The following is excerpted from a presentation, "Eliminating Resentment... Solidifying Recovery," given as part of The Meadows' Michigan Lecture Series on November 10, 2010, by Dan O'Neil, MALLP.
The word "resentment" has two parts: "re," which means "again," and "sentment," which is "to feel." So resentment is to feel again, or a feeling that is re-sent. Resentment is the internal revisiting of old wrongs or mistreatments. Resentment operates by mentally replaying, reliving, or reexperiencing actual or imagined injuries from the past. Resentment is the recycling of past anger, hurt, or pain. Resentment is a deep, reflective displeasure at the conduct of another.
Resentment is actually secondary to the original feeling. For example, if we are hurt by someone, we feel the hurt. Resentment begins when we replay, refeel, and remind ourselves of that original hurt. Resentment is fueled and fortified by errors in thinking. Assumption, justification, blaming, and playing victim are common thinking errors used to solidify resentment.
Resentment is then held onto, fostering increased bitterness and a grudge. Resentment takes on a life of its own and is often more severe than the original hurt. "I resent that" is more intense and threatening than "I feel hurt" or "I feel insulted."
There is an old story about two monks who meet up with a woman in their travels. One of the monks helps the woman across a river, even though monks are forbidden to touch females. The next day, the other monk bursts into a rage, exclaiming, "You should not have carried that woman across the river!" The other replied, "Perhaps I shouldn't have, but you are still carrying her." Resentment is hanging onto the anger inside.
Resentment can be collected at anytime from anywhere. Resentment can be born from others telling us what to do, how to run our lives, what we need, how we should act or feel, and what they think is best for us. Resentment can rise if we are lied to, abused, judged, falsely accused, or discriminated against. Resentment can be created when others abuse their power or deprive us of what we need.
When resentment harbors past anger, hurt, or pain, it impacts how we think, feel, and behave in the present. You may pout or fume. You may have a furrowed brow, gritted teeth, bodily aches and pains, or a fake smile. Resentment can be a factor in depression, sarcasm, cynicism, agitation, isolation, and lethargy. Appetite and sleep disturbances can be by-products of resentment. For those with addiction problems, cravings can arise from efforts to avoid or soothe the pain of harbored resentment.
Resentment happens when we continue to rent space in our heads to those we have worked so hard to evict. Resentment is self-torture. Resentment is like peeing your pants: No one is affected as much as you are.
Eliminating resentment is essential in developing a healthy attitude about yourself and your future successes. Eliminating resentment about the past will allow you to thoroughly enjoy the present.
Eliminating resentment will allow you to better ward off depression, fear, isolation, and other negative thoughts. Eliminating resentment can help keep you free of the mental traps that trigger escape into addictions.
Before resentment can be eliminated and possibly addressed with the offender, clarification is needed. The original feelings and underlying resentment have to be identified and described. This is best done by clearly writing about the original feelings. Asking three questions will help start the resentment clarification process:
Question #1: Why is it necessary for me to keep refeeling the original feeling?
You may be using resentment to replicate some family drama. You may be mentally confusing people in your present life with people in your past life. It is easier to harbor resentment than to feel insult, rejection, fear of inadequacy, or injury. Resentment gives an illusion of strength, and it seems to make you look better than others.
Question #2: How did I contribute to the situation?
You may have allowed it to happen. You may have made it worse. You may have been able to prevent the situation. Take a look at the other person's point of view (empathize). Admit if the fault is yours.Forgive if it is theirs.
Question #3: What did I learn from the situation?
Resentment will be there until you know your part and learn from it. Look for a positive lesson. The best time to learn about resentment is when feeling resentful. Resolution comes when feelings and understanding unite. When you fall down, pick something up.
While working to eliminate resentment, avoid collecting any new issues that could turn into resentment. When you feel hurt, slighted, etc., talk to the person in a timely manner. Begin sentences with "I feel" instead of "you did."
Keep resentment away by practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It is not forgetting, but letting go of hurt. Practice not keeping score; an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Live and let live. Tolerate your own mistakes.
Dan O'Neil, MALLP, is a therapist at the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Birmingham, Michigan. He has worked for more than 35 years with teens and adults in individual, group, and family therapy.