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Ever Wonder What It Means To Be Bitter? The Answer Might Surprise You.

Bitterness is at epidemic proportions, chile.


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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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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