Ever Wonder What It Means To Be Bitter? The Answer Might Surprise You.
You know, there's a Scripture in the Bible that basically says bitterness causes trouble (Hebrews 12:15). And once you see some of the telling signs that someone is indeed a bitter person, I think it will be easy to understand why that point rings oh so very true. Because as an author by the name of Christine E. Szymanski once said, "If you are working hard to be a better you, you will have no time to be bitter." This basically implies that bitterness makes one stagnant and if you're choosing a mindset that literally keeps you stuck, there is nothing about it that benefits you in the long run.
What's really crazy is some folks out here have been bitter for so long that they don't even realize that it has taken over them. Therefore, just so we're all clear on what it means to be a bitter individual, here are eight strong indicators that you could very well be struggling with bitterness on some level. Take a deep breath, now. This might get a little bumpy before it all smooths out.
1. Bitter People Generalize
I can't stand it and I'm quite open about it. Whenever I see some article, social media post or television show that anchors its entire point on "men are trash", I immediately move on to something else. This is definitely a great place to start because no one has encountered every man which means to say that ALL men are trash is a toxic form of generalization. Not only that but, chances are, one has come to that conclusion either because 1) they keep making poor choices and refuse to take some personal accountability and/or 2) they are just repeating what they've heard other people state. Both reasons are counterproductive as all get out too. Not only that but if you decide to stay in such an unhealthy space, you could actually program your mind to believe that statement is true which could also mean that you won't even be able to see a good man when he does come along (if he's not present already).
What I just shared is one example of what it means to generalize. The bottom line is a great definition of generalize is "to infer or form (a general principle, opinion, conclusion, etc.) from only a few facts, examples, or the like". Did you peep the "few facts" part? People who generalize usually are coming from a space of limited information or flat-out ignorance. Nothing about that sounds like a progressive way of thinking. Hmph. No wonder this is a sign of being bitter.
2. Bitter People Hold Grudges
After watching how a lot of married couples got down as I was growing up and then after sitting through countless sessions with many of them now, if there is one thing that I'm sure of, it's that holding grudges is a manipulative power play. C'mon. What is the point of walking around, for days on end, either barely speaking or not speaking at all, just because you're mad or upset about something? And don't tell me after you just read that, that it didn't look childish as all get out to you too. Holding a grudge is about being resentful and oftentimes, it's also a way of trying to "bait someone in" with your bad energy until you can convince them to do or see things your way. It's literally conveying, "I won't move until I get what I want." And yes, bitter people are a lot like this (even if they do it from a passive aggressive angle).
Am I saying that if you are hurt/angry/disappointed that needing some time to cool off and process means that you're bitter? No. What I am saying is people who feel that way who aren't bitter individuals tend to be solutions-oriented. They want to resolve whatever the matter is as soon as possible. As a bonus, they respect time to the point where they don't take it for granted. People who hold grudges are typically so caught up in themselves that they don't even realize how much time they are wasting pouting, delving out the silent treatment or conjuring up whatever other stratagems they've got up their sleeve. Life's too short to hold grudges. Bitter people don't care about that. That's their problem.
3. Bitter People Complain a Lot
Whenever I think about complainers, it's actually another Scripture that comes to mind. The beginning of Philippians 2:13(NKJV) starts off by saying, "Do all things without complaining and disputing…" If you want to take this even further, on the way to the Promised Land, the Israelites spent 40 years on what was supposed to be an 11-day trip in the wilderness; in part, because they complained so much (Deuteronomy 1:1-3). Talk about a sobering life lesson. It took half a lifetime to go 11 days? How is that worth anything? Being out here, constantly talking (or is it whining?) about how unhappy you are, how difficult someone is or how much you wish something (or someone) would be better or different isn't really helping you to get anything accomplished…now is it?
Bitter folks don't think this far. They are literally the walking definition of wallowing in one's own mess. It's almost like they're addicted to negativity so much that they repel any kind of positivity or perspectives that can help them to feel better and handle things differently. I'm pretty sure we all know a chronic complainer. Think about how being around them makes you feel. Yeah, that's another thing about bitter people. They will literally drain the life outta you if you let them. That's why spending as little time in their presence as possible is best.
4. Bitter People Shift Blame
Whew. This one right here, y'all. One sign that someone is a responsible adult is they hold themselves personally accountable. What does that mean? They don't use other people to justify or defend their own bad choices. They don't constantly give excuses. They don't deflect when they are called out on their stuff. They don't play the "poor me" role when they do something wrong. They don't romanticize their poor decisions. They own their stuff so that they can take responsibility and learn how to do and be better.
Bitter folks? They don't do this at all. EVERYTHING is because of someone else. Shoot, I'm triggered even writing on this point because I've had to put some real distance between myself and some family members because this is how they get down. No matter how abusive they are, somehow, it's because of what someone else said or did. And here's the thing — when someone refuses to take personal accountability, it's very difficult for them to change their behavior. This means that they will continue to be a victimizer as you continue to be a victim.
It's a very self-aware and emotionally healthy trait to be able to hold yourself accountable. It's also on the endangered species list, if you ask me. Anyway, if you know someone who avoids accountability like the plague, while it's not discussed enough, that is also a telling sign of pure unadulterated bitterness.
5. Bitter People Are Easily Triggered
All of us have triggers (check out "How To Handle Folks Who 'Trigger' You"). That said, as someone who's been more relentless than ever about maintaining my own peace of mind, a sign of true freedom is learning where your triggers come from and applying ways to deactivate them so that they don't rule over your entire life or cause you to constantly be on an emotional roller coaster.
Not wanting to be triggered all of the time requires some serious emotional maturity because a lot of people want to be able to think that it's OK to act on their triggers, simply because a button of theirs was pushed. To them, it helps to justify whatever potentially ridiculous actions they take. They can simply say, "I mean, I wouldn't have done or say that if so-and-so didn't trigger me." Yeah, that doesn't fly because when you become an adult, you realize that there are very few things that anyone can "make" you do. Your words and actions are your own choice.
You know, something that I say often is, "Healed and wounded people see things very differently." Healed folks don't like the upheaval that comes with being triggered often. Wounded and bitter folks don't mind it because it just feeds more into their already-negative state of mind. Taking all of this in, which side of the coin seems more appealing to you? If it's the latter…why is that?
6. Bitter People Are Unteachable
Semi-recently, someone asked me what my favorite Musiq Soulchild songs were. One of the ones that I shared was "teachme". One of the things that I like about it is the lyrics reveal that he was vulnerable enough to express what he didn't know about love and why. And because of those things, he needed some help. That is the opposite of being bitter because bitter folks have so many walls up that they won't allow anyone teach them anything. They're not open to opinions about why they think the way that they do. They won't let down their guard enough to be offered some helpful insights and tips on how to approach things differently. Pretty much, unless you're going to listen to them moan and groan for hours on end, they don't really want to talk to you.
I've actually got a friend who's going through this right now. Every time their friend calls them, all they want to do is gripe about their marriage and, no matter how many suggestions that my friend offers them, they either find a way to shoot the idea down or it totally goes over their head. You know, none of us can get to the next level in life if we're not willing to learn new things. If you're someone who can't be taught anything, chances are, it's either your pride or bitterness rearing its ugly head. Neither are attractive. Or beneficial. Not one bit.
7. Bitter People Gossip Nonstop
Listen, anyone who says they don't gossip, they are a liar. How do I know? Because even if somehow you manage to not engage in "idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others" when it comes to people you know (this would include your family members, by the way), you probably do partake as it relates to celebrity news, politicians or the like. Why we're so attracted to gossip, I'm not completely sure. I think a lot of us are nosy. I think a lot of us find a pompous sense of pleasure in acting like we would do better than others if we were in their position. I think sometimes we'd prefer to avoid our world and get all caught up in the lives of others. Whatever the reason may be, while gossip is a pretty human and common trait, it's still something that we should ever-strive to do less.
Bitter folks don't think so. Because they see things from such a warped, negative and basically toxic point of view, more times than not, gossip provides them with the fuel they are looking for to remain in that space. That's because it's easier to talk about what other people are doing than to put forth the concerted effort to focus on what they need to do. Basically, another trait of bitter folks is they are lazy. And since gossip is about idle chatter, it is the language of the lazy, wouldn't you say? Ouch.
8. Bitter People Can’t Be Happy for Others
Remember that relative I referenced earlier? Something that it took me years to recognize is they are also pretty narcissistic. The reason why I say that is 1) they constantly find a way to make everything be about them and 2) when something great happens in their life, they want to be over-the-top celebrated yet when something good happens for someone else, they find a way to shade the individual. Case in point, I remember when a friend of mine got a great position and I told my relative about it. The first thing that they did was talk about how they had a similar gig; then they went on to express how they didn't understand why my friend was even qualified. A hater. The worst kind of one.
I'm gonna end this here because it's a great place to stop. After reading all that I just shared about bitter people, how in the world could they possibly be genuinely happy for anyone else? They are too angry and/or irritable and/or self-absorbed and/or moody and/or petty to let that happen. So, if you're someone who doesn't know how to be truly happy for other people and their achievements or you know someone who is this way, there's no way around the fact that it's a sign of bitterness. It's also a huge wake-up call because as a wise person once said, "Bitter and unhappy people will never trust or see the good in anyone because they don't trust or see the good in themselves." That's the bad news. The good news is, now that you know better, you can do better. You can choose to no longer be a bitter person — and that's never not an amazing decision.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic’, though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let’s do first things first — let’s define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of “What does platonic mean?”, the first thing that you’re (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of “of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex” (Merriam-Webster), “designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity” (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, “purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes” (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I’ll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word “platonic” actually come from? From what I’ve researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled “Symposium.” In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire; one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: “Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry.” A write-up on Merriam-Webster’s site stated that, “The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships.” Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that’s another article for another time, though (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”).
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word “platonic” is kind of used in “broad strokes” these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be “just friends,” I’m going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I’m pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally, even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I’ll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He’s super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often and some have told us that they assume that we’ve had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: “I told him, ‘He’s my brother. We would never mess around.'”
My Friend: “Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it.”
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: “Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives.” (That reminds me: check out, “Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?” when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: “Girl, yeah. If I didn’t want to keep you in my life long-term, I would’ve tried to holla a long time ago!” And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these “for real?!” exchanges is, even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “dormant seed” lying around somewhere…whether it’s one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life, we’ve had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren’t exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you’re not sure about “his”…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you’ve got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you’ve never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he’s someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it’s one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who’s been together for more than five years and I’ll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out “Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?”).
Yeah, just because you’ve filed someone in the “I see him as a good guy” category, that doesn’t automatically mean that y’all’s friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don’t get it twisted — I’ve considered him because, on so many levels, we “fit.” So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are “good friends” yet it’s not exactly platonic.
I’m not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would’ve been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there’s a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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