouldn't I? It's human. It's not healthy so I work on it, but it's human. You are human. It's ok to feel things like bitterness sometimes.

Try to be compassionate to yourself as you work through this. Comparing yourself to others - in any direction - is not fruitful, so don't worry about trying to find others who are in worse shape. That sounds like bad advice that you picked up somewhere.

And try therapy again. I assure you that there are people that you don't know care about you that do. You sound depressed, and depression lies to you.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 2:38 AM on May 27, 2015 [24 favorites]

Let's start with this: you deserve happiness. No matter how many years of awful family members and terrifying situations you've experienced.

You're exhibiting a lot of behaviours that abused children have: saying you don't deserve happiness, feeling hurt when people criticize you, feeling that you're insignificant/invisible, leftover feelings of anger and bitterness at the injustice that you've gone through.

It's important that you get therapy. From what I understand, therapy doesn't cure people in the "oh Doc I feel better now and forgot about all that stuff" -- it tells you why you feel that way and helps you change your thinking. It also gives you the tools to hopefully forge ahead and get yourself out of this awful, negative cycle.

I second the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama as well as Mindfulness in Plain English. There may be Buddhist Meditation sessions near you for free or cheap -- go to them. You normally don't have to talk to anyone -- just walk in, do your stuff, and walk out.

The other thing I recommend is trying to get excited about something or look forward to something. Depending on your finances, it can be something as simple as picking up a new novel, playing a new video game, watching a great new tv series, or something as nice as taking a solo trip.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:08 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If your family are no good for you, stop trying to get what you need from them.

Athanassiel's comment here is worth repeating, I think. If you come from a dysfunctional family, even interactions with your decent family members risk putting you back in that negative zone. It was a positive step for me to -- with the help of a therapist-- realize that certain family members did not wish me well. Some of them do not wish anyone well, or no one from the generation younger than them, or whatever. Some of them had a more specific problem with me. You know what? Screw those kinds of people! Take a moment to just say, "Fuck it." You're angry, and with reason, if, for example, you were the designated lightning rod for bad feelings in your family. Don't try to "cure" that anger; it's telling you to stay away from those people, and that's healthy. Even with those family members you want to continue to see, it can be surprisingly complicated. If there is a family mythology that you are to blame for whatever problems the family has experienced, that has probably leaked into all your relationships with family members. If you make a choice to be with them anyway, keep this in mind and insulate yourself from the damage.
posted by BibiRose at 5:34 AM on May 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's a lot of great advice here already upthread. Not to be redundant, but I do want to reiterate what many others here are saying: you do deserve happiness! When we experience dysfunction at an early age, we can develop coping behaviors that are helpful for our survival at that time. As we grow older, those behaviors can become less healthy and may even become barriers to relationships that help us to weather life's challenges. I experienced a bit of this myself, and although therapy is never a fix, it was hugely helpful in helping me re-frame my situation and slowly change some of those coping behaviors so that I could move forward. For me, a helpful book has been Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning". It's a short read, and specifically addresses feeling of bitterness and resentment after traumatic experiences.

Above all, be kind to yourself during this process. Find something small that gives you pleasure and treat yourself to it if you can. Be well.
posted by gollie at 6:11 AM on May 27, 2015

In addition to other treatment options people are suggesting, it might be helpful to add loving-kindness meditation into your daily routine. (If there are categories of people listed in those instructions that don't exist for you, you can probably skip them for the time being.) A lot of meditative practices get to the reality that we are all connected, none of us is alone, the barriers we feel between ourselves and others are illusions; I suspect pursuing some of these ideas might be helpful for you. If there are places offering meditation classes or sessions near you, that might be another option.
posted by jaguar at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2015

Get a dog. You will never meet a more loyal, non-judgmental creature who doesn't hold grudges, lives in the moment, and finds happiness in the simplest of things.
posted by invisible ink at 8:24 AM on May 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

it seems the more badly I desire the things I want in life, the more they evade me.

Literally the entire aim of Buddhism is to deal with this issue. This type of ennui is as old as humanity itself and everyone, everyone is afflicted with it to some degree or another. You can leave out the religious content if it doesn't appeal to you, but I highly recommend looking into the philosophy. The book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is a good place to begin.
posted by desjardins at 8:50 AM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, ditto all the folks talking about Buddhist thought and meditation: reading Pema Chodron and starting Shambhala meditation was an enormously important first step for me in climbing out of my post-grad school hell-spiral. Make no mistake-- there were (okay, are) times when sitting meditation can be *harrowing*, especially when you're in this kind of an emotional place, but it also can help *a lot.*
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:03 AM on May 27, 2015

A little Epictetus always straightens out my feelings of entitled bitterness.
posted by johngoren at 9:41 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been feeling a little like Job due to health issues, some really nasty behavior from people around, me, stuff. I recommend gratitude. Take the time to genuinely appreciate what you have, and you probably have more than you recognize. You can get into a mentality of anger, resentment, bitterness, and you'll find plenty of evidence to support those feelings. Or you can find things to celebrate. I'm not saying to just be positive and falsely cheerful, but to widen your perspective to recognize the things you can be grateful for.

There are people who are greedy, unkind, vicious. There are people who are just careless or dim. There are some genuinely kind, sweet, loving people. Stop worrying about the jerks. You can't change them. Work on your own imperfections. Read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends ... . Then go out and find new friends.

Consider a screening for depression, and possible treatment
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Give me steam
How you feel can make it real
Get a life with this dreamer's dream
Oh, give me steam
Real as anything you see
Get a life in this dreamer's dream

You seem to not really connect to your own feelings, so it is not a surprise that you do not really connect to other people. I will suggest you start a journal or find some kind of artistic outlet -- drawing, writing fiction, writing songs, anything that expresses your feelings in some way -- and pour your feelings out in that way. Express your anger and resentment and bitterness. Find a way to do so that does not harm anyone else but that strongly validates your experiences and your feelings.

Also, stop investing so much in these unhappy relationships. You can be civil and not cut them off, but you do not have to try so hard to relate to people that only make you miserable. Just stop doing that. There will be an empty space for a time, but life abhors a vacuum. If you simply keep walking away from the abusive assholes, at some point that space will get filled with something more positive. You can't imagine what that will be because it will be alien to your prior life experience. You probably won't recognize it when you first see it. Most likely, you will recognize it in retrospect at some point.

Don't do it to get some better. Just start refusing to accept the abuse. Just work on cutting that out of your life. You will be less miserable if you just refuse to engage those people.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:10 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, +1 to meditation. I know someone who was really angry about her family. After a year or two of daily meditation, going on a few meditation retreats, etc., it was like she really was a whole different person. You might sit with this deep bitterness and anger for awhile and eventually find out what comes after that.

I mostly hate advice on how to be happy and avoid it wherever possible because it usually comes across as smug and condescending. That said, I heard something on a podcast once that actually helped me. They said that happiness ( their research?) is generally something that you can't get by going at head on, and that the people who reported feeling happy seemed to have got it by "going at it sideways." The people who built families and strong marriages, or lives that worked for them in whatever way, didn't set out to "be happy," but just to do what they felt was the right thing to do, and happiness grew in as a side effect of what they built through all that work. So now, I try not to think of happiness as a goal but just to strive for the calm that results once the chores are done. That sounds cheesy, but I just mean it in the sense that "life is a grind, and if you get a few moments of peace at the end of the day, well, at least there's that." And maybe there's more of that over time.

Another Mefite, in a thread on depression, pointed out that if you're already miserable, it was a great time to do a load of laundry. "Well, you already feel crummy so just go do some dishes." It seems like your question is partly about how to keep going when you might never get the feelings you feel entitled to, and so perhaps just accepting that you feel miserable now and doing the metaphorical laundry anyway will make your life that 1% better amidst the suffering.

I used to feel very isolated and alone. It seemed like all my friends were always moving away. We actually live in what can be a really alienating world. I felt desperately adrift and alone and was ready to ... join a commune, do whatever it took to find a stable sense of community. Or, i thought, maybe the problem was me. I feared it might never change. But after living in the same place for ten years or so, I looked up and noticed I actually have a couple "real friends." It was a surprise; after 10 or 15 years of shifting social sands, I'd come to assume there was something wrong with me, my life, or the world that would keep me more isolated than that. I didn't do anything special; i don't honestly know how i got these particular friendships; it mainly feels like luck. But I think it's just years of making plans and showing up. So I don't know your circumstances and don't want to minimize your unique challenges, but it may just be that you have had a run of bad luck or are in a certain tough phase of life and are already basically doing the right things to develop deep relationships over time. But where you're at now is really tough, so hang in there. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 10:32 AM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

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