the elephant in the room

Nothing on earth consumes a man more completely than the passion of resentment.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Some of us come from family environments where directly expressing our feelings was supported. We learned how to communicate with others when we experienced anger, frustration or fear in an honest, “appropriate” manner. It was acceptable and even encouraged. For others, expressing such feelings was considered inappropriate and a sign of weakness. These individuals observed their models as they buried their feelings and thus constantly acted out in anger, never to be questioned or discussed. As a result, these observers most likely experienced (and continue to experience) challenges in their relationships with others.

This is often a result of not being able to openly communicate feelings of anger, frustration or fear. These feelings are simply “stuffed”, buried deep inside.

Resentment is a negative feeling we experience towards another person. When someone is causing us to feel very negative and angry and we are not able to directly address it, we may internalize it. This often results in the creation of resentment. Over time, as we build more and more resentments, this negative energy begins to cloud our clarity. As a consequence, we become susceptible to feeling like we are being taken advantage of by others–a victim. As a victim, we are constantly taking everyday comments or actions personally. On the surface, we may pretend to be happy with the person to cover up our true feelings about them. We may also use sarcasm or speak in a demeaning way to or about that person, as a way to vent our true feelings.

Anger is an exceptionally powerful form of resentment. It is easy to let anger well up inside of us, especially at the thought of someone who has wronged or injured us. Before we know it, a fiery force of anger starts to build within. Yet, we can’t release it because we understand the consequences of allowing our anger to explode, having seen relationships, partnerships, deals, etc. destroyed. Consequently, we learn that “stuffing” our feelings is better than acting out in anger.

As we become more adroit at hiding our feelings, this extremely negative energy continues to build and begins to manifest in other parts of our lives, including our health and our relationships. Anger can unknowingly be projected onto innocent by-standers, a.k.a. “kicking the cat”. Here lies a great paradox: resentment may not have any direct negative effect on the actual person resented (other than the likely deterioration of the relationship involved); however, the toxic energy of resentment deeply affects the person holding it, as well as those closest to them. In addition to the current challenges we experience by holding onto resentments, these same resentments may become a barrier to creating healthy relationships in the future. Moreover, we may experience a lack of personal and emotional growth, difficulty in trusting others and a loss of self-confidence, self-awareness and spiritual energy.

A Reflection

“In the past, I would carry the toxic cloud of resentments within me for extended periods of time – sometimes so long after the original event had passed, that I didn’t quite remember the exact event or what triggered it. Even worse, the people that I had the greatest resentment towards, were completely unaware that I was upset. They went on living their lives as they chose, while I remained bogged down in bitterness and negative thinking. I suffered, my law partners suffered, my relationships suffered.

I have now learned to change the way I look at my problems. I no longer “sweat the small stuff”. Immediately, when I become aware that something or somebody is giving me trouble, I ask for guidance to let me see the incident in relation to the rest of my life, especially the part that is good, and for which I am grateful. A wider view of my circumstances helps me deal better with all difficulties, big and little. A huge energy and time drain burden has been lifted off of my shoulders, heart and mind and been replaced with clarity and peace.” 

C.C. Partner Law Firm

Thou has not half the power to do me harm, as I have to be hurt.
— William Shakespeare, Othello


Questions for Self-Exploration

The content, structure and flow of this exercise are designed to guide you in:

  • examining where and how you learned to manage and express your feelings

  • exploring resentments you currently possess

  • becoming aware of how your resentments are affecting you and others

  • applying this knowledge to resolve your resentments and to learn to manage and express your feelings positively and productively