As we go on in life unfortunate things happen to us. Psychologist Albert Ellis (1962) described our reaction to such events this way: "we think. . . it is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be." Frequently individuals blame themselves for these damaging setbacks and outcomes of life and they become bitter in the process.
When untoward events occur, when individuals have done something that has produced an adverse effect, we should first determine if the circumstance can or cannot be changed. If it can be changed, then we can strive to improve, change or eradicate it. If it cannot be changed ,one should, in Ellis's terms, "philosophically accept or resign himself to their existence." Individuals suffering from bitterness could also focus on aspirations and goals that are attainable, and that would provide greater chance of success.
However, in dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and the ensuing bitterness, I strongly suggest a leap beyond Ellis; we should spiritualize our encounter with such happenings and, if relevant, the people who caused the adverse events to happen. Solomon, the writer of the Book of Proverbs, understood this: "The way of remembering wrongs is unto death". (Pv 12: 31). Spiritualizing these encounters requires patient re-framing of their meaning in our lives. "A longsuffering [patient] man is patient in endurance. But the fainthearted man is strongly without endurance." (Pv 14: 30).
The effects of the spiritual healing of the bitterness that results from encountering life's difficulties are described by our Eastern Church Father St. Isaac of Syria: "A time of trial is beneficial to everyone. . .the lax so they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness, those far from God, so that they may approach Him. . . ." As St. Paul told the Hebrews in his Epistle (12: 15), "See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled. . . ."
For many, the next couple of months are a time filled with the hustle and flurry of commercial, social and family events. Let us also set aside some time for spiritual reflection - focusing on our blessings rather than on the catastrophes that may have beset us. Overcoming our own bitterness can be a first step in bringing peace on earth to men of good will.
Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy : A Comprehensive Method of Treating Human Disturbances : Revised and Updated. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. Morelli is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is a Senior Fellow at the Sophia Institute, an independent Orthodox Advanced Research Association and Philanthropic Foundation housed at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City that serves as a gathering force for contemporary Orthodox scholars, theologians, spiritual teachers, and ethicists.
Fr. Morelli serves on the Executive Board of the San Diego Cognitive Behavior Therapy Consortium (SDCBTC)
Fr. Morelli serves as Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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