Paulo Coelho on Bitterness: a reply to the post and the the comments

Paulo Coelho wrote an incredibly beautiful book: Veronica decides to die. One that is absolutely one of my favorites because it so much deals with the importance of love. Based on the book he wrote the following post which caused a lot of comments:

Paulo Coelho

In my book “Veronika decides to die”, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital, the director develops a theory about an undetectable poison which contaminates the organism over the years: vitriol.

Veronika Decides to Die
Like the libido – the sexual liquid that Dr. Freud had recognized, but no laboratory had ever been able to isolate – vitriol is distilled by the organisms of human beings who are in a state of fear. Most of the people affected identify its taste, which is neither sweet nor salty, but bitter. That’s why depressions are intrinsically associated to the word Bitterness.

All beings have Bitterness in their organism – to a greater or lesser degree – in the same way that almost all of us have the tuberculosis bacillus. However, these two diseases only attack when the patient is debilitated; in the case of Bitterness, the terrain for the disease to arise appears when we are afraid of the so-called “reality”.

Certain people, in their anxiety to build a world where no outside threat could penetrate, increase exaggeratedly their defenses against the outside – strangers, new places, different experiences – and leave the inside unprotected. It is then that Bitterness begins to cause irreversible harm.

The main target of Bitterness (or Vitriol, as the doctor of my book preferred) is desire. People attacked by this evil begin losing their desire for everything and in a few years are unable to go outside their world – because they have used up enormous energy reserves building high walls for the reality to be what they wanted it to be.

When avoiding outside attack, they also limit internal growth. They continue going to work, watching television, complaining about the traffic and having children, but all that happens automatically, without really understanding why they are behaving like that – after all, everything is under control.

The great problem of poisoning by Bitterness lies in the fact that passions – hate, love, despair, enthusiasm and curiosity – also don’t appear any more. After some time, the bitter person has no more desire. They had no more will even to live, or to die; that was the problem.

For that reason, for bitter people, heroes and madmen are always fascinating: they are not afraid to live or die. Both heroes and madmen are indifferent in the face of danger and go on ahead in spite of everyone saying not to do so. The madman commits suicide, the hero offers himself up to martyrdom for a cause – but both die, and bitter people spend many nights and days talking about the absurdness and glory of the two types. That is the only moment when the bitter person has the strength to reach the top of his defensive wall and look outside a little; but soon his hands and feet tire and he returns to daily life.

The chronically bitter person only notices his disease once a week: on Sunday afternoons. Then, as he has no work or routine to relieve the symptoms, he realizes that something is very wrong.

I can’t help but thinking that bitterness comes not so much from your circumstances but underlying that from being turned away from God, trying to make your own plans with all the human effort that takes as opposed to living the plan that God had and still has in mind for you. And are we not just great at turning it around: we make plans, ask for His blessing and then whe it does not work out the way we planned it we blame God for not listening.

I say this because I have been there and regularly I still am. I am far from perfect when it comes to that, but have found that once I started listening to what God had in mind for me as opposed to what I had in mind for God things started to change.

When the Dalai Lama laughs out loud it is for similar reasons, the bitterness,the anxieties and all the chemical formulas that come with that as a result of the laws of nature, have one underlying source, which is that we still tend to place ourselves on the throne of out lives.

Whatever it is that is causing your bitterness, depressions, anxieties, it is in my view related to what I said before: placing yourself in the center, placing yourself on the throne. Whether you look at it from the Dalai Lama’s point of view or God’s point of view (as far as I understand it), what it boils down to is Love an Compassion. And “love” to be understood here as outward directed and not so much affection. Both require that you start living in the here and now and that you stop dwelling in the past (hence the compassion component, which implies forgiveness)with a positive attitude towards the future (faith). And if things don’t work out: perhaps it is because you are focusing on the wrong things, they may be great according to your plan but that does not necessarily imply that they are great according to God’s plan for you.

I may be completely off the mark here but that is how I understand my own decades of bitterness. And guess what; it changed on the spot when I allowed God in my life again, when we discussed his plan for me, when we re-established the relation, that was meant to be in any event. I know I know, that implies belief in a personal God, and my response is that there actually is such a personal God if you let him.

Does this mean life will be easy from there on? Far from that in my case. Bit at the same time it is striking how the lows get shorter, the highs get longer and most of all since God’s plan an mine are getting aligned better and better I am getting the results, work wise, on a physical, mental and spiritual level.

I am not here to tell you anything just what worked for me.

And for those that need some comfort perhaps here one Psalm that keeps me going (Psalm 23):

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

All I can say is that it works for me.

Love and blessings to all of you.

Buy the book at Fishpond here:

Veronika Decides to Die

A dramatic story of love, life and death that shows us all why every second of our existence is a choice we all make between living and dying. Veronika has everything she could wish for. She is young and pretty, has plenty of boyfriends, a steady job, a loving family. Yet she is not happy; something is lacking in her life, and one morning she decides to die. She takes an overdose of sleeping pills, only to wake up some time later in the local hospital. There she is told that her heart is damaged and she has only a few days to live. The story follows Veronika through these intense days as to her surprise she finds herself experiencing feelings she has never really felt before. Against all odds she finds herself falling in love and even wanting to live again!


‘Coelho’s writing is beautifully poetic but his message is what counts! he gives me hope and puts a smile on my face’ DAILY EXPRESS ‘

His books have had a life-enhancing impact on millions of people’ THE TIMES ‘One of the few to deserve the term “Publishing Phenomenon”‘ THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

Or perhaps just consider buying the bible first. It’s available here:

NIV Gift Bible

What are your thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Paulo Coelho on Bitterness: a reply to the post and the the comments

  1. Thank you.

    I am hooked!
    “Veronika decides to die “is a life’s transforming experience through love.

    On photography- I like the comparison of using a “mobile phone” as a main device was the idea of making your weakness into strength”

    • Hi Marie Christine,

      Thank you for you kind comments, and most certainly Veronika decides to die got me thinking about my own life.

      As for the mobile phone that is indeed what it is making your weakness into a strength. In fact I have tried to get the same results with real cameras and it just won’t work. I could imagine that buying a very old digital camera with low resolutions would give the same results or setting your camera to the lowest quality. In fact that is an idea! Sorry need to be off now to try that out, thank you!

      Do you have a blog I could visit and read?




  3. Hi John,
    Hope your photo session was good. It is amazing what you discover!
    No, I do not have a blog, all my comments are onto Paulo Coelho’s blog. … One day….
    Your blog looks very nice.
    I’ll come back and read more of your posts later.

  4. For me Psalm 23 is the answer of bitterness, because your rod und stuff, that is something to hold firm, comfort me.
    I learned this psalm and keep it.

    Greatings to Paulo 😀


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