Resentment towards another person, organisation or group can hold us captive and lead us to give away control of our emotions to others. It also has the ability to linger and smoulder long after the initial catalyst has passed or even been forgotten.
Our resentment may flow from someone or a group that has frustrated our expectations or impeded our goals or done something that we experienced as harmful to us personally. Unless we let it go and dissolve its power, resentment can eat away at us and negatively impact our quality of life and the quality of our relationships.
Overcoming resentment through mindfulness
There are several mindfulness practices that can help us to let go of resentment. Here are three processes:
Forgiveness meditation is one way to use mindfulness to overcome resentment towards a person and has proven to build understanding and empathy. It is designed to replace resentment with thoughtfulness and loving kindness
Dealing with conflict
During a two-day course on mindful leadership conducted by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, I learned a process that related to conflict resolution but was also designed to build understanding and tolerance of others and to dissolve the blocking effects of resentment. As part of the process, you had to reflect on the conflict incident and put yourself in the place of the other person with whom you had a conflict and towards whom you felt some resentment.
The conflict process acknowledges that for both parties in a conflict there are three levels of issues at play – (1) content, (2) feelings & (3) identity. So when you begin to reflect mindfully on what is happening for the other person, you ask the following questions from their perspective:
- Content (What happened from their perspective?)
- Feelings (How do I think they felt?)
- Identity (What might have been at stake for them in terms of their sense of competence, their thoughts about their own goodness and lovability?)
By reflecting mindfully about what was going on for the person in the conflict that we felt some resentment towards, we can experience the resentment dissolving and empathy replacing it. As we ask ourselves the same questions, we can begin to realise that we are all very human and that we misunderstand each other and make mistakes which we may later regret.
Being mindful of the potential damaging effects of resentment
If we are able to get in touch with our feelings at a point in time and name our feelings as resentment, we can reflect on what that feeling is doing to us both bodily and emotionally. If we focus on these damaging effects and project them into the long-term, we will come to realise that we have to let the resentment go and move on, just as Khaled Hosseini described.
Khaled, in his book A Thousand Splendid Suns, has one of his lead characters, Laila, refuse to give into resentment:
But Laila has decided she will not be crippled by resentment. Mariam wouldn’t want it that way. What’s the sense? she would say, with a smile both innocent and wise. What good is it, Laila Jo? And so Laila has resigned herself to moving on. (p.399)
As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we come to realise the damaging power and hold of resentment and to learn ways to overcome it. In the process, we can develop understanding of, and empathy for, others.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
Image source: courtesy of Kasya on Pixabay
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