Resentment is a sneaky emotion. It may start with genuine anger, hurt feelings, or disappointment — sentiments that likely made perfect sense in their original contexts. But if we’re still feeling them weeks, months, or years after the original pain, some-thing’s gone wrong.
Conflict-resolution expert Christian Conte, PhD, author of Walking Through Anger, describes this feeling as a “long-term commitment to anger.” In 12-step programs, nurturing resentment is sometimes described as drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.
Sticky and awful as resentment is, it can also feel good. When we believe we’re victims of injustice, resentment can enable us to feel superior, even righteous. At the very least, we may feel protected, as if holding a grudge makes us less vulnerable to being hurt.
Still, it costs us. “The toll is enormous,” says renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness. “The very energy of resentment is so toxic that it brings us down and makes our lives very small and constrictive.”
Resentment can foster distrust and conflict, damaging our close relationships with friends and family, leading us to cross people off our lists one by one. And Salzberg observes that our current political climate has only amplified the resentments among us.
We used to spend more time with people who didn’t share our political views, she notes. We might have gotten annoyed if we disagreed with one another, but we’d still meet up later for bridge or bowling.
Today, fewer of these interactions occur. “As people are more alone and cut off from one another,” Salzberg says, “the resentment builds.”
Resolving resentment requires looking within, explains Byron Katie, author of A Mind at Home With Itself and Loving What Is. Yet our inability to look at ourselves has become a rampant problem.
When we feel resentment, Katie says, we need “to take a look at what we are thinking about others, the world, and ourselves.” Most important, she says, “we have to question what we’re believing.”
Shifting the focus from blaming others to examining ourselves takes courage. So does laying down the shield of resentment, and that can leave us feeling far too open and exposed — at least at first.
But releasing resentment has many benefits, whether or not we’re able to reconcile strained relationships. It reduces stress and allows us to cultivate healthier relationships with loved ones and strangers alike.
When we recognize the telltale signs of resentment, we can prevent it from taking hold — and start freeing ourselves from its grip.