Failure stings. So do difficult customers, hurt reputations, and punishing recessions. But bitterness only perpetuates the pain and can lead to greater losses.

I see it in clients all of the time. The blame, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness that accompanies a failed partnership or other difficult circumstance lead to disruptive emotions and fearful thinking. This is, of course, the kiss of death in business.

What are the signs of bitterness?

  • You're consistently externalizing blame. When you continue to criticize, judge, and point the finger at others years after an upsetting event, bitterness has probably set in.
  • You're hypersensitive. Bitter people often become touchy and upset by small incidents. They may be suspicious of others' intentions and have a difficult time trusting them.
  • You're regretful. Anger and bitterness make it difficult to take responsibility for your own actions without experiencing blame and regret. If you're stuck in a cycle of remorse and sadness there may be some unresolved bitterness lurking within.

Why is bitterness so damaging?

  • Stress hormones. The negative emotions attached to bitterness can influence stress responses and release the hormone cortisol. Chronically high levels of this hormone can affect the immune system and increase the odds of disease.
  • Warped reality. Holding on to negative emotions alters your perception of what is possible. A failed partnership may lead to the belief that no partnership can be successful; a downturn in the economy can result in a misguided belief that you have no control over the success or failure of your business.
  • Stasis. Bitterness may keep you stuck in something that's not working. I've seen people cling to their bitterness in such a way that it seems they are trying to get even with or prove a point to the offending person. These people become resistant to change and remain attached to a failing business model for fear of letting the other person off the hook.

How can bitterness be resolved?

  • Forgive them. It may seem impossible to forgive the betrayal or selfish behavior of another, but I've helped countless people through the process. This always leads to the development of a healthier, happier entrepreneur and greater success in life and business. When bitterness lessens its grip, you can focus on other, more positive parts of your life and career. To initiate the process of forgiveness, explore the fact that continued anger and resentment hurt only you, your loved ones, and your business. You give away your power when you allow undeserving individuals and their actions to take up space in your head. Also remember that your intent is to forgive the actions of others, not condone them.
  • Take responsibility. Taking responsibility for your own actions, past and present, will stop the cycle of blame. This goes a long way in the bitterness-recovery process.
  • Be productive. Recognize when you're engaging in vengeful fantasies and turn your thoughts to something more uplifting or productive.
  • Shift your perspective. Lastly, discuss your feelings and viewpoints with a professional, objective third party, like your coach. There are many tools available to you that will make it easier to let go of the past and take on a fresh, healthy perspective.