When you’ve been unjustly treated or hurt by others, be careful not to multiply the pain through your emotional response.
If we allow feelings of hurt or betrayal to germinate and grow, emotions like anger and resentment can easily feed the early stages of bitterness.
Bitterness is typically based on feelings of justified anger. As bitterness takes over, it darkens your outlook with negative perspectives and can lead you into an overall cynical perspective on life.
The cluster of destructive emotions surrounding bitterness feed off each other to produce a heart controlled by resentment, hatred and revenge.
Yet bitterness is not easily detected when it begins to grow. It doesn’t typically start as a destructive emotion.
- Bitterness initially disguises as a form of relief by offering a kind of emotional retaliation.
- Bitterness can easily become a protective mechanism used to guard cherished resentments.
It can feel good to be bitter because bitterness is an emotional drug that induces temporary feelings of relief through emotional vindictiveness. But when bitterness becomes a controlling addiction, it begins to destroy the one who uses it.
Scripture graphically describes the potent nature of bitterness.
- “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
Scripture firmly warns about the disruptive and defiling effects of bitterness. Bitter people rarely keep their bitterness to themselves. A bitter person is poisonous and infectious to those who risk close proximity to him.
Bitterness burrows deep into the heart through feelings of justified anger and resentment. The bitter man says, “I have every right to be angry after what happened to me!” “You better believe I hate her after what she did!”
Some direct their bitterness toward God and others allow bitterness to claim so much ownership over their lives that it becomes their God. Bitterness is difficult to dislodge when it rules the heart in place of God. It often requires a serious detox process to remove the toxicity from the bitter man or woman.
Scripture uses decisive terms for bitterness and the emotions that come with it.
- “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…” (Ephesians 4:31).
- “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. … Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (romans 12:18-21).
To better understand how to deal decisively with bitterness, see my post, “Leave your grudge with the Judge.”