The Pain of Resentment

By Chris Chittenden

"The secret of how to live without resentment or embarrassment in a world in which I was different from everyone else . . . was to be indifferent to that difference."

… Al Capp (1909-1979) US cartoonist

Last month, I asked the question, "Can you learn from your emotions?" As it turns out, this was our most popular newsletter to date, so I thought I would continue the emotional theme with an exploration of one of the most damaging moods - resentment.

Resentment can be a mood that has a clear cause or it may relate to a general feeling about ourselves, life, society or other communities or groups of people. It will generally stem from an emotional response such as an anger or frustration that just hangs around.

A reconstruction of the mood of resentment can be illuminating. It can go something like this:

"Company A retrenched me last year."

"What they did was unnecessary and unfair and it has cost me a great deal of money and leaves me without a job."

"I will not let them get away with this. I will find a way to make them pay!"

This reconstruction shows that a mood of resentment occurs when we cannot accept that something has happened and that feeling stays with us. We find ourselves dwelling on our life, a person or group in a way that arouses annoyance and anger. Ironically, every time we dwell in such a way, it deepens the sense of resentment.

As can be seen from the reconstruction, our predisposition from this mood is one of blame, sabotage or revenge. We seek to punish in order to redress our sense of being wronged. It is this tendency that makes resentment such a harmful mood in which to exist for more than a short time.

Resentment in an organisational setting can be very destructive. Interestingly, repeated broadly-based culture surveys continue to report an oppositional style as being one of the major factors in organisational cultures in this country and resentment is one of the key indicators of such a style.

One of the challenges of resentment lies in its origin. It comes from a stance that something has happened that has caused us pain and which we cannot change. The energy we use to fuel our resentment does not change the situation. Sure we might be able to punish those we see as the cause of our pain, but that in itself will not remove the pain although it may give us a sense of justice. However, resentment uses energy to maintain pain and that energy may well be better served being directed into creating a better future.

The key to doing this lies in one word, "acceptance". Acceptance does not mean that we have to like what has happened to us in life but it does mean that we accept we cannot change that it has happened. A mood of acceptance allows us to move forward in life and direct our energy in a positive way into the future.

How do we do this? Well, that is a topic for another time.

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden