It was heavy and smelly, my bag; the one in the picture is too neat and clean. I carried it around for years, and it kept getting bigger, heavier and smellier. At one point, it threatened to just take over – I was about to become the Big Black Bag. That’s when I had to get some help. I was scared of the thing and I didn’t know how to get rid of it. But get rid of it, I knew I must, or I was going to die. Die?? Yes, I became ill from it: I got colon cancer shortly after seeking that help. The resentment had worked its foul way right into my system, into my body. If nothing else, I confirmed the ‘rule’ in psychology that resentment can cause illness, which in turn can cause death. My survival is owed to my beginning to get rid of it.
What is resentment, then?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus (short version): Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.
Wikipedia says that resentment is not to be confused with ressentiment (okay, but this means re-feeling and so does resentment, but then it’s the Wiki we’re talking about here). Resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness) is the experience of a negative emotion (anger or hatred, for instance) felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done. Etymologically, the word originates from French “ressentir”, re-, intensive prefix, and sentir “to feel”; in Spanish it is “resentir”, or re-feel – “sentir”, to feel, “re-” again. All from the Latin “sentire”. The English word has become synonymous with anger and spite. The origin doesn’t matter all that much. The feeling does. Does it ever?
Psychology Today says as follows, among lots of other things: ‘Resentment refers to the mental process of repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, that goads or angers us.’ They have a very good quote I’ve heard before, too: “Living with resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to get sick.” And I truly expected him/her to get sick (No identifications here, they are meant to be private…). But it was I who got sick.
Somewhere else I read that a build-up of resentment could lead to obesity. I saw that back when I had a relative who was obese. Poor woman could hardly move, yet she was always smiling and laughing, which, I read at the same time, was a way to cover her resentments, of which she had many.
Now, I’ve read a considerable amount of stuff to write this and to offer a way to a healthier life free of resentment. I got rid of (most of) mine in a 12-Step programme. It took several years and a lot of painful work (no pain no gain is a truism alright). Some of the following is based on that and other things I have garnered over the years – you can’t help garnering at my age! IMPORTANT: Please understand that I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist; I am simply a Grand Old Fart with a desire to share what little I know.
- Resentment is an addiction and must be dealt with as such.
- It is impossible to change the past and the future is yet to come. Holding on to the past can create the usage of resentment to re-live old dramas about which you can do nothing — except resent them.
- Many times we confuse a situation in the present with something similar from the past that impacted heavily on us at the time. Look into that possibility.
- Rejection is not nice but you can’t please all the people all of the time. You can’t control them, either. Their reaction to you is exclusively theirs, why make it yours?
- A positive attitude, after years in negativity, may be difficult to attain. Working on it gets results. Fake it to make it, they say.
- Your real strength is within you, not within anyone else. As soon as you give that away, they have you in their power.
- Learn to identify signals that provoke resentment. Apply the acronym HALT, used effectively by 12-step programs: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (Psychology Today). Being in any of those states can easily bring on a bout of resentment, believe me.
- Think. It’s that simple. Be aware of what’s happening and put a thought — any other thought — when you feel a resentment coming on. Or, as Psychology Today puts it: ‘Practice cognitive behavioral techniques to stop indulging in resentment. Put a thought between your feelings of resentment and indulging in ruminating about them.’
- Forgiveness is a powerful tool. Not easy, yet powerful. Whatever you resent needs to be forgiven. So forgive the other person and, above all, forgive yourself. (This may require professional help.)
- Practice makes perfect, they say. Things may not change immediately (lucky you if they do!), so give it time. But keep practicing.
From my heart, I wish you well, whoever you are.
(C) Alberto Bullrich 2015