Other People Can Be Assholes but Resentment isn’t the Answer
There is no point in sugarcoating it; people can be assholes. They do let us down, they do treat us unfairly, and sometimes, they do cause us serious harm. We have been wronged, so we feel justified in our resentments. We may even conclude that it is because of these other people that our life sucks.
There is a problem with resentment though when we focus too much on how we have been wronged, it leaves us feeling powerless and hopeless. It also means we continue to suffer long after a wrong has been committed.
What is a Resentment?
A resentment is bitterness that arises in response to being wronged. It can be directed toward family, friends, enemies, strangers, institutions, nations, gods, or the universe in general. It is the feeling of being treated unfairly. It involves ideas such as, ‘that should not have happened’, or ‘he/she should not have done that’.
Resentments are often more about how we perceive things rather than what happens. This feeling of being wronged doesn’t have to be based on logic. In the past, I probably felt the same amount of resentment for the postman arriving late as a more well-adjusted person might feel after losing a job.
How Resentments Can Leave Us in a Hopeless State
If the reason my life sucks is other people or life events, it means that I’m completely at the mercy of things outside my control. There is no way I am going to get everyone else to behave as I want them to– believe me, I tried – and there are always going to be events that I could perceive as unfair.
Consider this, there is no point in doing things like going to rehab if the reason our life is messed up is because of things outside of our control. Rehab probably isn’t going to fix our family and friends, it is unlikely to get our enemies to have a change of heart, and you can be certain that it is not going to alter the way the universe operates. Rehab only works if there is something wrong with our approach to life that can be fixed.
Take All Blame onto Yourself
There is an idea found in Tibetan Buddhism that I found useful when dealing with resentment, and this is ‘drive all blame into one’ This training suggests that rather than blaming others for our problems, we focus more on our own actions. This is a pragmatic thing, and it is certainly not about self-loathing or letting people off the hook for the damaging stuff they do.
The reason we focus on our own actions rather than the mistakes of others is because this is the only thing that we have any real control over.
Resentments Lead to Unnecessary Suffering
The most disturbing aspect of resentment is it means we suffer when we don’t have to. Thinking about how we have been wronged is like reliving that wrong all over again. The people who have harmed us will usually be completely unaware of how we are feeling, these guys could be having the best day of their life, and we are the ones who are suffering. Holding a resentment can be a type of abuse where our own mind is the abuser.
Remember: Nursing a resentment is like picking up wet doggy poo to throw at somebody else – it just gets stuck to our own hands.
Why Are Resentments So Hard to Let Go Of?
There is a wonderful scene in the UK tv show The Royle Family (click here to view this clip on YouTube), when the dad, Jim Royle, has a complete meltdown because gran ‘stole the batteries from my remote to fan her bloody self’. At one point he even threatens to abandon his family because of the unfairness of the tv remote control batteries being used in a portable fan. The thing that makes this episode so funny for me is the recognition of how he is feeling – he is obviously behaving like a child, but I get it, and I have certainly been there.
There is more going on with a resentment than the story we tell ourselves about. The outrage I once experience because somebody ate the last Jaffa cake wasn’t because I was in desperate need of this snack. It was the feeling that I had been wronged. The feeling that this was so unfair. The idea that it should not have happened.
It becomes much easier to let go of resentment when we recognize that our ideas about fairness, and what ‘should’ happen, are a type of magical thinking.
Is Life Fair?
Fairness is one of the most noble aspirations we humans have, and we should definitely keep working towards it, but if we have an honest look at the world around us, do we see much fairness?
- Is it fair that some children are born into abusive families?
Is it fair that some of us get to throw away unwanted food while others are starving?
Is it fair that some of us are born to rich families while other kids haven’t got a pot to piss in?
Is it fair that some of us have disabilities?
Is it fair that some of us will die young?
Is it fair that some people get to recover from addiction while others die from overdoses, cirrhosis, or drug-related accidents?
Is it fair that some of us end up feeling so hopeless that the only solution seems to be suicide?
Let’s face it, you would need more than rose-tinted glasses to conclude that life is fair.
Fairness is not one of the governing forces in this universe, yet we can feel deeply shocked and hurt when we are the victim of unfairness. This is because we are conditioned from childhood to view the world in a certain way. This creates an inner idea of how life ‘should be’ which is considerably different from how life actually is.
I remember as a kid watching shows like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘ The Waltons’ and believing that this was the way families ‘should behave’, and it was unfair that my own family didn’t live up to this standard. This caused a sense of dissatisfaction and sadness. Of course, my family was the reality, and these perfect families were just fantasy.
There is No Should
‘Should’ is arguably the most useless word in the English language, yet it can play such a major role in our thinking. ‘Should’ is the fuel that our resentments depend on to keep churning along year after year. ‘Should’ is an argument with reality, and this is an argument we can never win.
Think about it? When we say something ‘should not have happened’ what do we even mean? Do we actually believe that life is being observed by some impartial referee who is going to step-in and rewind the tape and fix things for us? No, that would be silly. What happened has happened, and the only worthy question is what do we now do about it.
Applying the Same Standards to Other People
A soon-to-be ex-girlfriend once observed, ‘you have such high standards for other people, yet such low standards for yourself’. I didn’t appreciate the feedback at the time, but she was right. I just expected other people to be better than me. When I messed up, it was because of my alcohol addiction, or my messy childhood, but when others messed up, it was because they were assholes.
The truth is that other people are just like us when it comes to dealing with life. We are all fallible, and we all make mistakes. Knowing this can make it easier to let go of resentments.
We Get to Live Thanks to People’s Willingness to Overlook Our Assholery
Imagine if every person we have ever treated unfairly, insulted, or otherwise harmed decided that they wanted some payback? What would that be like? My guess is that life would soon become unbearable, and a good number of us wouldn’t survive until sundown.
It is only because other people are willing to overlook our assholery that we get to live comfortable lives. This needs to be a two-way-street though, we can’t expect other people to ignore our faults and foibles while expecting them to live up to our high standards for how they ‘should’ behave.
How to Break Free of Resentments
Recognize that we are the one who is harmed when we focus on a resentment.
Apply the same standards to other people as we apply to ourselves – if we deserve a second chance, wouldn’t the same apply to other people?
If we tend to assume the worst of other people, we could deliberately start applying the ‘principle of charity’ by giving these individuals the benefit of the doubt (e.g. if somebody cuts us off in traffic, we could consider that it happened because of some emergency rather than a deliberate attempt to annoy us).
Allow friends and family to have ‘Asshole Days’ occasionally where rather than getting resentful about their behavior, we recognize that they just might be just having a bad day and so make allowances (This is kind of like ‘Duvet Days’ that were introduced so that employees wouldn’t have to pretend to be sick when they couldn’t be arsed to come to work).
Practices such as a daily gratitude list can help us focus on the good stuff in our life rather than our resentments.
So, what do you think?
Was this post useful or are you deeply resentful about having wasted 10 minutes of your life on it? If you are leaning more towards the former response, please support us by sharing it online – otherwise, sorry!