On Resentments

When I used to do workshop presentations, I would often ask participants “How many of you are holding a resentment at this time?” I would raise my own hand. Some would not raise theirs. I always found that hard to believe.

Harboring resentments is unfortunately all too human. We all have them. But at every level — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — they are also deadly in their negative energy.

Where do they come from? Usually a slight, a rejection, a harsh word or something even more harmful. We have a response of anger but then, rather than resolve the anger and move on, we hold onto it. We do this out of a desire to protect ourselves. The resentment becomes armor, an emotional weapon of mass destruction. In essence, the resentment says “You hurt me once but I will not allow you to get close so that you can do it again.”

Some years ago, a good friend, sensing my resentment issues with the Catholic Church, suggested an exercise where I would imagine myself watching a boat approaching a dock where I was sitting. As the boat got closer, the people on it would look familiar. As it docked, I would recognize that the boat carried everyone toward whom I held a resentment.

“Yeah, yeah” I thought. “I’ll probably have two, maybe three people on my boat.” I did the exercise, writing down names as they got off of the boat. I filled two columns of a legal pad and there were still people getting off!

Very humbling. Some of those people I hadn’t thought of in years. Yet when I saw them getting off the boat, I’d think “Oh yeah! There’s that SOB that did such and such to me 30 years ago” and the knot in my stomach would confirm the reality of that resentment.

Letting go of a resentment doesn’t mean that I am deciding to let that person back in my life. Rather, it is reclaiming power. When I resent someone, they still have power over me. When I release the resentment, I reclaim that power.

In those relationships which I value, resentments are especially dangerous. I have counseled with many, many couples who have allowed resentments to reach a toxic level that is destroying the relationship. In an intimate relationship, the couple must remain vigilant for resentments and clear them out.

Having said all this and knowing how poisonous resentments can be, do I have some today? Absolutely. For most if not all of us, addressing resentments never ends.

Reflection: What kind of resentments do you carry? How do they affect you and your relationships?



About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Resentments

  1. Andrew says:

    Good one, Pops. One question: What do we do after we see the people get off of the boat? Also, looks like a little misspelling towards the end. I think you been to say “How *do* they affect…” …It seems like most of the people on the list were people that I had trusted in some important way… Hmm. Love,Andy

    Date: Tue, 16 Feb 2016 16:45:55 +0000 To: inpassing@hotmail.com

  2. I carry lots of resentments—for not being loved, for not being seen, for being betrayed, for being abandoned and on and on. Recently, I was watching a DVD by one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle. He boiled down forgiveness to one simple phrase: Allowing someone to be exactly who they are. That doesn’t mean I have to approve of their behavior, or as you said, have them in my life, but they get to be who they are, and I get to be who I am—a wounded, broken person who has a lot of healing to do as a result of the way I’ve been hurt by others. I can act that wounding out in myriad ways or I can deal with the feelings caused by the hurt. The more I can feel the feelings, the less resentment I have, and the more I can let that person be who they are. For me, grief is the doorway to compassion. AND, I can hold compassion in my heart for someone who has hurt me and also stay as far away from them as possible in order to take care of myself.

  3. Chas Thomas says:

    This really hit home…thanks, Richard!

  4. Mary Muntel says:

    Good words. Noted happily that you explained letting go of resentments didn’t mean having to be back in that person’s life. I appreciate Carolyn’s advise too: allowing others to be who they are. It Reminds me of a line in “Ordinary People.” The therapist asked the boy, “Are you asking more of her than she is able to give? ” Years ago I heard a dear Jesuit say in his homily, “When you’ve been victimized you need to allow yourself time to heal.” Forgiveness and letting go are journeys themselves. Faith, hope and love ease those paths. Just having seen the film “Joy,” and going through a wretched ordeal with my own family of origin, I believe a benefit of resentment is perhaps acquiring the courage to walk away from the negativity and anquish of dysfunctional relationships. It may be easier to let go of such hurts than it is to be courageous enough to take care of oneself.

  5. afreslo says:

    We all have them. But at every level — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — they are also deadly in their negative energy. Where did you get this information?

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