by Elizabeth Spring
Anger is a short madness. – Horace
Anger is a short madness, but bitterness is anger that has been boiled, simmered, and then found so unpalatable that it has been thrown into the deep freeze of our unconscious psyches. Recently the Los Angeles Times printed an article called: Bitterness as Mental Illness? It stated that:
Bitter behavior is so common and deeply destructive that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-traumatic embitterment disorder.
How many of us have a touch of this disease? How many people do we know that have it? And to what degree? Anger is what we feel first in the face of injustice; repeated anger becomes deep-seated resentment at whoever and whatever is upsetting us. It turns cold and bitter. The worse part is that it can turn us bitter even when we think we’ve hidden it so well! It can show on our faces, in our expressions, in our tones of voice. It gives us indigestion, insomnia, back pain, and unexplained headaches. We want so much for it not to de-freeze. We want so much to forgive and forget, but proper disposal of toxic pain isn’t easy. Most of us need help with it.
Bitterness is a crusty disease that grows on unprocessed anger. It is particularly dangerous for us as we age, because many therapists, including myself, believe that it plays a part in heart disease as well. The heart is both a physical and emotional organ that reflects how we treat it. Most of us are trying to exercise away the excesses that have deposited themselves as fat, but what are we doing with all that un-dealt with pain in our hearts? With the years of frozen anger?
First of all, it needs to be acknowledged. Yes, it’s there. Maybe you call it disillusionment with your career, or maybe you say it’s how your sister cheated you out of part of your inheritance, or maybe it’s that romantic love that never quite came through for you. You may have the regret of the enabler or the one who had to sacrifice a large part of her life for another. Maybe you blame someone else or blame yourself. What matters most is the story we tell ourselves about it.
We may think that we have done our anger management by cooling and repressing our anger, but in most cases, it’s still alive and not well. It needs to be thawed, re-heated, and disposed of properly. Refrigeration doesn’t work well, as cooled anger turns to resentment and bitterness. It has an annoying tendency to leak out at inappropriate times, upsetting good relationships, disturbing our dreams, and filling us with a vague discontent.
This story needs to be re-told and re-framed. If you will investigate, research, and delve deeper into the place where you hold this bitterness and pain, you can gain a wider perspective and a deeper understanding of the whole picture. You need to have someone who can deeply listen to your story and whose opinions you trust. Allow them to help you understand it from a variety of different perspectives. Allow them to help you put it into a story that makes some sense. (It’s not easy!)
Psychologist Carl Jung once wrote that all adult neuroses could only be healed by a spiritual perspective. Perhaps you can find a way to infuse the story with love towards yourself and others. The last step will be to tell the deep freezer of your subconscious the new story of how and why it all happened, and how you see it now.
As a psychotherapist and astrological counselor, I often look at what I call the family karmic inheritance. This is the legacy of inherited sins and blessings that get handed down the generations, and I believe it’s responsible for more psychic distress than we realize.
You may notice that you have our mother’s eyes, but have you noticed that you have some of her passive aggressive traits as well? Do you know what she was holding her anger about? Can you discover how far back it goes? Could you be overly sensitive to authoritarian figures like your grandfather, or experiencing a similar conflict between the demands of creativity and family that he once did? How bad did it get? Once you know the nature of the inheritance, you can look at it how it’s showing up in your life. Old, long, and difficult inheritances can be particularly insidious. When you become conscious of the sins of the fathers, you not only begin a healing process for yourself, you stop the inheritance from infecting your children.
Generations of maternal and paternal legacies influence us in subtle and not so subtle ways. In some families (such as the presidential Kennedys) there has been mention of a family curse. Although that is an exaggeration for most of us, almost everyone inherits a mixture of psycho-spiritual legacies that need to be sorted through. We need to pull out all the stories we can from the family deep freezer.
You can’t be fueled by bitterness, but you can be fueled by anger. Bitterness eats you up, whereas anger can fuel you to do the emotional detective work that heals. It can help you find your voice and your courage. If you are feeling depressed, stuck, or cynical, it’s time to do some psychic de-freezing. This is the time to act, not to
depress. You may have to admit that your attempts to sublimate and distract yourself from your difficult moods aren’t working any more. This is a good thing, because it means the time is right for you to make a positive and perhaps radical change.
As an astrologer and counselor, I find that there is a grace and energy that shows up when we do things at the right time. If you have no family members who are alive or will tell you true stories, you can find powerful hints as to this inheritance on your astrological chart. When you allow yourself to feel strongly about your feelings, rather than freezing them, you allow an opening for grace and serendipity. Call it what you will: God or chance or synchronicity, but whenever you decide to melt the frozen chunks of bitter memories with the healing warmth of tears and heartfelt stories, you invite in powers and graces beyond your rational mind. I believe we summon the Gods with our open hearts, and that the Soul is ruthless in finding its way home.
Copyright Elizabeth Spring, 2013. Printed here with permission. Elizabeth Spring, M.A., has two books available at Amazon:
North Node Astrology: Rediscovering Your Life Direction and Soul Purpose and Saturn Returns: The Private Papers of A Reluctant Astrologer. She can be contacted through her website, elizabethspring.com.