Resentments: unloading the baggage

Resentments cozy up in our hearts and make a home...

Resentments cozy up in our hearts and make a home. Over time, these feelings can fester into a part of us that we don't even recognize. Just because I'm a therapist, does not mean I'm free of human blunders. Resentments and all. Today I want to talk about letting go of these roots that live in the pit of our stomach, making room for shinier emotions like love and forgiveness. 

I see a resentment like a little mole that appears one day. We give it more and more energy over time until it has becomes a cancer. Cancer itself metastasizes throughout the body if not treated. It's primary job is to destroy life. Resentments have the same job. Even the ones that deserve it. When a patient shares with me a seething resentment, I notice a few things. Their facial expression changes, like they have just smelled rotten meat. It's the look of utter disgust. They go on to describe the slight that took place. Perhaps it was an ex-spouse that cheated, a betrayal to a friendship, gossip, or even resentment toward a group of people- a church, a political party, or an entire race. I will hear their story, almost like they are defending their anger and waiting for me to reinforce it. "YES! You should be mad at Joe! How dare he _____!" That's not my job. 

What could be the reward?

With every emotion that we give our energy to, we are getting something out of it. If it's anger, we are being reinforced to feed that emotion. Some kind of reward. It's hard to believe that festering anger can give us something positive, but it's absolutely true. What could be the reward?

  • Thinking about the event over and over acts as a punishment to the wrongdoer. Even if they never know about it, the individual feels that letting go of this emotion would let the bad guy off the hook.
  • It's familiar. It's just how it has always been. A person's identity can get wrapped up in their anger. They are known as a man-hater or anti-mormon, or heck, pick something. It becomes part of them. Without this negative, yet important identity- they would be at a loss for a sense of self.
  • Their family/culture perpetuates it. If you're part of the Jones family, you don't like liberals. They are ruining the country! Every gathering feeds this notion until people don't even know why they are so angry, it's just what they do. It's next to impossible to break that pattern when it's deeply embedded in culture. 
  • Pride. Pride can be a beautiful and destructive emotion, depending on it's motivation. The feeling that "I'm right and you're wrong," is very powerful. Pride prevents the act of forgiveness more than anything else. 

Sing it Johnny...

With all of these complex motivations, it's a wonder any of us ever find a way to let things go. I learned a lot when I was working in hospice. One thing that I started to see over the years was that the people that exhibited an air of anger/resentment about them, were dying earlier than say, Great Aunt Opal at 94. We are talking 45-50 year olds. Weird diseases without a family history. It was curious to me. Then I read this study done by a Japanese researcher, Masaru Emoto. 

Masaru believed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water. In humans, 90% of our body weight is water. Masaru exposed water to positive/negative statements and froze it under a microscope to see how the composition changed. If our emotional state can alter our structure, resentment could do some damage. This got me thinking. Can anger make us sick? 

Photos by: Masaru Emoto

Photos by: Masaru Emoto

I don't know about you, but these pictures were pretty powerful to me. The water exposed to hateful language/music looks like...cancer. This was a game changer for me. Suddenly my childhood resentments and anger toward ex-partners felt like a very bad idea. I don't want the jerks in my past to contribute to illness or unrest in my body. They don't deserve that kind of power in my life! But how do I let it all go?

Enter counseling, journaling and visualization. Some resentments are so powerful that your will alone can't do the job. Finding a professional to share these deeply embedded feelings can allow you the validation and processing time needed to dig up those ugly roots. Journaling has been one of the greatest tools in my life to process feelings of distress at any time. I have spent months purging thoughts on paper. This results in a cathartic eviction of ugliness. Lastly, I'm a firm believer in meditation. I have found visualization to be a wonderful tool. In undergrad, I took a happiness class (yes, that's a thing). My professor taught us to visualize your resentment over a trap door and hit the button, eliminating the problem. Not only was this amusing, but effective when practiced over and over. I also found that "cutting cords" is a great tool. When you are giving someone else your thoughts and intentions, you are feeding that resentment- just like a baby being nourished by an umbilical cord in the womb. I like to picture cutting that cord, eliminating the connection entirely. Again, this may have to be done over and over for success. I'm not going to lie, I've busted out my imaginary chainsaw a few times to cut that cord. 

It's important to note that nurturing forgiveness cannot be done when you're watching horror movies and listening to Gwar. If you are set on creating a healing and peaceful space in your heart, exposing yourself to positive influences perpetuates light in your life. Fill yourself with beautiful things: calming music, exercise, good foods, quality friendships, and most importantly- speak words of love. Words are powerful. Make sure your words come from the place that kindness resides. Letting go of baggage is no easy task. You aren't letting that stinker off the hook, you are investing in your own light. Go forth and forgive, you are worth it.