What can resentment teach us?
Resentment is an emotion, as fickle and fleeting as any other. As defined by Merriam-Webster, resentment is “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” It may be capricious, but it also complex, recurring and if you look closely at that definition, persistent. As I am newly engaged in both couples therapy and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE — an international standard of training for chaplains), I am becoming aware of how much resentment is hijacking my focus and spoiling both my emotional and spiritual intelligence.
Following is an example that has been sitting with me. Last week I met with a patient that I will call Faheem. I was drawn to speak to Faheem as from a distance he appeared lonely and dejected. He had not been asked his religion and so I asked straight away if he was Muslim. He was not, but we jumped right into the deep end of his life as a Coptic Christian. We talked at length and I shared with him that my grandmother was Syrian, and that I never knew she was Orthodox until her death. We spoke about bread, and in that moment, we broke it together. When the conversation ended, I concluded with an Insha’Allah that made Faheem beam.
For years I was part of a Sufi community in America, and I realized after this encounter that I have been holding myself back from engaging with Muslims and Arabs simply because I have some unexamined resentment. The ins and outs of that resentment aren’t interesting, but I found it a bit upsetting how much richness and possibility I have excluded, without even being aware, due to an emotional state. So here’s what I am doing to try and learn from my resentments.
The first step towards learning is often awareness. This is especially true for shadow aspects of our character and lives. I am aware now that I have given lots of energy to resentments while at the same time not giving them positive attention by examining them. Key to this, especially for resentments, is understanding how it is you think you were slighted or injured. Second is coming to grips with the ways that resentments can affect your relating- to your partner, your family, friends, work mates, strangers, even groups. This examination is best done with someone who can help you understand yourself better (e.g. a therapist) but even working it out in a mirror is better than a silent simmer.
The next step, and often the most challenging, is communicating. If you are in relationship with someone and there are resentments affecting your lives, you’ll want to find ways to explore that together. If it’s with someone who is no longer in your life, then try and speak to a counselor, spiritual companion, or trusted friend about how this has affected your life. Even writing a letter or email to the person, group, situation, etc. can help things become clear and lead to greater clarity or, in the best case, healing.
Finally, when we can, we release. This isn’t possible without acknowledgement, examination and communication. But it is possible. And release — the letting go of something that doesn’t serve us, our loved ones or our purpose- means more focus, awareness and conscious action toward the things that matter most. This doesn’t just apply to resentments, it can be a whole slew of flaws and shadows. But learn how to process and release one, and it opens up a world of possibility for you that you may not have ever imagined. It takes time and emotional labor but choosing to release an aspect of ourselves that has harmed us or others is an apex human behavior. I bow to all who have done it and those who are working on it. I bow as I begin.
Understanding our emotions, character and how we truly are with others is not something you can pick up from Udemy. These are lifelong challenges that require awareness of self, others, and a willingness to be honest and open that many people can not or will not even consider. But stay with it and the gold within, whether dull or bright, will shine through and enrich the world.