Resentments and What to Do with Them
Some people can spend hours dwelling on the wrongs done them, the injustices, the slights, the snubs, insults, indifferences, slurs, and just plain bad treatment. They can think of a particular instance and, sure as Pavlov’s dog, up comes the same feeling the original occurrence caused, and they get mad all over again. They hold onto their resentments with the same tenacity that dog’s hair might cling to a cashmere sweater.
Resent comes from the French word sentir, to feel or experience. To resent something or someone is to feel again the fear, the anger, the hurt, the humiliation, the pain of the original experience — real or imagined. Carried along with us, this feeling gets packed away in a bag labeled grudge or blame. It’s a bag full of judgments where other people are always wrong and at fault, and, after a while, it can make for a pretty heavy load.
“Of all the futile and destructive emotions to which human beings are prey, perhaps the most universal is resentment,” said Theodore Dalrymple in his essay, “The Uses of Resentment.” Resentment eats away at self-esteem and peace of mind. It replaces hope with bitterness and opportunities for growth with stagnation. If a person can blame someone else, then they don’t have to take responsibility for themselves.
Of course, we can’t always have control over what happened to us, especially if we were children, but we do have control on how we choose to respond to it today, and how we will deal with it.
A life filled with resentments chains the one who would be victim and stifles any change that could make life easier, more productive and joyful. “Resentments,” as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “keep us from the sunlight of the spirit.”
From one perspective, any time a resentment takes up emotional space, it indicates there’s something at issue that has not been resolved. Maybe the best thing is to slow down and try to see what part of is still trying to get your attention.
Getting rid of old resentments isn’t as easy as simply saying, “Resentment, be gone.” Judgments, the need to be right, not taking responsibility for certain actions or behaviors, a feeling of being special or entitled, vindictiveness or a need for revenge, a simple (or not so simple) misunderstanding, or an inability to forgive — all these might be in the way of releasing resentments.
Along with causing a “re-feeling” of the original emotion, resentments give a person an opportunity to re-look at the event or situation. Sometimes holding onto a resentment is a way of avoiding pain, and this re-looking can unlock the doors that have held it at bay.
How to deal with old resentments? Write them down; talk about them, not in a blaming way, but with a willingness to see all sides of the issue. Determine what the lessons are, what needs to be let go of, what needs more work. You may begin to see where empathy can create wholeness and where forgiveness can heal.