The other day I ran across a quote in the book A Course in Miracles: “…to forgive the world for the mistakes I made.” Now I know some people consider A Course in Miracles heretical or demonic, and I’m not here to create a debate around this. If you’d like to stop reading because of the source, that’s your choice. I, however, would like you to stick around. You may find something helpful.
Resentments are funny things. At first we feel resentful or angry toward someone for things they did or didn’t do toward us. Sometimes others have been quite horrible and we’re furious, other times we experience a slight and still get mad (you know, like when another driver does something you don’t like).
Recovering people in 12 Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) get to make “a searching and fearless inventory,” and the suggested way to do this, at least by AA’s Big Book (page 65) is to list your resentments: who you’re mad at, why and how this affects you. At first many people look at this and wonder what this has to do with their own “defects of character” or personality flaws. “I’m resentful and it’s the other person’s problem.”
Well, guess what. Whether you’re in a 12 Step Program or not, resentments are not the other person’s problem. You’re the one who’s angry. You’re the one affected by another’s actions or inactions. “Resentments corrode the container they’re in.” And there’s really no peace until you’re willing to heal them–and yourself.
So what do you do, especially if you don’t “qualify” for an appropriate 12 Step Group? Start with identifying your resentments; you can use the AA example. List who you’re mad at and why. Keep going. Write it all down. After a while, when you look at your resentments more closely, you’ll likely discover some unmet expectations. You may have left these expectations unspoken or perhaps they’re unrealistic. Notice they are your expectations.
Having expectations for others to live up to when they don’t or can’t is like doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. And when you get resentful, you’re ingesting some of the poison you’re directing at them.
This is also not to tell you not to be angry. Being mad is a human emotion, just like happiness. Anger can be quite informative, when you allow it to be so. The point is not to take up residence in your anger.
If you’re not sure you want to let resentments go, imagine yourself as a balloon filled with helium, tied to the ground by rocks and stones. You know that to soar is your purpose, and yet you’re held back. By untying yourself from the rocks of resentment, you can disengage yourself from them and rise higher and higher until eventually you’ll soar. Picture for a moment what the view looks like. You’ve seen a helium balloon held down for too long; it loses its buoyancy until it’s nothing but a smaller, weaker version of its former self. The rocks don’t care, they’re doing what rocks do. They sit there. They don’t need balloons to serve their purpose.
If you’re having trouble managing your expectations or anger or letting go of your resentments, you may want to talk to a therapist or counsellor. And if you’re in the Chicago area, I’d be happy to discuss with you whether I’m a good fit for you
Now let’s soar!