MSN Dating & Personals

Daters: Are You Bitter?

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

No doubt, divorce can be a bitter pill to swallow—a far cry from the happy ending envisioned when saying “I do.” It’s no surprise that many individuals come out of a split disillusioned and angry. But while wallowing might seem appealing at this juncture, it might also be just the thing keeping you from getting on with your life, romantic and otherwise.

“I can spend five minutes with a recently divorced person and tell right away if they’re going to move forward or stay stuck,” says Amy Botwinick, author of Congratulations on Your Divorce: The Road to Finding Your Happily Ever After and founder of “With someone who is still angry, you can feel the negative energy radiating out from them because they’ve allowed their bitterness to become their whole life... it consumes their thoughts and it’s all they can talk about.”

And bitterness can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy since no one wants to be around a person who constantly emits unhappy or hostile vibes. “After my own divorce, I tried to hide my anger, but people are like animals and they can sense it even if you’re pretending things are fine,” says Botwinick. “When you’re stuck, you repel others and attract more ‘yuck’ into your life.”

So how do you know if you’ve become “Bitter, party of one?” Read on to learn the signs of emotional self-sabotage and positive ways to snap out of it!

Diagnosing your state of stuck
One thing to keep in mind is that divorce is a process with a whole slew of feelings attached. So some bitterness is completely normal and even desirable (in other words, staying totally cheery all the time — a.k.a. denial — isn’t the answer either). It’s when a person doesn’t explore a full range of emotions and stays stagnant in one phase that problems start.

“You need to allow yourself to feel everything — including anger, resentment, guilt, failure, depression and sometimes even euphoria — because this will help you get to the next level of your ‘emotional divorce and recovery,’” says Botwinick. “Try to keep moving forward, but know that the progression may not be perfectly linear all the time... it may be more like two steps forward, one step back.”

The difference between people who stay stuck and those who don’t however, is that for people who are steadily healing, these little relapses are just that... relapses. For the stuck, they’re status quo. Botwinick calls these two groups the “bitters” and the “sweets.” Sweets tend to start sentences with statements like “Yes, this is unfair and there are things in my life right now that are not good, but what am I going to do? I’ve got to start taking steps to go forward.”

On the flip side, the bitters are too blinded by their anger to see a way out. Botwinick says bitters are more likely to say things like “Why did this happen to me?’ and “My ex owes me this, my ex owes me that,” or “This is unfair.” Bitters are blamers. “It’s like my favorite quote by Malachy McCourt which says ‘Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die,’” says Botwinick. “Bitters need to realize that, ultimately, the one they are hurting with their negativity is themselves.”

One of the best ways to determine your state of stuck is to honestly ask yourself some tough questions. What’s the dialogue in your head? Do you find yourself blaming others all the time? Is everything your ex’s fault? What’s your self-talk? What’s your attitude like? Have you been honest with your end of things (because even if the other person did the “dirty deed” that ended the relationship, it still takes two to tango)? “‘It’s all your fault’ is just angry-speak,” says Botwinick. “Taking responsibility for part of this relationship’s demise — abusive situations excluded — is a huge part of healing.”

When you can start looking not just at your ex but also at yourself and asking, ‘How can I do better next time?” then you are in a position to bust out of the bitter rut.

Steps to snap out of it
Think you might be dwelling on the “dark side” of divorce a bit too much? The good news is that you can shift into a “sweet” state, but it does require some work. “It is a choice where you’re going to stay, what attitude you’re going to take, what feelings you decide to keep or acknowledge and move on from,” says Botwinick. “The ultimate thing is to get to a place of forgiveness — not just of your ex-spouse, but of yourself, as well — because only then will you be ready to make the switch from anger to another more useful emotion.” Applying the following steps can help coax you in a more positive direction.

1. Be honest with yourself. The first step in bitter recovery is to recognize where you are emotionally. Then take responsibility for your feelings and your part in the breakup. Analyze what your conversations are with other people. Do you think you could be sucking the life out of your friends because you keep harping on the same things over and over? Step back from your emotions and take a look at your thoughts and behavior. “If someone walking down the street could read your mind what would they think?” says Botwinick. “If they’d go, ‘Wow, this person has issues,’ you’re probably at least borderline bitter.”

2. Do a self-esteem check. When a man or woman comes out of a divorce, it’s no surprise that low self-esteem might be a factor. After all, his or her life has been turned upside-down. “If a divorced person’s self-esteem is not where it needs to be, everything in the world can look like crap,” says Botwinick. “If you’re bitter, chances are you could be feeling insecure about yourself.” This might be the time to rediscover something you were once really good at that you put on the back-burner during your relationship—be it dancing, team sports, music, whatever. The point is to rebuild your own sense of self.

3. Ask for help. Support is especially important right now. Be aware, however, that family and friends can only take you so far because they’re emotionally invested. “Sometimes you really need the right book or therapist to help you get to the other side,” says Botwinick. This is especially important for divorcees who end up man-hating or woman-hating—a clear sign of bitterness. “That kind of generalization is so black-and-white and so not real-life,” says Botwinick. “Of course someone coming out of a divorce may be gun-shy when they start dating again, but it’s not fair to the other person if they have an expectation that all men or women will behave the same as their ex.”

4. Actively work on your own healing. Emotional recovery is not the time to be passive! “This is a fully active process that you have to work at and I don’t think a lot of people understand that,” says Botwinick. “Yes, time heals, but how much time do you want to take?” Things that can help expedite the process include visualization and meditation. Another fantastic tool is journaling. “Writing feelings down on paper helps get them out and gives your emotions less power, because instead of transferring your bitterness to others, you have a safe place to stick it,” says Botwinick.

5. Get closure. Oftentimes a symbolic closure can be helpful when trying to get unstuck. Botwinick suggests that for some people, putting their wedding ring away in a box and burying it in the back of the closet is a good way to close that chapter in your life. For others, burning their marriage license can accomplish the same thing. Another option is to write a letter saying goodbye to your spouse or your marriage without ever planning to send it. “However you get there, the idea is to find something to indicate ‘This is a part of my life that I’m putting away,’” says Botwinick.

6. Recognize the opportunities at hand. It can be very easy to find yourself in “woe is me” land after a divorce, but this can also be a time of incredible personal growth. “Though it might feel horrible right now, if you can reframe the situation and realize you are not your circumstance, this can actually be an amazing opportunity to create a whole new life,” says Botwinick. “Don’t look at this as a bad time where you’re suddenly single, instead think of it as your own personal odyssey where you get to make yourself over from the inside out.” In other words, try a little change in perspective. You might just find your inner “sweet” in the process.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a certified fitness instructor and health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in Prevention, Women’s Health, Weight Watchers, and Fitness magazines.

Website Designed by Mark Ledbetter © 2013