If we experienced significant childhood trauma, it is quite understandable that we may harbor feelings of deep resentment. However, such feelings can serve only to prolong and intensify the mental pain we feel. Below is a fairly well-known quote that encapsulates this idea :
‘Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die’.
– Malachy McCourt
Feelings of resentment against another usually build up over a long period of time, often years. If we are still in contact with the person we resent, these feelings may be triggered by present events (such as again being let down by the person), perhaps giving rise to anger that seems, objectively, disproportionate to the current provocation but reflects the intensity of the omnipresent, latent, resentful sentiments that underlie this anger.
Indeed, feeling resentful involves constantly replaying and reliving in our minds the wrong that was done to us and so it can potentially give rise to strong emotional and visceral responses.
The reason we feel resentful against another person may be due to acts of commission (what someone did to us) or acts of omission (what someone failed to do for us), or both.
Feelings of resentment can torment us and make it impossible for us to achieve any semblance of peace of mind. We may, too, displace our feelings of resentment onto others, making us cynical, suspicious and incapable of forming meaningful and reparative new relationships.
So why do we hold onto feelings of resentment?
We may hold onto our feelings of resentment out of a sense of ‘moral integrity’ and a conviction that it would somehow be ‘against justice’ to allow our resentful feelings to abate (in other words, we may firmly believe that our feelings of resentment are ‘just’, therefore to jettison such feelings would be ‘unjust’).
Indeed, we may be of the view that to forgive the perpetrator would show us to be weak and make us vulnerable to incurring yet further psychological damage.
Or we may feel that to let go of our resentment would in some way seem to diminish the seriousness with which we feel the offence against us should be taken – rather like saying what we experienced ‘wasn’t that bad after all’ (which would constitute self-invalidation).
Finally, by hanging onto our resentment we may create for ourselves the illusion that we have more control and power over what happened to us than we actually do.
What Can We Do To Free Ourselves From Such Self-Destructive Feelings Of Resentment?
The bottom line is that tenaciously holding onto resentment, like a snarling pit-bull terrier with a cyanide-laced bone, is often extremely self-defeating and can act as an insurmountable obstacle between us and recovery.
To overcome feelings of resentment it can be useful :
1) to remind ourselves that our resentment may be negatively colouring our view of others, the future and the world in general
2) to remind ourselves that we might be displacing our feelings of resentment onto others who do not deserve to be treated badly, spoiling our relationships
3) to view our insistence on clinging onto our feelings of resentment as a kind of addiction or obsession which needs to be overcome
4) to remind ourselves that the stress and mental anguish our resentment causes us is almost certainly not worth it, especially as we cannot change the wrong that was committed against us and that our resentment is likely to be hurting us much more than the person we resent
5) to consider undergoing a therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help us think less negatively
6) to remind ourselves that our belief that our feelings of resentment make us more powerful, in control and strong is likely to be an illusion
7) to remind ourselves that staying resentful, in many ways, allows the perpetrator to continue to make us unhappy, thus giving him/her continued power over us
8) to consider forgiving the perpetrator
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery