Overcoming Resentments

Overcoming Resentments


“What can we do to help overcome resentments?”

There is an old Zen story about two monks who meet up with a woman in their travels, and one of the monks helps her across a river, even though they are not supposed to touch females. Later that night, one of the two monks suddenly bursts into anger at the other one, exclaiming that he should not have carried the woman across the river. The monk replied: “Perhaps I shouldn’t have….but you are still carrying her.”

This is resentment: hanging onto anger. You can imagine that the monk was astonished by his friend who had carried the woman, and he stewed about it all day long. Resentment is self-torture. Perhaps the anger is justified, or perhaps it is not–it really makes no difference. The mental torment of carrying it with you all day is unnecessary.

Recovery literature emphasizes that resentment “is the number one offender.” It destroys more alcoholics than anything else, even if they don’t happen to pick up a drink over it. They will still be miserable if they are carrying anger around with them. It is one thing to say that we need to let go of our anger, but doing so in practice is another thing entirely.

Anger is inevitable

The goal is not to live a life without encountering any anger. This is simply not realistic. There are going to be times when we get upset, and there will be plenty of times when this anger is directed towards other people–including those that we are close to. Accept the fact that you will have anger to deal with.

Raise your awareness

The first step in dealing with resentments is to raise your awareness level high enough so that you are consciously aware of the anger. Many people have become accustomed to being angry, and they don’t necessarily realize that they are harboring resentments towards others. These people will stay at a disadvantage until they can raise themselves up to a level of self-awareness that allows them to see what they are doing to themselves. You have to be aware of your anger before you can do anything to remedy it. You can read more about deliberately raising your level of awarenessright here.

Cool off before you communicate

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Once you are living with this increased level of awareness, you’ll probably notice rather quickly when your anger flares up. If you are in a confrontation with another person when this happens, this might not be the best time to deal with the anger. You might want to walk away from the situation so that you can cool down a bit and give yourself some time to process things. The idea behind all this is that you are going to go back to this person that you are angry with and talk it out. Before you can do that, though, you need to give yourself (and probably the other person as well) some time to calm down. One way to do this is to meditate.

Identify the emotions beneath the anger

Before you can talk it out, you need to dismantle the anger you’re feeling. Anger is a secondary emotion–it never arises by itself. It is masking another emotion beneath it–namely fear or hurt. You need to identify which emotion the anger is covering up. If it is fear, identify exactly why something scared or threatened you. When you go back to talk about it, you’re going to tell the other person exactly what they said or did that either hurt or scared you. Examples:

“I felt hurt when you said that I should lose some weight.”

“I felt scared when you told me that you were leaving town for six months.”

Do not confuse feelings with your opinions

Notice that there is a difference between feelings and your opinions. Make sure you are using feelings, such as sad or mad or glad or scared. If you say something like “I feel like you just …..” then that is NOT a feeling. You are giving an opinion and probably furthering a negative argument at that point. Make sure that you are communicating real feelings–especially the ones that caused the anger in the first place. Communicating those underlying feelings to the person who caused them is the key to overcoming resentment.

Forgiveness: A key to overcoming resentments

There are times when we have been genuinely wronged through no fault of our own and we are clearly a victim. In cases like this, it is tempting to say that our resentment is justified. However, there is no place for a “justified” resentment in an alcoholic’s life, because it will consume them just as much as an “unjustified” resentment. The anger is poisonous either way. If we were truly a victim, then we need to practice forgiveness.

True forgiveness will allow us to let go of the anger and move on with our lives. Forgiveness grants us a new freedom.

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