The Gift of Resentments


I’ve learned a thing or two about resentments over the years, more than I could cover in the short blog entry. This is going to be short because I need to get to bed so I can have a great workout in the morning. But I think I can convey enough to merit letting it be tonight’s topic.

First, out of the gate, I need to say that resentments are a killer for me. That’s not hyperbole; I really do mean “killer” in the sense that they can literally end my life. If I harbor resentments long enough, they might ultimately lead me back to active addiction to drugs and alcohol and for me, to drink is to die. I’ve long since been a pickle and there’s no way to make a cucumber out of a pickle. I haven’t had a drink in over twenty years and trust me, that’s a good thing. Living in resentment can also lead me to self-medication with process addictions such as food, sex, and spending which can also literally kill me. You don’t have to think about that long to figure out how.

Several years ago I was told that the way to rid myself of resentment against someone is to pray for them. Actually I was told that if I prayed for someone for two weeks– that they get everything good that I’ve ever prayed for for myself– then I would be relieved of the resentment and I can tell you from experience that that works. The part that doesn’t get as much press is that sometimes old resentments can crop up again. The same process that got rid of them in the first place will always work again if I faithfully commit to it.

I know that some people think such ideas are insane but I actually believe that resentments can cause physical illness. Assuming that’s true, if someone has done something to us that is bad enough for us to resent them for it, why would we allow us to hurt us more by harboring a resentment that could make us sick or kill us? With that being said, if the injury is great, it may take a while to work through a resentment. Or, as I said before, I may have to come back and do more work on something when another “layer” reveals itself– even if I had thought I was completely passed it, that is, completely free of the resentment forever.

But probably the greatest value a resentment has for me is through what it can actually provide me in the way of personal growth. I didn’t invent this method, I learned it from people who had learned how to stay sober long before I did. Basically, if I were to list all of my resentments– the people (or organizations, companies, governments, etc.) and “what they did to me,” I can then make a list of the ways what they did affected me. For example, I might resent some kid from high school who told me I dressed “like a fag.” This might affect my self-esteem, my sense of community, my hope for the future, my willingness to express myself. In fact, even with such a simple (cruel) action, I might be affected on a bunch of different fronts. The first two columns: who did it and what they did, aren’t that important. I can probably find hundreds of examples. The list gets a lot shorter when it comes to the “what did it affect in me.” It’s amazing actually how the same short list of things keeps showing up in that category. It’s far more important than “the who or the what.” Here’s a really important part to all this: the more I “hang out with” the “who did it to me and the what they did,” the more I am apt to get stuck in the emotional distress of it. Do I mean that we shouldn’t uncover and discard old grief, rage, and fear that may have been keeping me stuck? Hell no. Y’all’ve been a witness to a fair amount of that in the blog and I think is it absolutely essential. To try to simply sweep all that under the rug will often lead to dangerous results. But you’ve also likely noticed when I got into some “trauma loop” around childhood injuries, my marriage to Adam, and the war.

The real gold comes in the next list, which is “my part in it.” With regard to some resentments, this might not be so easy to see– especially with things like childhood sexual trauma. In fact, when this whole process was first introduced to me, I had a very angry reaction to the prospect that I might have had a part in my own molestation. I would have no part of that “blaming the victim” bullshit. But eventually I came to understand that I did have a part in that resentment, even if it was the fact that all those years later, I was still seeking out relationships with men who would lie to me or hurt me other ways– in essence recreating the abusive situation (probably in some subconscious attempt to resolve it).

Another jewel in this whole process was pointed out to me many years ago. It sort of fits into that whole “if you spot it, you got it” idea. A lot of what I resent people for, (maybe being smug or judgmental or condescending) if I’m really honest with myself, I have usually been all those things and one point or the other in my life. Another item on the “my part in it” list might simply be that I have been withholding forgiveness of others or myself. If I’ve actually been or done the things that I resent others for, can I forgive myself for it?

From the list of “my part in it” I can (sometimes with the help of a trusted friend or spiritual counselor) glean a list of character defects or, if you prefer, “areas of opportunity for growth.” To set them out on paper and look at them can sometimes be hard; this is not easy work. In my case, sometimes not acting on these weaknesses can be as impossible as not taking a drink back during my days of active alcoholism. It’s then that I have to do some kind of ritual of surrender, “turning them over” and asking to have them removed instead of trying to remove them myself. Depending on your spiritual practice (or lack of one) you’ll have to figure out what works for you in this department. Even if I fall decidedly in the “Great Mystery” camp on the whole God thing, it’s still very possible for me to “turn over” such things, even to a “higher power” I don’t pretend to understand.

Here’s the kicker– and the bonus. What I’ve figured out is that these things, the areas of opportunity for growth, are what’s really standing in between me and happiness. It wasn’t really the person I was resentful at at all.

Like I said in the beginning, this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive treatise on resentments but just a little bit about what I’ve learned. I hope it can be useful to someone. Take what you can use and leave the rest and thanks, as always, for listening.

See y’all tomorrow.

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