According to a couple of dictionaries, the opposite of resentment is contentment. I have been reflecting a lot on resentment, how it has showed up and shows up in my life. Yet right now I am quite content, so interesting that now I can make space for resentment to be examined as well. The origins of the word resentment hark back to French, to go back, back, to send feelings back. I have often resented doing the heavy emotional labour in all kinds of relationships. I so appreciate anyone in my life these days who makes the first move, sets a date for a meeting for me, creates an invitation – that always feels like a gift. When my husband got sick, I was resentful that I had my life interrupted by illness and the disruption continued for more than a decade, as the consequences of his life extended beyond his death. I resented having to shift my life course and the ramifications in every area of my life – it was cellular resentment – there are still knots in my body finding their way out. My hunch is now I have some contentment and space, I can more fully own the resentment that still lives inside of me, and I am getting to know it better.
I was part of a panel this week where I was asked to talk about complexity. I gave the example of perfume, the intense distillation, where many notes can be found in a single drop. Resentment has this quality too, layers of different emotions fused and infused and just a drop enough to fill the whole body. It goes beyond the singularity of disappointment, it is deeper than anger, wider than fear and there is often a splash of disgust. To dispel resentment and send it back to where it came from, seems to involve forgiveness and making peace with the past.
I am noticing resentment and resistance are intertwined. I am noticing this in others – so it is probably true for me! There are those who resent working long and difficult hours, also resisting giving space to what is important to them; a person who resents taking on a role to host and hold, is also resisting the opportunity to trust; another who resents dealing with a work issue is also resisting the invitation to turn away. You can always say no, re-sign (instead of resist), or embrace another form of resistance, rest. Consider resting into the intimacy of self-compassion, being empathic to the other, even taking a step towards leaning into gratitude for what the resentment is gifting to you.
Resentment serves as a protective mechanism to guide us in who we can trust as it only comes to life where there has been a hurt or an injury and the feeling comes back again. Psychology explains resentment is designed to protect us from being harmed by someone who has the power to harm us again, and this is why it is highest to those who are closest to us in our social sphere.
This week I am meeting a moment of resentment as invitational. The invitation is to explore what trust has been broken, what protections might need to be put in place, what feelings might need to go back to where they came from. Wallowing in resentment might be needed as a first step towards contentment.