Existential Psychology


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Many take on bitterness as a global life solution. We aren’t going to attempt to tease out the complicated interaction between genes that cause people to be constitutionally pessimistic and unfortunate life events, but instead discuss some existential reasons why people, whether naturally optimistic or pessimistic, choose to keep carrying the burden of bitterness around with them.

When we think about holding on to resentments and feeling bitter about life and people most of us think of the state as unwanted. We want to be happy, content, and carefree, so it’s hard to imagine any benefits from being wound up and angry all the time. But people do derive benefits.

The existential answer is that for some bitterness provides meaning and a frame of reference. It allows them to make sense of their life narratives, even though the sense they are making is full of negative emotions and experiences. It allows them to dwell on the past without guilt, giving them a free pass out of dealing with the burden of individual responsibility in the present. If you can focus on someone or something else for everything that has gone wrong you don’t have to shine the light on yourself.

When people let go of bitterness and resentment they feel light and free but unconsciously they don’t believe this is what will happen. They believe they will lose their compass and be lost in the middle of a vast wilderness with no idea which direction to take or how to survive. Bitterness is a compass, but it points the way towards unhappiness and an empty life because it saps the psychic energy that could be used for positive growth and self-actualization.

Obviously none of us can change the past and many of us are left to make sense of bad experiences that we had little or no control over, but when we allow these experiences to derail our present and future we have no one to blame but ourselves. Sometimes people wonder how to be really happy, and one of the answers is eliminating negative emotions, unburdening themselves of resentments and bitterness that they may have carried around for a long time.