- Its futile. Its destructive, and its blinding. Of all the futile and destructive emotions to which human beings are prey, perhaps the most universal and the worst kind is resentment. This universal emotion though does have its “rewards”. It assures us of our own importance. It also allows us to hang onto our image of ourselves as fundamentally “good” — whatever our actual behaviour.
- Surely there can be few people who have not wasted many hours or even years of their life dwelling on the wrongs supposedly done to them. On the other hand, people generally spend rather less time dwelling on the wrongs they have done to others.
- Since we live in a world of perpetual injustice, everyone supposes he or she has cause to feel resentful, but often, the resentment we feel is by no means proportional to its alleged cause.
If resentment is a negative emotion, are there any others and why is it the worst?
- Basically there are five main negative emotions that individuals can experience.
- They are as follows:
- Of these, it has been indicated that resentment is the worst kind of unfinished business because it acts like an emotional cancer where we tend to blame others and harbour feelings of revenge that ultimately, take their toll on us not only emotionally, but also medically or physically.
- It is the worst kind because we hang onto it, it is often prolonged and bears more malice than the other kind of negative emotions (in fact, people can often hang onto it across generations; take the family feuds for example or different cultures continually warring with each other).
How do we get resentful?
This world can be seen as an unjust world and even those who have lived extremely privileged lives, full or opportunity, also somehow manage to feel resentful at various times.
Interestingly, some people remain free of resentment even though they have experienced horrifying ordeals during Civil War or other calamities. How is this so? Essentially, resentment in an inside job and is dependent on an inner need rather than upon outer circumstances or situations. Somehow, it’s not fair. It’s other’s fault. They are to blame. They did it to us. How dare they!
Who are the major targets for resentment?
- Although it is true to say that every individual experiences resentment in a different way, it does seem to be that various authority figures such as parents and employers seem to be the focus for individual’s resentment. In other words, these two groups generally are the most frequently blamed for all our failings and failures.
- For example, there is the man or woman who attends for therapy and recites a litany of complaints about their mother or their father and how all of their current woes are attributable to these people and the way in which they were raised. It’s all mum or dad’s fault; “this is why I’m like I am”.
Has resentment played a role in history at all?
- Personal resentment for example, has played a critical role in history. Individuals such as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin lived and breathed resentment. In other words, men who often become dictators never forget the trivial slights experienced in their youth and they therefore avenge themselves on their former tormentors when they finally achieve power.
- For instance, one of the first of the hundreds of thousands of deaths for which the Ethiopian dictator Mengistu was responsible was that of the man who refused him a scholarship to the United States. Another example is the dictator of Equatorial Guinea Marcias Nguema who killed or drove into exile a third of his tiny countries population because he was so uncertain of his own educational accomplishments that he took anyone who wore glasses or possessed a page of printed matter as an intellectual and had them killed.
- Closer to home, resentment can keep feuding families apart and fighting for decades and generations. It can also mean that family members (or extended family members) do not talk to each other for years or decades.
What are the rewards of resentment? Why do people persist in continuing to be resentful?
- Essentially, resentment is a great rationaliser in that it presents us with selected versions of our own past so that we do not have to recognise our own mistakes and therefore can avoid the necessity to make possibly painful choices. It is, in a sense, therefore, a relief to know that the reason we have failed in life is not because we, in fact, lack the talent, energy or determination to succeed, but because of factors that are beyond our control and that ultimately have loaded the dice against us. We therefore blame others around us for our inability to achieve or to be successful.
- Resentment also allows us to be a victim of injustice and in a sense therefore, it allows us to be morally superior. In other words, others may look down on us for our failure, but to be a failure in an unjust world is surely no failing at all.
- Resentment also means that since the world is unjustly stacked against us, any effort on our part to improve our situation is futile. In other words, it absolves us from the painful necessity of having to look at change. We can therefore remain exactly the same as we always have been while at the same time criticising and verbally berating those who have been perceived as the cause of our downfall.
- Finally, our resentment means that because we can feel as though we are victim, it gives us a sense of our own importance. It gives us a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose and ensures that our life is no longer trivial or complacent – indeed, we have something now to moan about and complain about and something to be resentful about. Indeed, we may also exaggerate the events to really gain a measure of our own importance in the scenario that has taken place.
What does resentment really show?
- If anything, resentment shows that individuals are not prepared to take responsibly for themselves. It is easier for them to disguise from themselves the extent to which their own decisions and conduct are responsible for their own unhappiness while instead, it is acknowledged that some people have been badly treated, the way they have been badly treated does not have to be the continued root cause of their continued unhappiness and failure. Instead, they can be responsible for their own thoughts and feelings instead of holding onto and banking all of their resentment deposits.
What is the outcome of resentment in the long-term?
- Over time, if resentment lasts long enough, the possibility of change is almost totally destroyed and no longer exists. In other words, people become resentful and almost stuck in concrete with this emotion. In some cases, it has been said that they become somewhat “bitter and twisted” as the saying goes.
- Ultimately, it effects them emotionally and the whole of life is “grumpy” and negative. Their negative attitudes and outlook rubs off on those around them and they become difficult people with whom to live.
- Ultimately too, resentment becomes an emotional cancer that not only effects their positive outlook on life, but more importantly, can have physical or medical symptoms where people’s bodies start to break down including their immune system.
What to do about resentment?
- In the first instance, individuals must acknowledge that they are responsible for their own feelings including resentment (as well as positive feelings such as happiness etc). We choose to be resentful in the same way that we choose to be happy, angry or whatever.
- Letting go of resentment therefore, in the first instance at least, is a mental decision. We simply decide that enough is enough and we decide we will no longer dwell on the issue; it is simply just not worth it. Sure, the other person or group or company may have treated us badly in the first place, but not only did they score at that particular stage when we felt we were badly treated, but we continue to give them a victory as we harbour resentment because it eats away at us emotionally and physically, and ultimately, they will really win the day if we do not snap out of resentment.
- Finally, we decide what plans we can undertake to give us back our happiness, our peace and our joy and we physically set about putting in place various action plans that allow us to feel more positive about life. Maybe it requires tidying up some “unfinished business” with someone such as providing an apology or maybe it requires re-training or maybe it requires some other action, but once we have made a mental decision, we then have to set about doing something. We are all responsible for our feelings and responsible for our futures. No one else can be held accountable for the way that we live life.
What would it mean for you to give up any resentment that you might have? What action would you need to take to finish off this “unfinished business”.