“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~Buddha
Resentment is an extremely bitter diet and eventually poisonous. I have no desire to make my toxins. ~Neil Kinnock
According to the Oxford American Dictionary, “resentment is defined as
bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.” The definition includes the fact that people can harbor resentments going back many years.”
Resentment has also been called the experience of negative emotion, such as anger or hatred, felt because of a real or imagined wrong done to them.
A perfect example was given to me by a couple who complained about their younger son, now 38 years old, continuing to yell at them about his childhood. Despite being quite successful in his career, he loudly blames them for all of his troubles. The son is not occasionally yelling at his parents. Still, he does this every time he talks to them over the telephone. It has gotten so bad that his father will no longer speak to him. The son heaps the greatest on his father. His son is not bothered by this break in communication. Instead, his mother has to hear about all the past injustices.
A female patient bitterly complained about her husband. The latter eventually moved out of their apartment because he could no longer tolerate her. She blamed her father for never having time for her while growing up. Then, she blamed her therapist for not finishing her therapy and charging too much money. While she completed her treatment, she left these complaints intact, although her life quality dramatically improved since starting therapy. She was no longer depressed, completed her undergraduate degrees, had a professional career since graduation, and had a vastly improved relationship with her son and daughter.
However, she held onto her resentments. Perhaps that enabled her to end her therapy successfully. She remained blind to how her complaining harmed other people. I never heard from her again, but sometimes I wonder how she got along afterward.
Parents are the most common object of resentment. As with the couple cited above, they are the people who are frequently the target of blame. These patients blame their parents for all failings and failures alike.
I have heard patients blame their addiction on their parents. I have heard patients blame their parents for everything from poor school grades to work failures to failed relationships. Many young patients have complained to me they “Would not be depressed except by the way they were treated by mom or dad.”
What is so interesting is that, in blaming parents or others for one’s misfortunes, there is a failure to take responsibility for what has happened. The 38-year-old son never looks at his behavior to understand the role he plays in his present-day successes and failures.
None of this suggests that parents are innocent or that they never did wrong. We know that parents abuse, neglect, and reject their children. There are those parents who are overprotective authoritarians. Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol. In all cases, even the best parents are imperfect, make mistakes, and sometimes be unjust.
An essential step for all adults is acknowledging that what happened in the past cannot be undone. We can build better lives for ourselves in the present and future. To do this is to take responsibility for one’s behaviors and choices in the present. Many patients have told me that they want their parents to admit their wrongdoing. When asked how that would help them, most gave vague answers. Of course, there is nothing to be gained from asking a parent to admit guilt, even if they did so.
Resentment is malignant. There is no better way to hold on to the bitter past than to relive horrible events that happened then. There is no better way to relive the awful past than to continue to blame others, whether parents or anyone else.
Remember Buddha’s quote that anger and resentment are like grasping hot coal that can only burn yourself.