Resentment is a negative and toxic emotional response. It arises when we feel that we are being treated unfairly. Resentment can feel like anger, hatred or self-righteous indignation. If we bring mindfulness and curiosity to the situation, we can actually change how we react when we feel this way, and can transform our resentment to compassion, for ourselves and others.
Recognizing Resentment as a Habitual Defensive Pattern
It is difficult to change reactions that have become deeply entrenched in our emotional lives. For example, many of my clients have told me that their mothers were highly judgmental or critical of them. As a result, they developed defensive habitual response as a way to protect themselves against feeling hurt, ashamed or disappointed. These defensive automatic responses then play out throughout our lives whenever we feel judged or criticized.
A knee-jerk automatic reaction of self-righteous indignation to feeling judged, criticized or mistreated is something many of us are all too familiar with. Kaumyo Lowe-Charde, co-abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center, notes:
[When we see things in right or wrong terms], we can simply notice how comforting and reassuring it is when we believe we are on the right side of those lines. And, if we persist in noticing, we may discover that the need to draw lines to create a right and wrong side, is rooted in fear. If, in a given instant, we can open up and allow ourselves to feel this fear, it will morph into something else— perhaps grief, compassion or remorse. And when that happens, we increase our capacity for choice.”
As Kaumyo Lowe-Charde says, our need to be right is rooted in fear. We are often afraid of opening ourselves to feeling hurt or disappointed, and hold on for dear life to our automatic defensive emotional responses. We develop tunnel vision, a narrowing of our perspective and ability to choose, which disconnects us from our basic aliveness. Our need to be right also disconnects us from the compassion and self-compassion that are our birthright.
Using the Three-Step Emotional Rescue Plan to Transform Resentment
In his book Emotional Rescue: How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy that Heals You, Dzogchen Ponlop describes a “three-step plan” for working with difficult emotions. The first step is to take a breath and feel what you are experiencing emotionally without reacting. Ponlop Rinpoche calls this “Mindful Gap.” You may feel your resentment and self-righteous indignation as a tightening in your chest, for example. Just allow yourself to breathe into that feeling.
Taking this gap before reacting naturally leads to the next step, “Clear Seeing.” You can then broaden your perspective and feel the hurt, sadness, confusion or shame under the defensive response of resentment, and start to notice the habits that have kept you stuck. Clearly seeing in this way allows you to let go of the resentment, which is the third step, “Letting Go.”
Dzogchen Ponlop describes Letting Go as a “sigh of relief”:
“Letting Go turns out to be the opposite of rejecting your emotions. It’s actually the beginning of welcoming them into your life just as they are – original, fresh energy….There’s a burst of intensity when everything is wide open and full of possibility.”( p. 77).
Being curious about and exploring our deeply entrenched habitual reactions helps us get familiar with them. As Ponlop Rinpoche notes (p. 75),
“Before you can kiss [your painful emotions] goodbye…you have to get to know them – to face their sharp edges and intense energies.”
When we allow ourselves to get intimately familiar with the energy of resentment, we can, with practice, step by step, transform resentment on the spot into the healing power of self-awareness and compassion for ourselves and others.
© Beth S. Patterson, MA, LPC. All rights reserved.