The embittering process is the path on which people become more hard-hearted, cold, cynical, and closed. It is the path that most people are on.
But they don’t know it. It starts simply by having a difficult experience that you can’t handle or don’t want to handle. That pain gets stuck in you. As a result, you tend to avoid, hide, or attack situations that bring up that pain, and you create a variety of behavior patterns to maintain your distance from anything that might bring back this inner upset. Over time, other difficult situations arise, and a person continues to try and avoid their own fear, anger, shame, sadness, and other uncomfortable feelings. You keep shutting down. Life gets narrower and narrower. Possibilities for joy and inspiration disappear. Life gets hard. You may feel increasingly trapped. More shit happens, but since that’s your attitude already, your cynical mind accepts it in stride. To your mind, this is simply how life is.
But that is not the case. It is only the viewpoint of the embittered person. Most people not on the spiritual path travel this road because it seems the safest. It seems to be safer to hide from, avoid, run away, and attack uncomfortable situations rather than experiencing old pain, facing fear, and challenging one’s edges. To be sure, not everyone follows this path. Plenty of people attempt to wear rose-colored glasses and see all of life as beautiful. But that is not seeing the truth. And it can also avoid a lot of painful things inside through aversion to seeing them. Plus, the embittered state of Western Society tends to view such people as irrational (and that’s not all wrong).
But the spiritual path teaches us to see things as they are and to stay open-hearted to life even when it is difficult so that we can truly live. As such, I’ll write a little bit about the embittering process and how to step out of it in preference to a fuller and more loving life.
The first wound can be anything. It can be an insult from a parent. It can be a bad grade in school and being teased. It can be the experience of being bullying on your way home after school. It can be your first romantic break-up. Whatever it is, something stuck, and it didn’t leave. Because many of these first wounds often happen when we are children, we don’t know how to handle them. Our repertoire of coping skills is pretty thin, and depending on our parents’ abilities, they may be non-existent (It’s why I always encourage spiritual parents about the importance of self work because you immediately impact your children). So that first wound sticks, and we begin a long series of counterbalances to not feel that pain. That often becomes the first real fork in the road that leads us down the embittering path.
For others, the first wound is a trauma, and that trauma is a cancer when unattended. Severe physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and others can create a sharp turn on the road of life taking a person away from a healthy life towards a life of addiction, depression, and many other really unhealthy things. This kind of embittering process can very lead to deep depressions, hateful and violent actions, suicide, and more. Obviously, this is not healthy, but our society rarely understands the depths of healing, love, and dedication that is required to get back to healing this first wound. Instead, we throw people like this in mental asylums and jails. Or we drug them out with a host of prescription drugs.
But the first wound remains, and the damage it is doing continues.
Appreciating Our Wounded Nature
It’s very rare to find someone who isn’t wounded in some way. The host of unconscious beliefs that we grow up in wounds just about everyone. While seemingly benign, ideas like, “I need to be attractive,” have deeply wounded men and women alike. So much time and energy is poured into making peoples’ bodies appear a certain way, and very few ever meet the increasingly ridiculous standards of male and female beauty. In this way, we often are wounding ourselves on a daily basis by rejecting the beauty of our bodies as they are.
Another idea is that we have to do something to be worthwhile. We have to have a purpose.
But this is not true. We are perfect as we are. There is no way to be “worthy.” That idea is only necessary when we feel unworthy, which is what this idea does (as well as the first one I mentioned). So people work and work and work and toil away day after day. Even on the spiritual path, people keep seeking to do good or help as many people as possible because they are enslaved to this idea about only being worthy through doing. Despite whatever good intentions are in the latter scenario, this issue will wear a person out. Exhausted and drained, it’s easy for a person to find themselves moving towards bitterness because they never feel good enough. They never feel like they’ve found what it is they need to do.
But there is nothing to do to be you.
Aging Into Bitterness
As I said, the wounding is so regular in our society that it is a truth many people can no longer see. So, people give up their dreams and go do day jobs they don’t like because it is “practical.” People get married and have kids because it is “what they are supposed to do.” They buy houses, set up retirement funds, send kids to colleges, retire, and on and on. They are doing what others have told them they should want to do. Every time that one of these things isn’t in alignment with their inner truth is another wound. Another wound means there’s something else uncomfortable to avoid. It’s another reason to shut down.
“Because life is hard. That’s just how it is.”
I am sure some of you have heard those types of words. I am sure that some of you have said or thought those types of words.
So you continue along the embittering process, and the more bitter, hard, and mean you become, the more used to it you get. It becomes your habitual way of living, so it seems normal. For some pie-in-the-sky do-gooder like me to say otherwise is to sound just like those words I just used as a description of me. It is not how I see myself, but to the person who thinks they’re being rational and not cynical and emotionally shutdown, that’s who I am. This is the nature of the ego. It creates its own rules so that it can see the story it wants to see. And if anything is too far out of its belief system, then it simply doesn’t see it.
A Way Out of the Embittering Process
But I don’t want to leave you stuck on this sour note. (Yes, pun intended). There is a way out. It is to face your pain. It means to look at your beliefs and how they limit you. It means to face your fears, deal with your anger, and pump out the swamp of sadness. It is not fun. It is rewarding. It is the way back to living your life from a natural openness that simply sees life as it is and not as you think it should be.
Yet, despite how crappy and bitter people can become, many people will choose the safety of their beliefs over the uncertainty of healing and not knowing who they are. It is unfortunate. Many more will never notice a problem. This is why pain is one of the greatest spiritual teachers we have on this world. Until a car accident, heart attack, or loss of a loved one hits, most people are too mired in their embittered state of mind to see a problem. Furthermore, if someone is too deep in this embittered worldview, these difficult moments get lumped into the “Life’s a bitch and then you die” category. (I’m sure mainly of you have heard this phrase–that’s just another example of how much bitterness is common in Western Society).
Growing Back Into Your Healthy Life
Chopping through the weeds and brambles of the ego isn’t fun, but it is not endless. Any time the ego-self tells you that you’ll never make it through, take it as a good sign. Take it as a sign that you are going deeper because something inside you just got a little more desperate. That desperation is not you, despite how powerful it may feel. There is most likely more pain yet to come, but it is not insurmountable. For more about healing pain, please check out these blog posts:
As you return to the old wounds and heal them, you will find yourself in new space. Many people can have more trouble here in this openness and uncertainty than working through issues. My advice is typically to breathe in and relax. Let this new space show you where you want to grow. Sometimes, it’ll be easy. Suddenly, you’ll realize you have something to say, and in finding your voice, you’ll be off to classes to learn about public speaking and start speaking on important issues as your vocation. Other times, things won’t clear up so quickly. Especially when issues only partially clear (which is A LOT), we find ourselves moving right into the next part of the issue after clearing up a little inner space. The additional space is necessary to bring greater clarity and light to yourself and to break apart this bitter old unconscious ego. It tends to go in pieces, but it does go. Just trust that, and trust the process.
Dying Bitter, Scared, Sad, and Angry
The options are pretty bleak if you don’t heal. If you don’t heal, pain grows. You can move down a path where you become increasingly embittered and angry at life, but really, you’re upset with yourself. Many people go down this path, and there is nothing to be done until they are ready to heal. As I’ve mentioned, this kind of bitterness and the cynicism that tends to be its expression is pandemic in Western Society. Many people don’t even know it’s a problem, and when you’ve spent most of your life in pain, you don’t have the perspective to know and choose otherwise.
But hopefully if you are here reading this spiritual awakening blog post today, you are ready for a different choice. You are ready to face and let go of your pain. If so, please read some of the above blog posts to which I’ve linked, and check out this last one below.
Because you only get one life to live, and it’s up to you if it leads towards bitterness and the deep regret of a life lost in pain or one where you truly get to live from a space of your own love.