I suppose it is natural for us to feel resentful when others demean us, frustrate us or do us harm. I feel resentful about how Sharon spoke to me. Not what she said, but how she said it – shouting and slamming the phone down. It’s not as if this were a one-off: there have been several angry outbursts lately. I keep thinking about how unfair she is being.
Yet people say how wonderful she is. It seems as if no-one but myself knows what she is really like. I have started to imagine her making a fool of herself and showing herself up – then others will see her poor self-control and feel about her the same way as I do. Perhaps she’ll get the boot. Part of me thinks ‘Let’s hope so, I don’t want to see her again.’
At the same time another part of me seem to dimly realize that it is unhealthy to allow my hurt feelings to smart for too long.
Do you recognise this kind of resentful feeling in yourself? Do you ever find yourself occasionally imagining getting your own back on someone who has offended you? Such feelings can fester for a long time and start to eat away at a relaxed and composed state of mind.
It all starts when you feel upset about what someone says or does. Maybe you are uncomfortable about directly complaining to that individual or perhaps you have had little chance to do so. From a spiritual perspective, I would suggest that if you open yourself to an unforgiving spirit then you will entertain resentful blaming thoughts which stew and spoil future communication.
You may find yourself engaging in private resentful thoughts that even end up turning into vindictive fantasy. And before you know it, you are feeling so tense and irritated with someone that your relationship goes from bad to worse.
The question arises how can you stop feeling so resentful?
Feeling less resentful by not retaliating
Surely if you start to retaliate this will damage your chances of putting aside resentful feeling?
The film Tit for Tat featuring Laurel and Hardy comes to mind. The two heroes open an electrical goods shop next door to Charlie’ grocery store. The comedy develops in the way the characters involved respond to each other. Charlie mistakenly thinks that Ollie is making advances towards his wife and damages a few items in Stan and Ollie’s shop. Resentfully, Stan and Ollie respond by destroying Charlie’s things and the confrontations continue eventually wreaking havoc in both stores.
This comic picture sadly mirrors the tragic events of history where reconciliation is prevented by the violence of retaliation.
At the time of writing we are in the middle of another nightmarish escalation of bloodshed in the Middle East with rockets sent into Israel aiming at indiscriminate killing of civilians and Israeli forces bombing buildings packed with civilians thought to harbour Hamas fighters. These are disproportionate responses to what preceded. Neither side seem interested in working towards a permanent peace. Israel wants security but is creating more enemies. We can only feel great sorrow for the despairing people in each community led by those who want to vent their resentful fury with no spirit of forgiveness in their hearts.
Finding a way out of this kind of mess is of course easier said than done. Stopping the retaliation can only be part of the answer.
Feeling less resentful by noticing anything that is good about the enemy
It is very difficult not to allow anger to rule one’s thoughts when you have been hurt. But I wonder whether another part of the answer is for those involved in conflict to take a step back from their resentful thoughts and search for new ways of thinking. Ways that don’t involve jumping to conclusions and seeing things in black and white.
I strongly believe that if you turn yourself towards a spirit of forgiveness then you can discover fairer and calmer ways of seeing a situation: a spirit that helps you try to see things from the point of view of those who have caused offence to you and that focuses on their good points and well-being as well as your own.
Feeling less resentful by considering one’s own faults
Don’t we all do something wrong at some time or another in our lives? I would suggest that it is easier to see the misdeeds of others, than face up to your own failings.
‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Jesus Christ)
Isn’t getting irritated about someone else’s behaviour a way of turning a blind eye to one’s own faults?
It is uncomfortable examining one’s own weaknesses and mistakes – probably because we play the blame game; easier to accuse someone else than point the finger at oneself. But why look for blame anywhere? Why be judgmental about anyone including yourself?
When we see the need for forgiveness for our own blunders then I would suggest it is easier for us to accept that the enemy also needs forgiveness. If we ask for our own misconduct to be set aside and forgotten then does it not become possible to have a forgiving attitude towards others?
If you cannot pardon your our own wrongdoing then what chance have you of believing it is possible for you to excuse your foe?
From a religious angle, in holding a grudge we are cut off from sensing the divine spirit of compassion. As the Christian prayer says
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Getting angry isn’t the problem. Holding the anger and acting on it are the problems. When we start to consider the well-being of those who have angered us then our resentful feeling has no room within our hearts. I believe then we can swallow our injured pride and can ‘forgive and forget’.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems