Coping with Resentment

The feast of St Richard of Chichester acts as a reminder that the choices we make in life are often difficult and can lead to resentment and a sense of grievance among others, if not ourselves. When Richard went off to Oxford, having rescued the family farm and saved his brother and sister from destitution, I daresay his siblings were a little reproachful. Why did he insist on becoming a clerk, when clearly his duty was to settle down as a family man and look after the family’s inheritance? He was escaping a life of toil and drudgery while they faced a future dependent on the weather and the uncertainties of farming. Did they have to carry the burden of resentment for the rest of their lives?

As a nun, I often come across instances of people resenting the treatment they received at the hands of religious sisters half a lifetime ago. They have only to see my habit or read some mild jest of mine, and the years fall away and they are again a frightened or aggrieved child; and like frightened or aggrieved children, they strike out in impotent fury. It is difficult for them, but it is also, at times, difficult for me, too. How does one cope with such deep-seated resentment, in oneself and in others?

The answer I would want to give, that one must bring such feelings and hurts to Christ, again and again, is not one that cuts much ice with the person deeply wounded by past experiences and still imprisoned by resentment, nor is it much help to anyone feeling battered by the resentments being worked out on them. Perhaps a better answer would be to say that one is not defined by the hurtful experiences of yesterday any more than one is defined by others’ opinions of us — unless one chooses to be. We cannot help our feelings, but we can, to a very great extent, choose what we do about them. I may feel like chucking a paper-weight at you, but I am not compelled to do so — which is lucky for both of us.

I’m sure many readers will want to add something about the evil of child abuse (about which I have myself written a great deal in previous posts), so can I emphasize that I am not writing about abuse here. I am writing about resentment — the burning feeling of having been treated unjustly by others/life/God — which can be triggered by almost any situation, from the brother going off to a splendid career in the Church to the fierce teacher who made one’s schooldays hell. In the end, we can’t change other people any more than we can change the past, but we can allow forgiveness and grace to transform our understanding of both. Resentment doesn’t have to hold us in its thrall.

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13 thoughts on “Coping with Resentment”

  1. Thank you. Good to highlight how we can both ‘give out’ and be the subject of resentment – it seems to be at the centre of so much of our greed, anger and grumpiness with life. As always, the best place to put these feelings is in the hands of God, in silent prayer, and in acknowledging them relinquish their power. Thanks for your blogs. always thoughtful and helpful.

  2. Thank you for this sister.
    My late & former father-in-law was consumed by resentment & bitterness. As he got older & iller (with what proved to be terminal cancer) this was eventually all that emerged from him.
    I was asked by my former wife if I would provide a reflection/valedictory at his funeral, which was one of the most difficult things I have ever undertaken.
    Sadly there was no love of Christ in his life, having chosen to belittle his daughter’s faith (along with that of his son-in-law & grandchildren) as part of his bitterness & resentment at his religious upbringing and experiences in Burma during WW2.
    Resentment and its common corollary unforgivingness are acid for the soul.

  3. A thoughtful post.

    The point of forgiveness is made very well, albeit, you point out that some are so full of resentment that either forgiving others or laying their hurt and suffering at the foot of the Cross isn’t something they will be able to do easily.

    I can only say that my own experience of past hurt, was reconciled by the process of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and prayer and a healing service and anointing with Holy Oils. Somehow the burden carried was lifted, perhaps God’s Grace and my own acceptance that the past is lived and gone. Repentance on both sides is unlikely as they have all died, and this side of the Veil, I will never know.

    I learned that living with past hurts and holding them in wasn’t doing my mental, spiritual or physical health any good whatsoever – and the help needed came through a spiritual director who listened, counselled, challenged and prayed in equal measure with me. A wise Priest he was and is and I’m privileged to still meet him monthly.

    We prayed St Richard of Chichester’s prayer at our Collect at Mass this morning – a sound reminder of a great servant of God.

  4. Resentment must be one of the most negative/harmful human emotions and I have to agree, it is also one of the most persistent as well, which makes it even worse. It is very hard to “let go” and truly leave the feelings behind. We tend to cover them up – they then eat away and resurface at a later date. Modern society in particular seems to value getting even/payback/revenge – everything has to be someon elses fault and they must pay! This fuels resentment. I have found it very hard to forgive people who deliberately did me harm – it hurt and will never feel “right”. I have found that praying for the people (as well as for myself) helps – God loves them and will see everything clearly whereas my judgement is clouded. So better not to judge/resent and strive for peace through prayer – not easy though…

  5. I am sorry that you have been on the receiving end of such resentment. It can be frustrating no doubt. Resentment can be so hard to fight within oneself but once you learn how to do it, things become easier to let go. When people are unjustly resentful toward us, maybe we can be a part of their healing.

    • I merely used my case as an illustration readers could readily grasp. I think everyone knows what it is to be the (possibly innocent) focus of resentment, so it’s important to recognize that resentment has a two-fold effect, on the one who resents, and the one who is resented. Much prayer needed, because we can kid ourselves we have forgiven — only to find that we haven’t.

  6. As someone whose father was murdered, I have had to grapple with resentment: against the criminals, and against having to deal with the havoc it it created for me and my family. I knew from the start that attempting to forgive was far too big a task for me in my human limitations, and that I did, and do, not have to struggle with it on this plane. I can only release any resentment and unforgiveness into the enormous love of God. It has been a great relief to know that this is a task accomplished only in God, and I do not have to fathom it by or for myself.

    BTW, I had wonderful experiences with all the religious sisters who educated me! It makes me sad to know that you have been the target for the unresolved suffering of others.

    • Those of us blessed to number you among our friends know what a huge task you and your family faced, and how inspiringly you coped with your father’s death and other family tragedies. The resentment shown towards nuns and, in another context, priests, is, I think, a reminder that we need to pray for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, not just for ourselves, but for all who are wounded.

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