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R is for Resentment

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves - at what we did or did not do. Resentment is anger directed at others - at what they did or did not do.” Peter McWilliams

Resentment is a negative emotion that can be experienced when you feel wronged or feel that something has not happened as you think it should and you are unable to let that feeling go. The word resentment originates from ‘ressentir’ (French) meaning ‘to feel’ or ‘to be affected by’; from the Latin ‘sentire’. In English, the word has become synonymous with holding a grudge and feelings of anger etc.

Life is so varied and unpredictable that it is certain that we have all been disappointed or frustrated with how something has turned out or about something that has happened in our lives. This is normal and natural but when we hold on to this feeling that we have been ‘hard done by’ or ‘ill-treated’ then it can affect our health and our relationships.

Resentment can harbour a mix of emotions – anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, hostility, illogicality...

Resentment can be triggered because of a variety of reasons.

We can harbour resentment towards others – whether it is a feeling of being badly treated or perhaps that we are ‘owed’ an apology, or even we can resent a loved one that is ill etc.

We can also harbour resentment towards circumstances that have or are currently happening to us, e.g. we can become resentful if we perceive we have too much responsibility, that a scenario has ‘robbed us’ of a chance to do something etc

“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn't change the heart of others-- it only changes yours.” Shannon Alder

Resentment is the result of an inability to let go and forgive that or those we perceive as having harmed us in some way. Holding on to resentment can breed illogicality and those who are blinded by anger and resentment look for revenge not healing.

Just just like anger, the more resentment builds, the more it negatively impacts our own lives and health and those lives around us; it can affect one’s ability to make decisions and it is possible to become completely overwhelmed with anger or hate to such a degree that even when it becomes an act of self harm it can be impossible to change direction and can lead to terrible consequences.

“I eventually came to understand that in harbouring the anger, the bitterness and resentment towards those that had hurt me, I was giving the reins of control over to them. Forgiving was not about accepting their words and deeds. Forgiving was about letting go and moving on with my life. In doing so, I had finally set myself free.” Isabel Lopez

When unfortunate things happen or things don’t go our way, it is essential to come to some form of acceptance about what has or hasn’t happened and then direct our energies towards changing our attitudes and constructive actions that will develop resilience, move a situation on and give us a sense of peace.

How do we know we are resentful?

There are often very clear tell-tale signs when someone is holding on to resentment.

These include:

  • recurring feelings of strong emotion – often anger – when thinking about or describing an experience

  • repeating the same story over and over to anyone that will listen without any sign of progress or change over time

  • keeping score of wrongs done

  • dragging things up from the past as ammunition in a current discussion

  • bringing conversations around to the same subject repeatedly

  • not missing an opportunity to remind others how wronged they have been

  • tunnel vision – unable to see other’s point of view

  • some avoid conflict while others deliberately exacerbate it

  • a feeling that life is unfair, that things ‘shouldn’t have happened’ etc

  • speaking like a victim

So how can we let go of resentment?

There is no ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ in the world. Things are as they are. You can either strive to change those things that are in your control and are your responsibility or you have to learn to accept them if they are not, perhaps allowing yourself to become vulnerable, asking for help, voicing your fears and concerns and/or avoiding scenarios or people that you find difficult to be around and are a drain to your energy.

“Beware of those who are bitter, for they will never allow you to enjoy your fruit.”

Suzy Kassem

It also serves little purpose to resent a scenario that you have the power to change, if you choose not to make any effort to do so.

“At the heart of all anger, all grudges, and all resentment, you'll always find a fear that hopes to stay anonymous.” Donald L. Hicks

Communication is key. Resentment often originates because of a lack of communication, fear, misinterpretation of events or not setting clear boundaries. Rather than discuss and explain feelings and looking for constructive solutions, people can feel victimised and become angry and this is when grudges fester. Resentment can destroy relationships; communication is a step towards openness and healing.

In contrast, when others seek to understand how you feel and can at least entertain the idea that you have felt a certain way whether they understand it or not (and perhaps offer a genuine apology where appropriate for their part) or when someone realises that they have completely misinterpreted an event, then resentment can leave as quickly as it arrived rather than becoming a persistent, damaging emotion

People are all different and as such react differently. Some hold major grudges for years over a trifle e.g. a look, an ill-judged comment etc whereas others can (understandably) hold grudges for a more serious sense of injustice e.g. long-term physical or mental abuse. The problem with any sense of resentment, is that if we don’t learn to come to terms with what has happened it can skew our perception of life and will negatively impact upon our happiness, our health and our relationships.

“The worst resentment that anybody can have is one you feel justified to keep.”

Louis Gossett, Jr.

There is no justification for holding on to resentment. Instead it is more useful to ask ourselves whether holding resentment is in alignment with being the person that we want to be or the values that we hold.

“Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.” Joan Lunden

Holding on to negativity like resentment will take a toll on your mental and physical health. The chemistry of one’s brain changes when angry; chemicals (catecholamines) are released causing a burst of energy and your body’s muscles tense up. This heightened body state is the adrenaline push used behind the desire to take knee-jerk action, but when we operate from an emotional response we do not always make the best decisions. The body does not have the energy to stay in this heightened state for ever without having a detrimental impact on our health.

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.”

Dale Carnegie

Deep-seated resentment can also be seen within individuals in power and groups leading to racism, religious persecution and as we are currently experiencing it can lead to leaders wanting revenge and starting a war. Resentment and feelings of anger and rage can give a false sense of impunity, power and strength which can become dangerous if left unchecked. Feelings of resentment can grow, turning into hatred and manifest in a ‘tunnel-vision’ mentality for revenge.

“Let today be the day you stop being haunted by the ghost of yesterday. Holding a grudge & harbouring anger/resentment is poison to the soul. Get even with people...but not those who have hurt us, forget them, instead get even with those who have helped us.” Steve Maraboli

Forgiveness is essential to dissipate resentment.; both forgiveness of yourself and forgiveness of others. When we try and apply compassion and kindness instead of resentment, we open the door to communication and healing. We can also use techniques like defusion and mindfulness.

“Without forgiveness life is governed by... an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” Roberto Assagioli

When we take time to look at things from different perspectives then it helps us understand why things happened as they did or people act like they do and we can develop empathy skills and learn not to take things personally or make assumptions which makes it easier to move forward.

The idea of intentionally changing our perspective is important because where we focus our attention we will compound our awareness. If we focus on the negative we will see negative whereas if we look for the positive in a situation and develop an attitude of gratitude for what we do have then this has a positive knock on effect on our health, our lives and our relationships.

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.” Henri Nouwen

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