Oh I know what you’re thinking: How could resentment- that nasty, sticky, often covert anger that drains us of energy and blocks access to joy- ever be a gift?
Well, here’s what I’ve discovered: Every time I feel resentment about something someone has said or done, I uncover a place (and it takes a little work to drag this sucker up out of the depths where I’ve hidden it) where I’ve unconsciously made some kind of “deal” that I feel has been violated. Usually the deal involved me making some kind of sacrifice (keeping quiet where I wanted to speak up; taking responsibility for something or someone when I wanted to lay down and rest etc.) in exchange for some kind of reward (being loved or seen or forgiven, belonging etc.)
When these resentments arise around other people the first question we need to ask is: Was this ever an explicit deal made with the other? For instance, did s/he know that I was silent about being hurt by their comments so they would overlook any unskilful communication from me? The answer is usually, No. The other didn’t even know there was a deal. Not that people don’t sometimes break clear agreements- but I have found that those violations are easier to speak to (because they were explicit) and the feelings they stir are often cleaner and more short-lived than smouldering semi-conscious resentment.
Sometimes these secret deals (as in ones I often don’t even acknowledge to myself) aren’t with other people but with some kind of higher power- God, the divine, the Universe- that I am vaguely hoping will reward unasked-for sacrifice with things I know are not earned- like perfect health and inner peace for myself and those I love.
And I know I am not the only one secretly playing Let’s Make a Deal with God. Recently, someone confessed to me that she was hoping that giving up chocolate would mean her house would sell quickly for a good price. She was a smart woman, but she gave up chocolate just in case.
Resentment is a gift because it points to something unconscious and gives me a chance to bring it to consciousness. When I bring a bit of gentle curiosity to resentment I discover unconscious deals made and broken. It usually makes me shake my head and quietly laugh. And quiet laughter dissolves resentment, lets us hold that small crazy inner deal-maker tenderly, reassuring her that she does not have to wheel and deal for the beauty of life with all of its inherent rewards and challenges. All she has to do is receive the gift of one small, spectacular human life.
Oriah House (c) 2014