Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Resentment is a miserable game we play with ourselves and others. It's the price we pay for not taking an honest, compassionate, realistic, forgiving look at other people's reality. It's a game of make-believe with bitter consequences.
Resentment is anger directed at others. We get angry with others for something they should have done or shouldn't have done. It accumulates over time. Our punishment becomes worse with each repeated occurrence. ("They should have known better!")
Fear steps in. We become afraid of situations in which people might fail to live up to our personal expectations. We're afraid of what we might do to others if they fail again. We're afraid of our own anger.
We avoid new people, situations, activities. We settle into a predictable rut, and then feel resentful because we aren't doing more for ourselves. Some people become immobilized with resentment, afraid of doing anything lest they let others disappoint and anger them again.
Hating people is like burning your own house down to get rid of a rat.
HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK
I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back.
ZSA ZSA GABOR
This cycle of negative energy--from ourselves to others--can have devastating effects. It poisons relationships, inhibits growth, stifles expansion. And it hurts. It can become hatred. It puts enormous stress on the mind, emotions, and body.
Over time, it can kill.
Perhaps the most tragic part about resentment is that it is thoroughly unnecessary.
Sound familiar? No, you weren't having an attack of deja vu. What I just said about resentment is the same thing I said about guilt a few pages ago.
Resentment and guilt are the same. With guilt, we don't live up to the images we have about how we should be; with resentment, other people don't live up to our images about how they should be.
The images are ours. The anger is ours. We're judge, jury, and executioner. With guilt, the judgment goes against us. With resentment, the judgment goes against others. (All that I'm about to say about resenting people is true of things, too--cars, VCRs, weather, nature, food, TV commercials. For the sake of clarity, I'll just talk about people. Please add "and things" at key points.)
When we resent others, we are protecting our image of how they should behave. Based on results, the image is false. But we protect the image because, after all, it's easier to keep our image and resent people for not measuring up than it is for us to change our image.
We have a lot invested in our image of how others should behave. We inherited the basic plan from our parents and teachers. Then we spent years refining it. Why should we change our shoulds, musts, and have-tos just because some inconsiderate people are too lazy to measure up?
The problem is, of course, the anger. Almost invariably, it does more harm to us than to the people we're mad at. Earlier I quoted, "The love I give you is secondhand--I feel it first." The same is true of hate. From a cardiovascular point of view, the most dangerous and damaging emotion is anger. It's one of the most unpleasant emotions, too.
The solution? Once again, the six magic words-- change the image or the action. Except with resentment it's shortened to three--change the image.
With anger at ourselves (guilt), we have an option. We have, after all, the right to change our actions if we so choose. We do not, however, have the right to change anyone else's actions. We, therefore, have only one solution--change the image.
There are two situations in which you have the right to change another's actions--when you're the parent of a young child or when you're the boss. In those situations, you may have not only the right, but the obligation to change the child's or the employee's behavior. You will most likely find, however, that if you change your image of how people should be behaving before attempting to change their behavior, you will get better results and feel better in the process.
It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.
With resentment, always change the image, and only if you're a parent or the boss do you even consider changing the action.
To eliminate resentment, add, "...and sometimes they're not" to all the images you have about other people. "Friends are always honest, and sometimes they're not." "Doctors are always meticulous, and sometimes they're not." "Waiters are always friendly, and sometimes they're not." When you feel resentment, you know the other person is in the "...and sometimes they're not" range of behavior.
When Jesus told his followers, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44), do you suppose he said it primarily so those nasty persecutors could enjoy the benefits of his disciples' love, blessings, goodness, and prayers?
I think he advised his disciples to love their enemies because it was also good for the disciples. That way, no matter what happened to them, they would always be loving, blessing, doing good, and praying--not a bad life.
That the people around you will feel better when you stop resenting them is a secondary benefit. That you will feel better when you're not resenting others is the primary gain.
As with guilt, we have an inner friend to tell uswhen it's time to change our images. It's a twinge of resentment. The twinge of resentment is quiet, like the twinge of guilt. It will gently tug and remind you, "It's time to change your image about . . . ."
If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.
JESUS OF NAZARETH
If you don't change the image at that point, you'll probably be off on resentment, running the gamut from ticked off to seething. That's okay. As soon as you find yourself there, back off, take a deep breath, and take one (or all) of the steps listed in the next chapter.
Fifty-four-year-old Ellsworth Donald Griffith told a Des Moines, Iowa judge that he was too old to go to prison, and asked instead for a public stoning for his conviction for terrorizing his former employer. His onecondition was that only those without sin be allowed to cast stones. The judge sentenced him to 5 years in prison.
THE WORLD ALMANAC & BOOK OF FACTS
When you realize that your resentment is based not on others' actions, but on your reactions to their actions, it's a day for celebration. Yet another "bad thing" you thought happened "out there" comes under your direct influence. You reclaim even more of your power. You have more mastery, more control over your life--not because you can control others' actions, but because you're learning to modify your own re-actions.
Another word for it is freedom.
BELINDA: Ay, but you know we must return good for evil
LADY BRUTE: That may be a mistake in the translation.
SIR JOHN VANBRUGH
Whenever you're caught in the cycle of guilt or resentment, a few techniques can help get you back on track. I'll be discussing most of these in detail later, but here's a summary:
Humor is a prelude to faith and Laughter is the beginning of prayer.
Use any of these techniques, in any order, when you feel guilt or resentment.
The important thing is not getting rid of guilt and resentment as quickly as possible. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of guilt and resentment is what they can teach you about yourself. What "shoulds," "musts," and "have-tos" hold the most sway over you? Where did they come from? What can you do about them? What are you getting out of the guilt and resentment? What are the payoffs?
Guilt and resentment are the primary expressions of anger. Anger and fear are the primary "negative" emotions. Learning to master them can take time. Be patient. Tell yourself you're doing a wonderful job.
If you can't say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.
ALICE ROOSEVELT LONGWORTH
Listen to yourself as you speak. Note especially any time you (a) let your words limit you, or (b) set something in motion you might not want in motion. Watch out for sentences along the lines of "I can't take this anymore," "I'll never get it right," "This is killing me," or even "It's to die for!"
We are powerful creators. What we say often enough can become reality. When it comes to pass, we say, "I know I didn't create this!" No? Remember six months ago when you said, "I need to lose ten pounds; I don't care how, but I need to lose ten pounds"? The "how" is extensive dental work that will keep you from eating very much for a few weeks. By the time it's over, you'll have lost ten pounds. "But I didn't want it this way!" "I don't care how," you said. This is the how.
If you find yourself saying something you don't necessarily want to take place, quickly say, "Cancel" or any other word you understand to mean, "Don't put what I just said in motion." Then say what you really want.
Put yourself on a one-minute time delay. Remember Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments? Remember when he gave a command? "So let it be written," he would say in deep, pharaonic tones, "so let it be done." Give yourself sixty seconds to cancel an order before the scribe within you hears, "So let it be written, so let it be done."
Elysium is as far as to The very nearest Room If in that Room a Friend await Felicity or Doom-- What Fortitude the Soul contains, That it can so endure The accent of a coming Foot-- The opening of a Door.
If something can't be removed, ask for the strength to endure it. There is an old saying, "That which doesn't destroy us makes us stronger." A life-threatening illness can be a strengthener, not necessarily to the body, but certainly to the character and to the spirit.
Robert Louis Stevenson prayed: "Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind."
If all of our tribulations were taken from us, we would never grow. It would be crippling. As Oscar Wilde said, "When the gods choose to punish us, they merely answer our prayers."
When we learned to walk, we stumbled, fell, struggled, fell again, bumped our heads--it went on for months. Our parents, who easily could have carried us, instead encouraged us. They comforted us when we fell, but put us back on our feet and stepped back, saying, "Come on, you can do it."
As infants we may have wondered, "Why are they doing this to me? Why are they putting me through all this torture? Without the "torture," however, we never would have learned to walk.
Yes, as my swift days near their goal, 'Tis all that I implore: In life and death a chainless soul, With courage to endure.
Perhaps there's a lesson we must learn that we don't understand, a lesson that requires this new "torture." If that's the case, then all we can ask for is the strength to endure.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 40:5).
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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