Over that past couple of years, I have thought a lot about resentment. The subject of resentment has been something I have heard tossed around for so much of my life but didn't give it much thought. My thinking towards resentment sounded like this, "So what's the big deal? Isn't it normal?" I have found that yes it is normal and the effects of it are powerfully toxic.
I know resentment well. Not that I have figured it out. Rather, I have lived with resentments so long that I know the damage it has done to me. A few years ago, I experienced pain from a group of people. I felt as though there were legitimate wrongs. I had all the data and story to support the great "harms" inflicted to me. I felt hurt and the hurt was consuming. I couldn't shake the facts that "they" did this to "me". I was consumed with a "how dare they?" mentality. What I didn't realize at the time was that my hurt transformed into resentment almost instantly and covertly. This is in part due to my own character defects. It is much like using a compass. If you don't account for the difference of magnetic north vs true north you will end up off course. In the case of my resentments, I have to account for my own part in the relationship. This is so difficult to do when we feel like we are the victim and close ourselves off to examining our own lives. Resentments can be blinding.
The problem is that holding onto resentments actually feels good for a while. I get to feel angry and in control. It feels good to be mad and hold it against these people. My resentments fuel the drug of control. Sadly, this control is really a delusion.
The reality is this: resentments are like a cancer that metasitisizes unless it gets treated immediately. It is a spiritual disease in that we can't see nor heal on our own due to our own ego. It goes hand in hand with judgment and I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 7:3 that states, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Resentments keep us from seeing ourselves and our part in the story.
The most toxic resentments are those "justifiable" resentments. These justified resentments are so hard to shake. We do in fact have legitimate reasons and they make sense. What makes "justifiable" resentments even more difficult to let go is that you can find other friends to help you justify these "wrongs" because they make sense. The real struggle is what to do with this.
The Big Book in Alcoholic Anonymous states, "Resentment is the number one offender to recovery" (p. 64). The reason resentments are so toxic and a great offender is because with resentment we are still maintaining a delusion of control.
We are created to feel emotions. Hurt feelings happen and it is healthy and normal to feel hurt. The danger is that hurt can quickly and quietly morph into resentment. This happens when we start wanting to control the outcome verses surrendering to God in the process. The feeling of hurt is painful. It is consuming at times because of its painful reminders. The answer to hurt is forgiveness but forgiveness is not so easy to do nor can it just happen. Forgiveness is a mysterious process in and of itself. The worst thing we can do to ourselves and to others is to put a "should" in front of forgiveness. By forcing forgiveness, we are in fact shaming ourselves or others in the process. While, in our heart we are not ready to forgive. I have heard it said that forgiveness is like a winding staircase where we continually (to ourselves) surrender ourselves in forgiving the other person. It is more like a process than a one time act. Again forgiveness is a process and it takes time. The good news is that forgiveness is an antivenom to resentment.
So what do we do if we are struggling with hurt, resentment, or a mixture of the two? First, we have to name our feeling of hurt and that often times requires us breaking through the denial that we have in fact been hurt or the delusion that we can control our feelings. Secondly, try to look at it from a different angle. More specifically, think of that person and their story. Most likely, they have their own story of pain. Doing this doesn't mean we have to be "OK" with what happened but it does help us see their humanness. Thirdly, pray for them. The big book recommends a prayer that says, "This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done" (p. 67).
Another great tool is making a resentment list. If you are aware that you are resenting someone or a group of people write it out on paper. Then write out the emotion you have around the resentment. Lastly, ask God what His will is for you with our list? This is the hardest part for me. My default is trying to get God to align His will with mine. Rather, this puts us at a place where we align our will with His. The other great antivenom is making amends with this person. It means confessing to this person the resentments you have held against them. The paradox of making amends is that making amends is as much for you as it is them. It quite literally frees you from the resentment. It helps you be at peace with you.
The goal in all of this is to direct our attention to ourselves rather than the other person. There is a great metaphor in recovery circles that talks about keeping our side of the street clean. We are only responsible for our side of the street. At the end of the day, I have found that I have enough to deal with on my own side of the street, let alone trying to manage somebody else's side of life.