The Anatomy of Bitterness

I took an Anatomy class in college.


First of all, with the help of my lab partner, I had to skin a cat. Ewww!

Then I had to familiarize myself so thoroughly with every in and out (organs, bones, muscles, nerves) of that sad cat that I had formaldehyde-filled dreams at night! But what that experience taught me is that every part of a living creature is intricately interrelated and intertwined. That’s what I found as I did an autopsy on a dead feline …

But what if I performed an autopsy on the interconnectedness of bitterness in a human heart? 

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual Mashups

What would I find?

If I did, I could trace the lines of bitterness back to a single word or incident that set the stage for an intricate cascade of interactions and reactions.

For example …

What if my husband said something I perceived to be hurtful. Whether he meant for it to be hurtful or not, is not the issue nor is it important.

Here’s how it might go –

  • I could think a sarcastic or negative thought in my head as something of an internal retaliation that would cause the anger to flow into deeper and darker places.
  • I could be bold and snap back at him, rationalizing to myself that speaking harshly to my spouse is helpful for my marriage in that moment.
  • I could store it in my memory bank along with all the other volumes of “How My Husband’s Done Me Wrong” and pull it out for whenever I wanted a “good read.”

Any of those choices would move the angry thought on to a resentful rumination within my heart and mind.

Then the next day when he did something I “perceived” to be against me, I could reach back to that resentful feeling and stroke it, study it, polish it. At that point, the once angry thought would progress into contempt. The emotional kick that I’d feel would be stronger, more powerful, more connected in my heart and mindconvincing me that my husband was becoming a bigger villain. 

Day would go into day, and if I did not intervene on the interconnected and intertwining nature of this hateful disposition, my heart would become immersed in bitterness. Sure, my spouse might’ve done hurtful things to me on a daily basis. Sure, it might’ve been normal for me to feel hurt and/or anger.

But the thing is … you and I can stop the flow of that one angry thought at any point—radically halting the progression of anger.

Christ gives us that power to interveneto turn anger, resentment, contempt and bitterness into forgiveness, mercy and love.

So the next time you notice that little twinge of hurt or anger flashing across your heart, ask Christ to intervene. Ask Him to give you the strength and will to forgive your spouse.

If this seems impossible, meditate on the forgiveness you’ve received from Christ. If you truly understand the gravity of that sacrifice, then I know you’ll be quick to extend that same forgiveness to your spouse.

Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.” Hebrews 12:15 (CEB)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)

photo credit by qthomasbower (Flickr)

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35 responses to “The Anatomy of Bitterness”

  1. Great post!!!


  2. True words! In their book “Love and War,” John and Stacy Eldridge call it making “agreements.” Something happens that you perceive as hurtful or bothersome, and Satan puts a thought in your head, like “She always talks to me like that!” Or, “He never treats me the way I want to be treated.” You have the choice to either agree with that statement, or disagree with it. If you make that agreement, it is filed away until the next time, when the thought is even bigger. The choice to make the agreement or not is yours!


  3. how true this is…it only takes a seed and if we really cultivate and feed it the bitterness will take root…and it all started with just a little seed…and then it was a whole lot easier to pluck out….


  4. Heather Copple Avatar
    Heather Copple

    This is so true. I have several friends that grew the bitterness in the marriage and the relationship died. The bitterness in the marriage not only affected the couple but the kids too! Nice reminder.


  5. The root of bitterness is a tough one to pull out. It grow strong and deep. It needs the actions of love softening the soil all around to allow it to be removed. If you try to yank it out with one big action, part of the root will remain and regrow. It is worth the effort to work the soil surrounding it with acts of love every day. You are such an encourager.


  6. Janae Maslowski Avatar
    Janae Maslowski

    I appreciate your reminder of the Larger hope that can come alongside of me to keep bitterness from taking hold. ❤


  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is definitely something that I have to be intentional about striving to avoid (not always successfully, I might add!)


  8. so gooood….nothing is harder than trying to help a marriage that if full of contempt…deep roots of bitterness makes it so hard to pull up those weeds. may we walk in active forgiveness in our lives…blessings~


  9. So good!! Thanks for helping me notice the warning signs of bitterness creeping in. Carly @


  10. messymarriage Avatar

    Thanks for stopping by and encouraging me, Ashley! 🙂


  11. messymarriage Avatar

    I’ll have to check that book out, Megan. I’ve not heard about that title, although, I’ve certainly heard of the many great books by John Eldridge. Thanks for the tip. 🙂 And thanks also for coming by and encouraging me!


  12. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, your comment reminds me of the parable of the mustard seed–the biggest tree growing from it. I know we all have that potential for good or ill. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in, Brian. I always appreciate it!


  13. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, this definitely can be a relationship killer. I didn’t mention that but it’s so true. Thanks for pointing out that potential problem as well, Heather!


  14. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes it is tough. I’ve been spending a lifetime trying to weed out some areas of bitterness in my life. If only I had nabbed it when it was small. Thanks for your encouragement as well! 🙂


  15. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes! That’s the most important part of this post. We often try to repair the damage in our own strength and, I can attest, it doesn’t work. It’s like driving a car with an empty tank. Thanks for noticing that point and encouraging me as well, Janae!


  16. messymarriage Avatar

    You and me both, Crystal! I focus on this so much not only because I see its destructiveness in my clients but I work on daily in my life. Thanks for coming by, encouraging and being vulnerable as well! 🙂


  17. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, there is often where marriages have the biggest messes, Ro. And I love your words, “may we walk in active forgiveness.” It really is a daily walk–one step at a time! Thanks for coming by! Hugs to you!


  18. messymarriage Avatar

    I’m glad you find this helpful, Carly. Just remember that it’s very subtle. We can overlook the progression and be in full-blown bitterness before we even realize it! Thanks so much for stopping by and encouraging me, Carly. I truly appreciate it!


  19. LOVE this! so true and such good reminders on a personal level. i like the word picture of stroking it, studying it, and polishing it. very powerful visual. a bit nauseating, really, but powerful and motivating.thanks for this!steph


  20. JoAnn Ostrich Avatar

    This is such great advice. Thank you for sharing these truths…this is a post for me to put in my pocket and visit frequently.


  21. There is a quote I love about forgiveness it says it’s like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die. Bitterness creeps in and before we know takes on a life of it’s own. You did a great job describing it.


  22. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, it is a bit sickening when you really think about it. But maybe the sense of how ugly it is might actually motivate us to avoid the progression! Thanks so much for coming by my place to encourage, Steph!


  23. messymarriage Avatar

    I feel honored to have shared truths that you’d like to revisit! Thanks so much, JoAnn!


  24. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, I love that quote too. It really demonstrates the effect of letting our anger remain in our hearts. We fool ourselves into thinking it protects us when it is killing us! Thanks so much for stopping by, Alecia. 🙂


  25. Emily Wierenga Avatar
    Emily Wierenga

    powerful words, friend. something that helps me is reminding myself that my husband loves me more than anyone… if i remember that, his words don’t seem as thoughtless and i can breathe again.


  26. Meghan Carver Avatar

    I’m not sure who said it, but I heard it in college: “Reality is what you perceive it to be.” Our perceptions can get us into so much trouble! I hadn’t thought about that in a while. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement to do better.


  27. powerful post, Beth! oh those deep roots of bitterness…it’s worth every bit of effort to keep them away. Love your take on how to do just that. will be thinking about my perceptions today. thank you!


  28. messymarriage Avatar

    Yes, we need to keep that in the forefront of our minds. It’s the “truth” that we should always use to challenge those lies or exaggerations. Thanks so much for taking the time to come by, Emily. I appreciate all that you do and are!


  29. messymarriage Avatar

    Isn’t that the truth, Meghan! We can become so convinced of whatever we tell ourselves over and over. This tendency is something we have to intentionally remember and remind ourselves will happen or we will be overrun. So I’m right there with you on this life-long pursuit of truth!


  30. messymarriage Avatar

    I’ve been working on this pursuit extra hard lately–being aware of my thoughts–and it’s astounding to me how much “crud” I allow to run through the back of my mind, normally unnoticed. I’ve got a lot of work to do! Thanks so much for coming by and encouraging me, Nikki!


  31. Mothering From Scratch Avatar
    Mothering From Scratch

    Everything you say here is so true, Beth. I think that one thing that has helped both in my marriage and with my children is asking myself this question: “Does my resentment create the marriage/relationship with my children that I desire?” I may have the “right” to feel that way, but is it really productive? I can choose to isolate myself in my hurt of bitterness or ask God to provide a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness.


  32. messymarriage Avatar

    Great question to ask! Thanks so much for suggesting it here. We really do need to have strategies to keep things in perspective. That’s why being a believer is such an advantage in this struggle. God is always just a prayer away! Thanks for coming by!


  33. I so needed this today. So! It’s a God-thing.Janelle


  34. messymarriage Avatar

    I’m so glad you found it helpful, Janelle! It’s so wonderful to hear how God uses us and blesses others. 🙂


  35. Thank you!!! I needed this desperately today.


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