Resentment and reaction are deeply interrelated. Resentment is an impassioned reaction, based on a judgment of a person (or the self), where our passions are ignited.
Resentment is a reaction which we hold within ourselves, and allow ourselves to nurture. It comes from and feeds off our passions, from judgment of others. Resentment is judgment and objectification of a person according to his actions which have offended us.
The real key to resolving resentment is to realise that it is not the other person who is causing it, but that it is our own reaction. The actions of the other person may have precipitated the reaction, his words or deeds, his sin; but the reaction to those sins, words or deeds is purely our own.
We can only control what belongs to us; we cannot control another person. It is our decision to allow ourselves to be possessed by our passions and reactions, or to take control over our own lives. It is our decision to take responsibility for our own reactions, or to allow ourselves to be caught in the vicious cycle of blaming the other person, in resentment and self-righteousness.
Blame and resentment lead nowhere, except to bitterness and unhappiness. They make us into helpless victims, which in turn robs us of the power to take responsibility for ourselves.
Resentment comes when we refuse to forgive someone, justifying ourselves by our self-righteous indignation at being hurt. Some of these hurts can be very deep: abuse, abandonment, betrayal, rejection. Sometimes they can be very petty. We keep turning the hurt over and over in our minds, and refuse let it go by justifying our anger. Then we feel justified in hating or despising the person who hurt us. Doing this, we continue to beat ourselves up with someone else’s sin, and compound the other person’s sin by our own resentfulness. We blind ourselves to our own sin, and focus only on the sin of the other, and in so doing, we lose all perspective.
We have to put things into perspective, and realise that the other person’s actions are only part of the equation, and that our own reaction is entirely our own sin. To do this, we have to move towards forgiveness. To forgive does not mean to justify the other person’s sin. It does not mean that we absolve the other person—not hold them responsible for their sin. Rather, we acknowledge that they have sinned and that it hurt us. But what do we do with that hurt?
If we resent, we turn it against ourselves. But if we forgive, we accept the person for who he is, not according to his actions; we drop our judgment of the person. We realise that he is a sinner just like me. If I am aware of my own sins, I can never judge anyone.
We can begin to love him as we love ourselves, and excuse his falling short as we forgive ourselves. It helps when the person who hurt us asks for forgiveness, but it is not necessary. We must always forgive: not only because God forgave us; but also because we hurt ourselves by refusing to forgive.
Our resentments can also be extremely petty. Sometimes we resent because we cannot control or manipulate someone to behave according to our expectations. We become resentful of our own frustration, where the other really had nothing to do with it.
All our expectations of other people are projections of our own self-centeredness. If we can let other people simply be who they are, and rejoice in that, then we will have tremendous peace!
We have to be watchful over ourselves, so that we do not allow ourselves to project our expectations on others, or allow resentment to grow within us. This kind of awareness, watchfulness, is nurtured by the practice of cutting off our thoughts and practicing inner stillness. By this, we practice cutting off our reactions, which all start with thoughts. We can come to see what is our own reaction, and what belongs to the other.
Eventually, we see that our judgment of the other is really about ourselves, our own actions, words, attitudes and temptations, which we see reflected in the other person. To face this means to face our own hypocrisy, and to change. If we judge and condemn someone for the same sins, thoughts, words and deeds that we have ourselves, then we are hypocrites. We must repent from our hypocrisy. This is real repentance: to recognize and acknowledge our own sin, and turn away from it towards God and towards our neighbour.
We have to see how our sins distract us from loving our neighbour, and from loving God. Our love of our brother is the criterion of our love of God. St John tells us, How can we love God whom we have not seen, if we can’t love our neighbour whom we can? If you say that you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar. If we love God, then we will forgive our neighbour, as God has also forgiven us.
The conscious awareness of our own reactions and judgments, of our attachment to our passions of anger and our own will, is the first level of spiritual awareness and watchfulness. We have to move beyond self-centeredness (oblivious to others), to becoming self-aware, aware of our own inner processes through watching our thoughts and reactions.