How to get rid of bitterness
It's impossible to avoid all events that could turn you bitter. At some point, all of us will be the victim of a crazy boss, a cheating spouse, a spiteful co-worker, or someone else who does us wrong. Some will be even more unlucky, and suffer physical or sexual abuse.
"There are situations where you'd have to be the Dalai Lama not to feel bitterness," says Raison, who writes regularly for CNN.com on the mind-body connection for health.
The key is how we react to these situations in the long term. Here are five tips for how to let go of bitterness as quickly as possible for the sake of your own health;
1. Gripe for a while
"Give yourself time to vent and get it out of your system," suggests Dr. Maryann Troiani, co-author of the book Spontaneous Optimism.
2. Watch the news
Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, tells his embittered patients to think about how many others have had bad things happen to them.
"I ask people to watch the news for a day, or read the paper, or go to work and talk to people, and they'll see that others have suffered and this is just a part of life," says Luskin, author of the book "Forgive for Good."
3. Consider confronting the person who's hurt you
Troiani says some of her patients have found solace in doing this. Other times, however, it can backfire. "Some ex-spouses are real psychopaths, and hunting them down can be disastrous," she says. "They'll just connive and twist things around and blame you." If that's your situation, try writing a letter to the person and reading it to a trusted friend, she suggests.
4. Realize you're only harming yourself
Keep reminding yourself of the all the physical harm you're doing yourself by remaining bitter. "I tell my patients, take care of this bitterness now, or in five years it will haunt you in the form of chronic headaches, fatigue, arthritis, and backaches," Troiani says.
5. Consider the other person's mental state
Author Maya Angelou has every reason to feel bitter. Raped as a child, then overwhelmed with guilt when her rapist, an uncle, was murdered by another family member, she was mute for several years. Still, she says she never felt bitterness toward her attacker. "Although he was a child molester and abused me, I never hated him, and I'm glad of that," she says. "What I realized is that people do what they know to do -- not what you think they should know." As an adult, she's continued that mind-set. "If someone hurts my feelings or hurts me in any way, I think, 'This dummy, that's all he knew,' and I'm not going to carry this bitterness around with me. I will not give it a perch. I will not give it a place to live in me because I know that's dangerous."
Don't be a doormat
Taking these steps and losing your bitterness does not mean you should be a doormat, Raison says. For example, consider the classic case of the wife whose husband leaves her for a much younger woman. Instead of feeling angry, she can think about moving on with her life and finding someone new. "What happens is that the husband who's been doing the 20-year-old comes crawling back because now his wife looks really good, and the wife can say, 'You're a day late and a dollar short,'" he says.