I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I acquired the tendency to be bitter at times. The reason I’m not sure of the timeframe is that it either happened at a very young age, or it snuck up on me gradually, or perhaps both. It’s kind of like the line in the song by Crash Test Dummies “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” – “it’s always just been there” (link to video at the bottom of the post).
As if the timetable isn’t confusing enough, there’s also the bewildering ebb and flow of thoughts and emotions that accompany this phenomenon…
Thoughts that comprise the fundamental foundation of the issue, such as, toward whom do I get bitter? That in itself is sometimes a mystery. No particular face or image pops into my mind. It’s as if I’m bitter toward no-one, but bitter toward the world at the same time. So, when I feel bitter, it spreads unchanneled, throughout the world at large, in an ugly, scratchy, vague blanket.
Emotions that rise and retreat like tidal rhythms. Surges and fallbacks that come seemingly out of nowhere, that I may not be equipped or prepared to handle on a particular day.
Realizing that I’m autistic/an Aspie has certainly explained some of the underlying roots: throughout my life, it has seemed as though everyone around me, even those on whom I relied upon for love and support, seemed to be pushing me toward a compliance with a foreign, alien model, attempting to instill within me concepts, values, and behaviors that didn’t come naturally or even jive with who I am. Accomplishments and characteristics that I thought were important were downplayed, and those I felt were irrelevant were emphasized with high importance/regard/priority. As a result, I spent much of my childhood, adolescent, and adult life inwardly screaming an intermittent combination of “don’t you see?!” or “don’t you care?!”, and “who cares?!”
Because of the disproportionate numbers between my neurotype and theirs, I felt a constant theme of Me Against The World. I felt like Atlas, and my shoulders were getting tired. In my native Texan dialectical terms, I was fixin’ to shrug.
The process of learning how to construct a Presentable Me to the rest of the world has thus far been lifelong. It has also been arduous. I’ve gradually woken up to the fact that perhaps part of the reason I’ve unknowingly cultivated this bitterness is that I’ve often perceived bmy efforts as pointless, in a couple of ways.
First, my efforts have been initiated and carried out with a sense of “OK, fine, if you insist”, but I never felt the inherent need to change on my own. My attempt to do so was largely motivated by the desire to avoid the pain caused by the disapproval (and exclusion, punishment, and other negative effects) from others, but not because I had seen the need to make these changes. Only after initially showing my pure unadulterated self to the world did I receive the message that somehow, I wasn’t acceptable as-is, in my natural form.
That stung. And internally, I fought against it at first. No, dammit! What’s wrong with being this way? I’m not doing anything wrong!!
The second reason that I found these self-contorting efforts futile and pointless is that those efforts did not seem to be appreciated. In my pre-Asperger’s-discovery days, I didn’t realize how hard I’d had to labor in order to build that Publicly Acceptable Me, but I must have felt it on some level, because I slowly grew bitter for reasons I couldn’t identify or explain. However, looking back, I can see that it was likely a product of the world’s attitude (as I perceived it) toward my hard work. I felt as if the world was responding to it with an appreciation-less, self-satisfied, begrudging, harrumphed “all right, then. That’s better”. That minimal approval struck me with a sting of its own, coming across as both forced and insincere.
The world had won, and I had lost…again.
The years of enduring this vibe have had a cumulative effect. A sludge of bitterness and resentment interwove, thickened, and eventually solidified into a hardened wall. And it was destined and constructed to be there for the long haul.
The worst part is, that wall is toxic, and it wouldn’t be the world that would feel those effects; that would fall on me. Again. Like a gift you never wanted that won’t let you forget its presence. It always makes itself known–visible and palpable.
Overcoming all of this bitterness involves chiseling away at that wall, which is no easy feat. That in itself is a process, with a steep learning curve.
Is it even possible to break down that wall into a pile of rubble and let the sun rays poke through? I’m not sure yet (that whole “process” thing, after all), but I hope so, for my own good. The wall is hard and stubborn, but so am I. Maybe that stubbornness, which had always been framed by others in a negative light, may actually ultimately prove to be an asset. Once again proving the fact that the world at large, despite its massive numbers and unyielding consensus, isn’t always right.
The first step is the gain, gathering, and accumulation of knowledge and insight about oneself. This part is “easy” in comparison to the others, but it, too, does not happen overnight or on its own. Gathering this knowledge and insight has a learning curve of its own. I ended up surfing the web in the truest sense, riding the waves of interlinked terms and definitions from one website to another, embarking on a journey so elaborate and twisty-windy that heaven forbid my web browser crashed – I wouldn’t have been able to retrace my steps.
The watery currents of emotions became random and tumultuous at times. There were times when emotion staged a coup against the elected ruling class of Logic and sometimes even entirely overthrew it, even if only temporarily.
In case the first step wasn’t tough enough, the second step has proven even more challenging: letting go and moving on. This whole forgiveness thing that I recently wrote about is indeed much easier said than done. It’s hard enough to even consider forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply and on a long-term basis, especially when it started at a young and vulnerable, formative age. Taking the concept of forgiveness global, has proven to be even more nebulous and confusing to me. If the animosity one feels isn’t directed toward an entity with a name and face, but is instead seen everywhere and nowhere at once, how can one pin it down and consolidate it into something tangible toward which we can direct those peacemaking efforts?
And how can one make progress in this process when the world continues to reopen the wounds and add fuel to fires with ever-additional negative experiences? For not only have the world’s behaviors and actions and news headlines not changed (except to further add and accumulate), they continue to perpetuate every day. How does one try to work past that? How does one try to heal when they’re still sustaining fresh and additional wounds?
Letting go of–and moving on from–past (and present) insults to our systems and psyches is crucial for our own wellbeing. But again, it’s a whole lot easier said than done. And those who advocate it, complete with genuine intentions, often forget–or may not even realize–that the acts of letting go and moving on have their own prerequisite: the transcendence of the negative feelings surrounding the memories and fresh experiences.
This “transcendence” thing is an advanced, hard-learned skill, and until one is fairly well-practiced and efficient at it (and ideally, also comfortable with the activity itself), the ideas of forgiving, letting go, and moving on are impossible pipe dreams. It’s like being asked to do calculus without anyone having taught you how to multiply.
Transcendence in itself involves a few sub steps, such as an archeological digging up of those memories (as applicable) and their associated emotions, staring them down, and making it clear that they’re not the boss of us. This activity alone can be traumatic, as our nervous systems recreate the past events and their re-processing can make it feel like it’s happening to us all over again.
Then, somehow, we would have to come to grips with what happened and how we felt. For some, that includes giving ourselves permission to have those feelings in the first place, whereas for others, permission was not an issue.
Coming to grips with, reaching acceptance of, and processing those feelings requires a deep, direct, and honest examination of what happened and why we feel what we feel. This may or may not be complicated by the existence of alexithymia, since alexithymia can be selective as opposed to pervasive. If it’s there, though, that can add another hurdle to the process. Sometimes we’ll be able to identify the feeling easily, and sometimes we won’t. Doing our best with what we’ve got is all that we can ask of ourselves. And it’s all anyone else can ask of us, too. Sometimes other people forget that. Or perhaps, sometimes, it is conveniently overlooked or ignored.
And it’s OK to resent those people, the ones who demand(ed) the impossible, the ones who shamed and punished us when we couldn’t magically make it happen, the ones who made fun of us for simply being who we were or outcast us for simply being different…and being honest about being different, showing the world our unadulterated selves. It’s OK to be angry at that. It’s OK to be bitter toward it. It’s OK to want to argue with them, to protest against their demands and measurement system. It’s OK to want to fight back, even retroactively, decades later, in your head. Replaying the incidents, despite the often-intense pain level, can be helpful in the long run. Although I recommend taking on these tasks on an emotionally stronger day, they often strike us during our more vulnerable moments.
As difficult as it may seem (and no, I’m not advocating aligning oneself with one’s perpetrators), I try my best to empathize on a human being level, remembering (sometimes with difficulty) that at any given time, each person is doing the best they can with the (sometimes shitty) tools they have. If they’re cruel, it might be because that’s what they know (and it may be all they know, from their own upbringing), or perhaps, like my own father, they were harboring and battling with internal demons of their own that they lacked the tools or personal insight to handle effectively and that negative energy has to be released somehow. Too-often, unfortunately, this built-up angst comes out sideways, directed at the very people who are least equipped to fight back and stand on their own. Sometimes the scenario involves a crappy parent and an innocent, vulnerable child. Other times, the scenario is one of a classroom, where the class gangs up on the shy, vulnerable quiet kid whose only crime was to be different from the rest and unable to hide those differences or defend themselves.
It’s OK to feel weak. It’s OK to feel victimized. It’s not OK to be victimized; the bullying behavior itself is atrocious and dead wrong. But it’s not wrong to feel the way you feel. You’re allowed and entitled.
It may (or may not) be helpful to understand that bullying behavior, whether on the part of a shitty parent or an aggressive united class, is in itself a sign of weakness, combined with a disposition of aggression. It may come across as strength, but that’s only an illusion; truly strong people are comfortable enough with who they are, without the need to perpetuate aggression against someone smaller or quieter. Only a compromised person does that.
Once I realized that the people victimizing me were actually inadequate in their own eyes, I reached an understanding. That doesn’t excuse their behavior (it’s inexcusable, period), nor does it make it OK (it never is), nor does it mean that we deserved it (we never did), nor does it absolve them of their responsibility for their actions (they still have to pay karmically for what they did). It doesn’t mean any of us has to kiss and make up with those perpetrators (we don’t). They don’t deserve to be let off the hook, and transcendence and forgiveness and all that are not about letting them off the hook.
Instead, it means I’m taking my life back. After all, it’s mine and no one else’s. It means I’m staring those memories down and saying, “yeah, it happened. It was wrong, very wrong. But I’m not holding onto it anymore. It’s not mine; it’s theirs. I’m returning the ball (although I don’t like sports analogies, they work for this purpose), and I’m heaping their crap back on them, where it belongs.”
Early stages of transcendence often take on a semi-retaliatory flavor, and if that needs to happen in order for us to be able to take the next step, then so be it. There’s no shame in that. After all, we’re human, too. And this is a Shame-Free Zone, in terms of one’s personal feelings and experiences.
I believe that it’s important not to stop there, though. Vengeance may serve a constructive, positive purpose as an intermediate step if the forgiveness, transcendence, Letting Go and Moving On concepts are too foreign, too far out of reach, or too tall a hurdle to scale at once. I think it’s fine to stay in the more-vengeful stage for a while, and we should take as long as we need to without attempting to hurry the process along prematurely.
All the while, however, the ultimate goal that we should maintain sight of is one of simply shoving the memories and feelings off of ourselves without necessarily lobbing them back in the assailant’s direction. Their faces may be vivid at first, but should fade to the sidelines over time so that the chains can truly be broken and our spirits truly set free, having truly been healed.
Bitterness is natural. It’s OK to feel it. It’s common to harbor it. It’s also toxic; it doesn’t hurt them, it hurts us. Again. And again. Do we deserve such a life sentence, especially when we were the innocent party to begin with?
I’m not completely over my own bitterness and pain, not by a long shot. I’m not going to parade and pretend that I am, and I’m not even 100% sure that I ever will be. Mine ebbs and flows. Sure, I can talk a big game about Letting Go and Moving On one day, only to rant about a fresh new wound the next. It happens; it’s life. And it’s OK. I can’t say that I’m perfect. (Who is?) But I can say that I’m trying. 🙂
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Similar/Related Posts and Links (in the interest of helping further):
“(My) Asperger’s / Autism and Resentment” – January 10, 2017
“The Wrong Planet” – January 30, 2017
“Shedding” – March 13, 2017
“Most People Don’t Practice Autism Acceptance” – June 17, 2016
“They Thought I Was Lazy…When I Was Just Actually Autistic” – September 18, 2016
“Dear World: Please Withhold / Reserve Judgment. Thank You ~ One Autistic Person” – February 26, 2017
“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies [Official Video]” – YouTube (video)
(Image Credit: Moon-Eyed Wolf)