Are you aware of your resentments?
Do you know what they’re about and who they’re against? Do you know how long they’ve been incubating inside you? And do you realize that they’re carrying you somewhere faster and faster every day, like a river accelerating toward a waterfall?
I’m slowly becoming aware of my resentments and the unfortunate reality is that I have a long and filthy list. It’s not a checklist. It’s not cognitive like that. It’s more nebulous, like a thunder cloud.
Sure, there are faces that emerge from the cloud. Toothy, grinning faces. A few are popping into my head right now.
These people are enjoying their lives and they shouldn’t be if you ask me. They should be hanging their heads and wearing burlap and thinking only about the awful wrong they’ve done. They should not be living in the sunshine as if nothing ever happened. Let me tell you, behind their carefree smiles these folks are pythons. They’ll hug you until the breath has left your lungs and they’ll appear surprised when you fall limp as if they had nothing to do with it. And they will feast on your demise and then slither away.
Do you know the kind of people I’m referring to? If you’re anything like me you might try not to think about them. But if you’re anything like me you might find them slithering in and out of the corners of your mind more often than you care to admit.
Just the other day in the grocery store I thought I saw someone like that in the next aisle over and my heart started pounding and my face went red hot and I could feel my body yelling at him like it was actually happening. How I’d make him listen and how small and stupid and naked he’d feel when I was done. And if he tried even once to fire back I’d throw a punch because he’s needed someone to kick his ass for his entire life and maybe it was my job to do it.
Unfortunately that’s not the whole of it. Even more often than individuals I find that my resentments can be globalized around entire groups of people or ways of thinking. I hold these “types” responsible for certain evils that plague my life and anybody else who is as blameless as I am.
These resentments are the kind that get quantified when I watch strangers behaving in the horrible ways that I expect them to. The prototypical politician or the deranged religious leader or that ignorant blogger and her ignorant social commentary and what it proves about how dumb practically everybody is.
These resentments are the festering hatreds that melt my bones. That’s the problem with them: they’re killing me. And the worst part is that they work like gravity- they accelerate over time.
That’s why I’m writing to you about it. Because if you have resentments like I do, even ones that you’re not in touch with, they’re killing you too.
Here are five things I’m learning about resentments ever since I started to pay attention:
1. Resentments give us the illusion of Power. Instead of hosting uncomfortable feelings like sadness, helplessness, or grief, resentments temporarily scratch the itch for strength, authority, and invulnerability. The itch is never soothed and it always leaves us bleeding, but power remains an intoxicating alternative to pain.
2. Resentments pervert our productive energy. They take us away from what we can control (our behavior) and focus our attention on what we can’t control (other people’s behavior). They give us only one message: that we’re the victim- which stifles our ability to take personal ownership.
3. Resentments isolate us. They convince us that we’re the only one, that our problems are utterly unique, that no one else could understand the truth about our situation like we do. We coax ourselves away from our clear headed fellows and into our own head where a stew of mischaracterized events becomes our new reality.
4. Resentments undermine our ability to trust. When we nurse a sense of what is wrong with the world- with people, programs, and institutions, it gradually leaves us with only our own judgement to rely on. Everything and everyone is increasingly suspect until trust becomes an impossibility. When trust has evaporated, depression, addiction, anxiety disorder, and a host of other mental illnesses can gain easy access to our minds.
5. Resentments separate us from God. They set us in opposition to God because they remove us from relationships, from outside input, and from a posture of humility. Also, like I said, they entice us toward power, which is a unilateral attempt to become gods ourselves.
Does anything separate us from God as quickly as resentments do? Maybe not. But how do they sneak in so easily and quietly?
That’s the funny thing about resentments: they’re easy to find in others and almost impossible to find in ourselves. To us they are just “the truth.” We feel righteous in our resentments and in this way many of us never learn. We drift ever further from God, from our fellows, from sanity. We find ourselves alone on the racing water, in the dark, with nothing left but our absolute conviction that we were wronged.
If you have resentments and you want to address them you’re probably going to need help. I know I do. So far it’s requiring a lot of humility, gratitude (which is weird if you’re not used to it), and the help of God and other people. I hope I’ll have something helpful to write about the way forward but in the meantime I’d love to hear your experience. How have you identified and dealt with resentments in your life?
Note: I’m going without Internet for a year so my replies will probably be slower than either of us would like. But I promise to read everything and I’ll do my best to reply. You can still reach me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Facebook messenger (I still have those two apps on my phone).