Another week, another ridiculous piece of advice from Dr. Laura. This time: smile! It makes everything better. This bit was taken from her youtube channel.
The question: I’m a bitter adult. I’m married to a great man and have four wonderful daughters. I spend every day trying to keep my bitterness from coming out and spilling onto my kids. I had a pretty sad childhood, was put on the streets at 17 because my mom was homeless and my father didn’t want me living with him. My husband had an ideal childhood, where he was loved, encouraged, downright spoiled and supported until he made his dreams come true. What do I do with all the anger I have? Whenever my husband’s family reminisces about growing up, they’re smiling and laughing, and I get so angry I just want to make them all feel bad. I want to scream out, “it’s not fair!” but I’m a grown-up, almost 40, so I keep it all inside. Please help me to stop this behavior. My husband doesn’t deserve a bitter wife, and my kids don’t need an angry mom.
Dr. Laura’s answer: Oh my gosh, I’m so amazed that it’s this far from your nose and you don’t see it. You had a crappy childhood, with people who were dysfunctional and couldn’t care less. And you found a man who was brought up in heaven, and he’s bringing the heaven to your doorstep, and instead of embracing it, you’re sort of resentful that you didn’t have it too, when now, you do. You have the heaven now. What’s to be bitter about?
My answer: There’s something to be said for learning to appreciate what you have – but that something is not “what’s to be bitter about?” The advice seeker is seeking advice, and instead she is being chided for not loving what she already has. This feels to me like the “stop being so sad all the time!” responses to “I’m really struggling.”
It’s not so easy to snap out of it, and when people are asking for help, telling them about the benefits of positive thinking can make things worse. Instead of discovering ways to cope, or to learn to accept things as they are, or to find the beauty in what they have, they feel guilty for not being able to figure something out that is “this far from your nose,” and are less likely to seek help the next time things get bad. Now, instead of just being bitter, she feels bitter and stupid for not being able to do what is supposed to be so easy.
You can’t change the past, yours or your husbands. What you can do is be open to your feelings, and communicate those feelings. Bitterness is incredibly powerful when it is kept inside, or when it is let out in short, poisonous bursts. It loses much of its power, though, when it’s out in the open. “I know you had an ideal childhood,” you can say to your husband, “and I’m happy to have been accepted into your life so I get to share in it. Sometimes it is overwhelming for me, and I may need to leave the room and lay down for a bit every once in awhile.” And bam! You have an out for when you feel like screaming, your husband understands you better, and you don’t have to sit there marinating in bitterness.
This may be easier said than done, and before you are able to talk about it openly, talk therapy can help you to figure out exactly what is painful about it for you, and why, in a safe, private space.
You know what you want – you want to let go of the anger. It isn’t going to disappear on its own. Getting it out into the open (whether with your family or in therapy) is the first step to letting go of it for good.