Losing Resentment Pounds
It is a new year and I want to lose some weight. Not the physical kind of pounds (although I am working on that, too), but the emotional pounds. I’ve put on quite a few.
Let’s call this extra emotional weight “resentment pounds.” In some ways, they are different than physical weight. You can’t always see resentment pounds; they are hidden more easily than that roll in the middle. And you can’t measure resentment on a scale. But like physical pounds, resentment pounds cause bodily stress, mental distress, and waste your life.
Bodily Stress: I tend to wear physical pounds like a spare tire around the waist. But resentment I wear on (in) the shoulders like a backpack. I feel tightness in my chest like shortness of breath. Sometimes I grind my teeth at night like there is something to demolish. All that clenching. You have to wonder what chronic stress does to a person over a decade (or five).
Mental Stress: I tend to experience physical weight as shame or guilt. The mental stress of resentment, however, I experience as cycling obsessions. I ruminate about the event I am resentful about. I rehash the details. I have imaginary arguments proving my rightness in the situation. This usually works up some angry energy, which I act out with distance or shortness. Eventually someone might ask, “Are you OK”? When I lie and say, “Yes, I am fine,” then I deal with guilt about lying, shame about how much time I’ve spent rehashing, and I feel alone (since I won’t tell anyone what is going on). Mentally, resentment sends me through a cycle of obsession: anger, guilt, shame, and loneliness. Not a good way to spend an afternoon, or a life.
The Waste of Life: With physical weight, wasting of life means diminishing ability: laboring to climb a set of stairs, quitting a game of chase with the grandkids, passing on an enjoyable hike. But resentment wastes your life by diminishing your presence. Resentment sentences you to the past. And in the worst possible way, it enslaves you to the impossible attempt to alter history. Resentment exiles you from your senses. The smells, sounds, and taste of the present cannot penetrate the shroud of resentment. All possibility of enjoyment is lost. People are lost to you and you to them. Resentment, even when only practiced for a few minutes, steals those minutes and blacks out whole swatches of your experience.
Resentment silently accumulates like fat. Maybe more like cancer. So yes, I would like to lose a few pounds of resentment. But how?
I will give you a three-step process that will work. But—spoiler alert!—it isn’t as easy as it looks. Anyone who tries to lose physical weight knows this. Our problem isn’t so much that we don’t know what to do, but that we don’t want to do it. We don’t want to give up the “extra cookie” of resentment. And the reason is deep-seated, and therefore difficult to change.
Why do we refuse to give up the “cookie of resentment”? Well, at first the cookie tastes sweet and promises to satisfy, which is compelling. But the cookie promises something much more vital than flavor. Resentment promises power.
If I remain hard and angry, then perhaps I will be more secure. Perhaps the wound won’t happen again. Perhaps I’ll be on guard and able to see harm coming. Perhaps I will send off signals that I am not to be trifled with. It is the sense of power that we don’t want to let go of. Perhaps resentment will make me strong, powerful, and maybe even invulnerable.
This means that any process to shed resentment is predicated on the willingness to release power and become vulnerable, trusting something bigger than yourself. You can’t lose physical weight without experiencing anxiety of trusting a greater goal. And you can’t lose resentment weight without experiencing the anxiety of trusting a greater love. So even though it is relatively easy to list a three-step process, it is immensely difficult to release control to God.
So here is the process:
- Notice Your Resentment. This is best done non-judgmentally and with a kind of objective curiosity about your behavior. This is how you learn.
- Confess Your Choice to be Resentful. Own that you are taking your hurt (not chosen) and then making a response (chosen) about how to deal with it. This is humbling at first, but empowering in the end. Say this to someone (God, a friend).
- Make Decisions to Replace the Resentment. So, if you aren’t going to deal with hurt by being resentful, how are you going to deal with it? Recognizing that there are options (e.g., expressing hurt or sadness, forgiveness, asking for help, appropriate self-care) is a powerful freedom.
So in 2019 I am going to drop a few resentment pounds. I am going to trust that God sees any and all injustices and will set them right. I am going to believe that His love in me is big enough to forgive, big enough to protect me, and that living out His love is what makes for real power.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.