High performers, counter-intuitively, are more susceptible to bitterness. At the same time, high performers are the first to try to overcome bitterness. This is because they know bitterness can impact everything around them. If you do a quick search you’ll quickly find that forgiveness is the remedy that most prescribe for battling bitterness. But, I have to wonder if that’s the only cure. Or, if it’s the whole answer. In a prior post, we discussed what bitterness is and what causes it. In short, bitterness is smoldering repressed anger.
For this post, I interviewed a high performer that has found themselves bitter. We discussed how they got there, why they’re still there, and whether forgiveness is really the solution. He concludes with some insights on how to address bitterness beyond forgiveness.
Rather than speak in hypothetical scenarios, I want to offer perspective from someone who is a high performer, works in government, and admits that he’s bitter. I’ve agreed to protect his identity in return for his honesty.
What are you angry about?
I’m angry because I don’t feel heard. When I bring up ideas to make things better, it feels like my suggestions are ignored. I think I can bring a lot to the team. But, my expertise is ignored. As a result, I find myself not trying to help things improve. I get snarky and sarcastic.
What if I told you forgiveness is the answer?
I could see that. I’ve forgiven people before. I understand that people are overwhelmed. And, I can appreciate that people may be stressed out and unable to do anything with my suggestions. I might even be somewhat to blame – maybe I’m just not presenting my ideas well enough.
If you have forgiven the other person, are you still bitter?
I think that when I forgive someone, I do feel better for a while. When you look at the definition of forgiveness, it is the ability or willingness to ‘let go.’ To give a clean slate. To let go of negative feelings. So I think forgiveness is only a short term solution. Eventually I just become angry again. I think this is because I still feel stuck in the situation. I can’t change projects. Things don’t change.
So if forgiveness isn’t the whole answer, what do you think could help you recover from the bitterness?
The most simple cure to bitterness is to be able to remove myself from the situation. If I could change teams I could have a fresh start. Or, I have thought about getting a new job altogether. Unfortunately, that does not seem possible for me right now.
I think another way I could feel less bitter is if I felt like part of the team. If I felt like a valued member of the team and I could contribute, then I think I would be able to let go of some of my bitterness.
It is also helpful if everyone is upfront about what contributions each person will make. Right now, there’s no clear expectations set about that. As a result, I see so many opportunities where my expertise could help. Then I get disappointed or angry that I can’t do more. If I know that I can only impact one small part of a project – and I get to do that – then I would be less angry that I couldn’t impact more.
Greater awareness or openness about bitterness is also needed. In a way, bitterness is like an elephant in the room. When I started in this team, I didn’t realize that I was heading towards a path of bitterness. Sure, I got angry about things – but that’s because I care about the project. I didn’t know or see the warning signs of bitterness. And, looking back, I think sarcastic or snarky comments are an early sign.
If the warning signs of bitterness were better known, I think another cure is to develop coping mechanisms. With better coping mechanisms anger might not spill over or mature into bitterness. I’m not entirely sure what those coping mechanisms might be, but I think it would help if there were some.
Coping mechanisms when forgiveness isn’t the cure
The high performer offered some valuable insight into what bitterness might look like and why it happens. He also identified an important gap in helping high performers find ways to cope with their anger and frustration that comes with feeling limited in how much they can help.
What coping mechanisms do you use when you feel anger building? How do you prevent your anger from maturing into a smoldering sense of resentment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Let’s work together on bitterness
If you are a high performer and find yourself feeling increasingly more bitter and unsure what to do about it, I want to help. As you can see from the interview I had with the high performer, it isn’t about my giving you the answers to end your bitterness. The help I offer is to help you find the answers from within yourself on how to end the bitterness. As a high performer, I know you have the answer – you just don’t realize it yet.
Send me an email and let’s talk! DrDana at fedability.com
Check out our additional post on what Freud didn’t know about bitterness.