“Nothing consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
We all experience anger, which comes out in various ways such as: envy, jealousy, bitterness, rage, loathing, impatience and even…self-pity. The response to it varies from person to person. There are some who try to avoid anger at all costs – quite literally “refusing to be angry”, to the extent of refusing to acknowledge it to anyone including themselves; There are those who’s response is not to ignore it, but rather to be willfully defiant of its power, by shoving it down to the extent that they become sick from it; There are those who upon feeling anger, demonstrate a controlled affect by an overt expression of “calm”, through both their physical gestures and vocal tone – in an effort to maintain emotional order; Still again, there are those on the other end of the spectrum that when they feel anger, it is embraced and then expelled in rage filled outbursts, (verbal and/or physical), upon whomever may or may not be present to experience it.
“Whatever is begun in anger… ends in shame” ~ Benjamin Franklin
We have all known someone who fits one or more of these descriptions. In fact, we’ve experienced at least one of these reactions ourselves. All of these forms of anger are rooted in resentment and they all have a few things in common:
So let’s take a look at this word resentment, which is defined as: the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person, etc… regarded as causing injury or insult. It comes from the Latin prefix (re) which means again (as to repeat) and (sentire) which means to feel. When we experience resentment we are actually “re-playing” in our mind, what angered us and “re-feeling” that experience. The reason for re-playing and re-feeling is actually an attempt to change something that has already occurred – which of course can’t happen because we are not able to change the past. This person can find themselves then caught up in a mental “loop” of sorts, where the event is played over and over in the mind, (often with varying scenarios), ultimately resulting in no real change – and therefore no real relief. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes resentment as “the number one offender that destroys more alcoholics than anything else” and we can see with this description why this would be the case, as alcohol would provide an outside means to stop the tape from playing or leading one to have an altercation in an effort to resolve or gain relief from the emotion being experienced.
“Bitterness and resentment only hurt one person, and it’s not the person we’re resenting ~ it’s us” ~ Alana Stewart
As human beings we can’t rid ourselves of experiencing resentment – so how are we to manage them in a healthy way? Did God give us the ability to resent, and if yes – Why? AND…Is there any good that can come from resentment?
I will begin with whether God gave us the ability to resent: I believe that God created mankind with certain instinctual emotions in place – one of them being the ability to have “resentment”. The reason for this instinct was: (A) To insure that our survival needs would be met and (B) To make us competitive and strive to achieve success. An example for each is:
(A) A new mother is often very tired. The newborn may need to eat, have diaper changed, be burped or just be held. This newborn is not going to take into consideration mom’s need to rest, but is instead going to begin to cry and continue to become more frantic until its needs are met. The instinctual emotion of resentment is in place to insure that the baby’s needs are met, because it has no means of caring for itself or of communicating its needs verbally.
(B) Two people go for a job interview – one is extremely qualified and believes the job is theirs and therefore doesn’t prepare any further, the other applicant is less qualified and therefore prepares a great deal. They both interview and the less qualified applicant that prepared got the job. The one who didn’t get the job realizes that their loss was due to pride and a lack of preparation and now is more determined than ever to be ready for the next interview.
The good that comes from resentment is that when it is used as intended, it causes us to do better, be better and achieve more in our lives. But knowing this does not mean we know “how” to manage our resentments so that we get the positive results rather than the negative ones that are so often experienced. Before we can have a solution, we must first have a full understanding of the problem. At this point we’ve discussed how the ability to resent is an emotional instinct given by God for the purpose of survival and to make us competitive so our lives can be successful and rewarding. The problem that arises however is that when we operate solely out of our instinct (or “self”), without something to balance it, conflicts will arise. That balance that we are in need of comes from God. God’s traits, (spiritual attributes), are that of: love, tolerance and patience. Attaining these attributes of God can only be achieved by growing in relationship and connection with God.
Example: If I am running low on gas and my gas light is on, I can continue driving. When my car begins sputtering I can still continue driving, but at some point if I don’t go outside of my car to get more gas put into my car…I will cease being able to drive it.
We are able to use our intellect to deal with resentments that occur in our daily lives, (in various forms), but there will always come a point where what we bring to the table isn’t enough. This is especially true with the deeper layers of anger that remind us of much older hurts that were never resolved. In fact, there are hurts that we often don’t want to let go of, even though they cause us unhappiness or even misery. Often this unwillingness to let go is because of having had a lack of validation regarding wrongs that were done, resulting in feelings that wemust keep the memory of it alive, thereby preventing the one who caused the hurt to somehow get “off the hook”. In many cases, that old wrong has been played in the mind so many times that it’s become a distorted way of trying to win a battle that has long been over and gone… but there seems no other known way to deal with it.
The actress Carrie Fisher had this to say: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”
Anger is funny that way: On one hand, it is quite provocative and titillating, in that the re-playing and re-feeling of resentment can affect us so deeply. It’s as if one is able to hold on to a past moment and not allow time to steal it – resulting in a feeling of having defied time itself, and allowing a feeling of being in control. On the other hand, it eventually takes up so much space in the mind that it actually interferes with emotions, relationships with others and our own wellbeing. At the point that a person becomes aware that this is happening and attempts to stop dwelling on the resentment, they may find themselves unable to do so. In fact this often leads to developing self-resentment, (due having dwelled so much upon the many scenarios of what “could have been said, but wasn’t” and “should have been done, but wasn’t”), resulting in regret for having not done these things. This pathway of thought ultimately ends in self-pity, resulting in a sense of failure and a belief that sharing this with others would do no good “because they would never understand” – all culminating in feelings of loneliness and isolation from the pain being felt. THIS is the moment, when anger has indeed become an addiction.
ADDICTION is defined as a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.
A quote that I feel best summarizes this state of being goes like this:
“Anger is one letter short of DANGER” ~ Unknown Author
So this brings us to the final question still left to answer: “How are we to manage resentment(s) in a healthy way?” I know that personally my greatest and most exhausting battles have occurred on a very small sized battlefield that rests between my ears. I inevitably would, (and sometimes still will), wrestle with them as described above, until I’ve nothing left to fight with, leading me then to surrender that memory, that emotion, that moment in time that can never be reversed or redone…to the one who made me ~ my Creator.
One person who surely had reason for resentment in every form, yet found freedom had this to say:
“Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. My life was without past or future; death, the pessimist would say, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought, and love and joy and hope came up in a passion of obedience to knowledge. Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?”
You know, when a painter creates a masterpiece, they are the ONLY ONE who knows the true meaning and depth of that work of art. The reason for this is that they are the creator of this work, they put themselves into it and they know it like no one else can. Now, if something happens to that painting, there are those who are quite skilled in repair work…but who is the ONLY ONE that can restore it with all of the integrity and perfection that is needed? It is…the artist who created it. In my own life there were hurts that resulted in a good many self-destructive behaviors, (all rooted in unresolved anger), resulting in years of counseling and therapy. While I was blessed with many talented professionals who provided so much help and support, not one issue was ever fully dealt with and removed until I involved the One who created me, and that is because only my Creator knew me better than anyone else, (including myself), and could restore me with all the integrity and beauty He had made me with.
© 2015 Rebecca Balko