The Combat Zone of Bitterness

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a therapist in a community of our nation’s warriors and the home of the most deployed Division in the US Army, I have witnessed the pain and grief of death.

Death in our community does not only happen in the combat zones of foreign lands, but also in the combat zones of the broken parts of the home front.

Many of these combat zones are deceptively disguised as beautiful homes, picture perfect families, successful professionals and God-loving people. But broken people, still – just like me and dare I say, just like you…?

We all have brokenness because we have all been hurt. We have all been injured by words, damaged by injustices, and harmed by others who are struggling just as much with their own pains. And we fight back with the intention of not being hurt again.

For some people, protecting themselves by getting smaller feels safe. They may withdraw and retreat, becoming quiet or even going silent. Their defense mechanism of escape can last for years when the agony consumes their being. The longer they are silent, the more difficult it is for them to speak their truth and feel heard.

There are others who defend themselves by getting bigger. They may speak out with their voices, sometimes degrading others or crying out in the name of justice in instances where no one wins. Their pain may cause them to blindly throw poisonous darts in every direction, injuring and wounding innocent by-standers.

Anger, resentment, and hostility can become poison. There can be healing and some good that comes from those emotions, yet those emotions can be like wildfires.

Scientists have shown us that wildfires have a positive impact on the environment. Wildfires increase nutrients being released into the soil, which is followed by new plant growth. Many ecosystems require fires to restore their balance.

Yet, we also know that out-of-control wildfires can cause an enormous amount of destruction.

Out-of-control emotional wildfires are often sparked by bitterness. Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond defines bitterness as “a chronic and pervasive state of smoldering resentment…a characterological hostility toward someone, something or toward life itself, resulting from the consistent repression of anger, rage or resentment regarding how one perceives to have been treated.”

Bitterness does not have a place in the growth of our soul and spirit. Bitterness cannot heal our wounds as a community – it only makes them deeper and more destructive. Perhaps even destructing and destroying innocent people, spreading the poison of bitterness further.

So how do we end this cycle of self-destruction? What is the cure for this pain?

We cannot fight bitterness with bitterness. We need to slow down before we react. We must ask ourselves, “Is this person’s reaction in true hate or is it a reaction of their pain? If it is pain, then how old is the pain? How deeply is it embedded in their spirit?”

There is power in the pause. We gain respect with pausing, not by reacting.

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend

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