What is resentment? Is resentment different from anger? What role, if any, do anger and resentment have in my life?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” Most of us don’t really need a dictionary to tell us what anger is. We have plenty of familiarity with it, and some of us have an ongoing problem with it. This “ongoing problem” is the age-old issue of “resentment.”
The literal meaning of resentment is “to feel again.” In other words, it can be viewed as “frozen anger.” This is anger we have stored away in our memory for a long time, anger which we nurse and fuel, and which eats away at us from the inside out. Resentment has a corrosive effect, emotionally and spiritually.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is clear about the problems associated with resentments. Here is a sampler from the Big Book:
- If we want to recover from alcoholism, “We saw that these resentments must be mastered.” Here’s why:
- Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease. (Page 64)
- It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility. (Page 66)
- With the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. (Page 66)
- We found that it [this business of resentment] is fatal. (Page 66)
So, there are plenty of reasons for recovering people to face, accept, and ultimately let go of resentment. It kills us. It makes our lives unhappy and futile. AA’s Big Book offers a process for letting go of resentment. I will not address it here, but I may address it in a future blog entry.
I want to contrast resentment with anger. There is a difference – a significant difference – between the two. This is not commonly recognized in the rooms of Twelve Step recovery programs. The two are often equated, but they are not the same. Resentment is a long-term problem of spiritual and emotional disease festering deep within our psyche, soul and spirit.
Anger, which takes place in the here-and-now, need not harden within and become poisonous. Not at all. Anger, as a basic emotion, is simply a source of information about, usually, our boundaries having been crossed in some way. Someone may have treated us like a doormat. Someone may have spread a nasty rumor about us. Someone at work may have taken credit for our work. The list goes on and on.
The point is that our here-and-now anger isn’t a problem; it’s our friend. It tells us that we need to 1) take some time to calm ourselves down; and 2) think through what is the next right action to take care of ourselves, to remove ourselves as victim. Acting rashly in the middle of an anger attack nearly always spells disaster, because we act inappropriately by lashing out or other disproportionate response. This puts us into an even deeper hole.
Regaining our composure allows us to think things through and to act calmly yet powerfully on our own behalf. We learn how to respond appropriately to the inappropriate behavior of others. Very often this involves setting a boundary with someone, or at least sharing with them how their behavior affected us. Sometimes it means moving on to another less toxic situation. There is a wide range of appropriate responses.
The point is that our anger is not our enemy; it is our friend – IF we handle it appropriately. When we do handle it appropriately and take right action to remove ourselves as victim, we gradually learn how to allow anger to pass through us and inform us and help us protect our inner being from the wrongdoing of others, and ultimately, to let it go. THIS is the path to freedom from resentment.