Advice, Breakthroughs, Challenges, Empowerment, Men and Women, Wake Up Calls 10 Ways to Be Better, Not Bitter Through Deep Challenge Written by: Kathy Caprino
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Working as a therapist and career coach over these past eight years, I’ve seen what life can do to people.  I’ve observed deep trauma and crisis, such as when a beloved spouse abandons his/her family for another lover, exclaiming to the marital partner of 20 years, “I’m sorry, but I never loved you.”

I’ve seen drug addiction and alcoholism ruin people’s futures.  I’ve witnessed cruelty, obsession, abuse, and despair, and watched uncontrolled midlife crisis wreak havoc on families.  And I’ve watched these harsh economic times bring men and women to their knees.

All through it, I’ve seen people broken by their despair, as well as those who have risen above – who’ve become better, not bitter.

How do some people turn their crises into fuel for positive change, while others become angry, resentful, victimized, and hopeless – beaten by their challenges?

There are 10 traits I’ve observed in those who find a way to be better, not bitter, after tribulation and crisis.  These 10 traits are:

1.   They remain accountable.  They realize their part in what’s happened to them, and don’t play the victim game.

2.   They are optimistic.  Despite what’s happened, they hold tight to a hope for a brighter future.

3.  They are well-boundaried. They know where they begin, and others end.  They keep compassion alive in their hearts, despite what’s happening around them, and they tune out the negativity, gossip and cruel judgments others throw at them.

4.   They ask for help. They reach out for support when they need it, and they get it.

5.   They find lessons in their challenges. They seek to learn and grow from all their experiences, and refuse to be broken by them.

6.   They avoid self-hatred and self-reproach.  They know they’ve made some big mistakes – and admit them full out — but find a way to be self-accepting and forgiving through it all.

7.   They revise their negative behaviors. They understand that repeating the same negative behaviors and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.  They change their ways.

8. They let go of the need to control. They have an ability to bend and be flexible, and go with the flow of what life gives them.  They don’t break themselves against what comes their way.

9. They see a bigger picture than what is before them. Despite how bleak the moment may appear, they have a deep sense of connection to the world and to life, and they sense that there’s a bigger picture unfolding than what meets the eye.

10. They have the courage to embrace change. As scary as change can be, they embrace it and accept that it is within change that expansion — and a richer, more satisfying life — lies.

If you’ve faced tremendous challenges these past several  years but want to be better, not bitter, take a look at these traits, and examine the degree to which these match your behaviors.  The closer you come to embracing these traits, the freer you’ll be from the sadness, regret, and limitations of your past.  You’ll let go of what isn’t working, and you’ll co-create a new future that is more joyful and rewarding than you ever imagined.

Are you stuck in bitter, or flowing towards “better?”

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17 thoughts on “10 Ways to Be Better, Not Bitter Through Deep Challenge”

  1. Excellent tips, Kathy. Thank you! One of the presentations I give is entitled, “Where Do Diamonds Come From? A Lump of Coal and a Lot of Pressure!” It demonstrates how we can use some of the awful things that happen to us to actually increase our strength and power rather than be defeated by our situation. But it requires a change in attitude and perspective, as well as action on our part. Two of the things I learned during back-to-back medical crises years ago are that no matter what happens to us, it could always be worse (which helps put some perspective on even the worst of circumstances) and that we have a choice in how we use whatever energy, stamina, or resources we have left. We can spend them being bitter and angry, or we can use them to improve ourselves and our situation in whatever way we can.

  2. Do you believe these attitudes can be chosen? If so, calling them traits is a misleading choice of words. If not, it seems naive at best, or maybe cruel, to suggest that people should compare themselves against others with such traits. (A bit like telling people that good basketball players are tall, so they should assess how tall they are and make changes accordingly.)

    Personally, I don’t think they are traits, and I also don’t think they can be just chosen. I think they are skills that can be cultivated through intense practice, re-framing, and meditation. Like all skills, they will be easier to achieve for people with certain temperaments.

  3. Having had a similar conversation yesterday with a friend who’s in breakdown I can attest to two things: 1) These are all the essential skills to be mastered to move through heartbreak and hopelessness and 2) It’s at the time of deepest despair when this advice seems the least accessible, least possible. I agree with Alice, that the act of choosing these attitudes and behaviors is more natural for naturally upbeat, positive people. My friend has lived through years of deep resentment and has hit a wall – her toolkit is not full of possibility and positive outlook. So the question is, where to start?

    Kathy, thanks for the reminder that I own your fabulous book and that it’s the best thing I can give to my friend. I remember reading it at a particularly challenging time of my life and it made a huge impact on my actions. I think I might re-read it, too.

  4. Thanks for your great comments and feedback. Appreciate them. I’d agree that these are attitudes and behaviors that need cultivation, practice and commitment. I do believe, however, that the first step is to CHOOSE them. To say “YES” to viewing the world this way, to letting these in these ideas about life and how to approach it.

    As a trained therapist, coach and a researcher, I’ve seen the darkest side of humanity, so I know what I speak of when I say that, when an individual can allow in even the faintest belief that he/she can indeed shape what comes, despite his/her incredibly challenging past, the future is changed for the better.

    Finally, I’d like to say that one approach I take to growing and learning is to find individuals who serve as a role model for me — who inspire me in the way they live and work. I guess you could call that “comparing” – but I don’t. I call it finding individuals who serve as a beacon of light for me. When I find these folks, I observe how they operate, and then attempt to incorporate what I learn from them in terms of new ways of being and doing that give me hope and strength.

    Thanks for sharing! Appreciate these diverse viewpoints.

  5. Sometimes I can be frustrated by “happy go lucky” people who seem to possess these traits you list. Sometimes I think,
    “It really isn’t that simple for many of us to behave this way” But I agree with you and I appreciate the examples you give for each “trait”. Breaking them down into what each trait looks like is very helpful for people like myself who do not always see the “better” as clearly as we truly want to. It is a personal challenge to many of us to navigate our way out of bitter situations and your coaching is a welcome tool.
    thanks.

  6. Hi Robin – thanks very much for your comments. I’ve found that people who seem “happy go lucky” may in fact have quicker access to joy than others, but more often than not, they’ve also worked very hard to cultivate mental attitudes and emotional responses and behaviors that pave the way for more joy and success. I’ve also found that when people are angered by and resentful of other people’s apparent “luck,” success, or ease, these envious and critical judgments (and I’ve had them too!) actually push away the very success they long for. Thanks so much for sharing! K

  7. Hi Robin – thanks very much for your comments. I’ve found that people who seem “happy go lucky” may in fact have quicker access to joy than others, but more often than not, they’ve also worked very hard to cultivate mental attitudes and emotional responses and behaviors that pave the way for more joy and success.

    I’ve also found that when individuals are angered by and resentful of other people’s apparent “luck,” success, or ease, these envious and critical judgments (and I’ve had them too!) actually push away the very success they long for. Thanks so much for sharing! K

  8. I believe I was meant to read this today. I feel like Job, afflicted from all sides. I have always been a half full kind of person, suffering from depression most of my life, but I never gave up hope. A bit of contradiction I know. But in recent years as age creeps up on me it’s become harder and harder to find the hope. Life has worn away at the very core of my ability to keep trying. It gets harder and harder to get back up after a fall. There must be something, somewhere that drives me to keep searching for an answer, such as whatever it is that led me to read this particular post at this particular time. I suppose one would have to call that hope.

    I do believe that it is easier for some than for others to look on the bright side of things ~ my husband is one of those people. Although there is another side to that too in that he was abused as a child and learned tremendous defense mechanisms for survival which are good in some ways and not so good in others. On the outside he’s the life of the party, on the inside he’s a war zone.

    I agree Kathy, that at its core to be better or bitter is a choice, a choice we have to make again and again and again. We have to choose to keep trying, to keep reading, to keep searching for new techniques, new understandings and a better way of looking at things. We do not have complete control over our lives but we have more control than we think, at least more than I think. I am taking your words to heart and beginning again to look for an answer, a way to once again find hope and make a decision to keep on keeping on.

  9. Great article and one that rings true for me. I faced many challenges and social-economic disadvantages. I have to admit that it is not hard for me to focus on the positive and have always seen my cup as half full and I am naturally very optimistic. As a result I think I have experienced more success than if I would not have had many of the 10 qualitities/behaviors that you list as ways to be better vs. bitter.

    Attitude has so much to do with how we deal with our circumstances and to a certain extent it even affects what happens in our life. Years ago I heard about a term called”RAS” which stands for ranticular activating system, and as it was explained to me, it basically is a brain function that determines what we are drawn to or is drawn to us by what we focus on. So we can ultimately bring about the very things we think about or visualize; as the Word of God says, “meditate” on. So if we have a negative outlook on life and surround ourself with negative people you can count on having many negative expereinces.

    Thanks Kathy for all the great content your offer on your site!

  10. As a business coach you should always push your client towards the path of positivity. The economy nowadays is in shambles and we don’t need to be on the negative side. Just my thought. Really great post!

  11. Kathy, congratulations on your identification of the traits that help folks become better not bitter. I have no issue with your use of the word, “trait,” as character traits are acquired, not inherited. In fact, one of our major tasks growing up is to identify the character traits of the people we admire and then strive to acquire those traits in building our own character. I voted for your website during the July Coaching Mastery Contest because you are well grounded, with your focus on going after real values in the real world. Thank you for giving me a site I can admire and learn from!

  12. Thank, Terry, for your very kind words. I appreciate them. And thank you for your vote for my blog in the Coaching Mastery Contest – I’m very grateful for your extra show of support, and for your characterization of my work that it focuses on honoring “real” values in the real world. I love that and hope I live up to it. With gratitude…K

  13. Wonderful tips and excellent responses.

    The most important thing is to recognize your own contributions to a problem and willingness to change.
    It takes efforts to change yourself but with positive attitude it can be done.. The challenges of life offers a lot of opportunities and the outcome depends how you handle and manage them.

    We must learn from life experiences, good or bad, and bring positive changes to get the best out of it. Keep your life simple, easy with a positive attitude.

    Thanks every one for sharing your thoughts and good luck.

  14. Thank you for the advice. Bitterness is taking over my life. I cry everyday. Im hurt. I’ve hurt others. I dont know how to be friends or make a friend. Its bard to trust and its hard to love when all you know is hurt.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, Nadra. When you’re feeling this down and overwhelmed, I’d highly recommend that you get outside therapeutic help immediately. As a trained therapist, I know that we simply can’t navigate through these tough feelings all by ourselves. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve a problem on the level it was created.” There are numerous free or affordable therapeutic options in most communities – I’d suggest your reach out to your social services organization in your town today to get some empowering support to help you through these hard times. All best wishes.

  15. I also would refrane from using traits. I’ve also witnessed how life beats people down but what I have learned is that those who are able to overvome pratices refocusing on the good. All to often people focus on the negative which becomes the breeding ground for bitterness. Also you have to take responsibility for your response to life. Life happens to everybody but you dont have to let a season in life define you.

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