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?