We all know what it’s like to be hurt or betrayed. When it happened to me, I saw no possible hope of ever returning to normal. The pain was unbearable. It wasn’t physical pain, not in the normal sense. It was an ache deep in my inner being. It took my breath away and at times removed my will to live. For months I lived with the presence of this intruder. Then, slowly, like an early frost, I began to feel myself harden. Bitterness began to replace the pain. It was then that I knew resentment was setting in. Luckily, I had enough recovery knowledge to know I needed to get help.
This was a spiritual cancer, and it was going to kill me if I did not seek treatment.
God knows the destructive power of resentment. This is one of the reasons forgiveness is mentioned so often in the scriptures. We are to forgive so that we in turn will be forgiven by God (Mark, 11:25), and to not let any “root of bitterness” spring up in us (Hebrews, 12:15). A bitter root is something that grows deep inside of us and slowly destroys our peace, happiness, serenity, and sobriety. In recovery circles, resentment is considered the cause of many relapses:
“Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2002).
Most of us know resentment and unforgiveness are bad, but what can they do to us physically, mentally, and spiritually. How exactly do they destroy us like the above excerpt from A.A. so eloquently explains? First, let’s look at what resentment and unforgiveness mean.
Meridian-Webster defines resentment as: “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” What is the difference between resentment and unforgiveness? Not much. The word resentment has the letters “re” in the beginning. It literally means to re-live the offense repeatedly.
This means that when we are plagued with resentment we re-live a “wrong, insult, or injury” over and over.
I’d take the position that unforgiveness is pretty much the same thing as resentment. Although having unforgiveness may not have us reliving the ill experience over and over…but most likely, it will.
What happens to our mind, body and spirit when we hold onto resentment? We all know about the physical problems caused by years of repressed anger. We can experience things like anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches, digestion issues, heart attacks, stroke, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis and more. What is anger if not the outward expression of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness.
If these are some of the physical reactions to resentment and unforgiveness, imagine the emotional and psychological problems it can cause. Because many people are disconnected from their emotional state these problems above and more can be psychosomatic in nature. That is when our physical symptoms are exacerbated by our emotional problems.
Sometimes our body is telling us to deal with our emotions.
Emotionally and psychologically holding on to resentment can cause overall sadness, confusion, paranoia, anger, damaged self-esteem, anxiety, and isolation. We start to think that everyone who represents the person who harmed us is dangerous. This makes us want to stay away from people so we don’t get hurt. Unfortunately, this further escalates the painful cycle.
One of the scriptures that helps me the most is John 2:23-24: “Now while he (Jesus) was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.” The amplified Bible says “But Jesus, for His part, did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people-and understood the superficiality and fickleness of human nature-” (Amplified Bible Version, John 2:23-24).
He knew that many of those who ‘believed’ in His name would later be yelling: “free Barabbas, kill Jesus.”
Yet He still loved them and gave Himself for them (and for us.) But…He refused to be defined by them, and as a result refused to be bitter toward them. The spiritual ramifications of letting go of resentment (with God’s power) is indeed very powerful. When we can do this God takes us to a higher place. It’s a place of leadership really, where we can help move others into healing, and work on finding solutions rather than holding onto resentments. We no longer need to (like Jesus) entrust ourselves to the fickleness of human nature. This does not mean we are better than anyone or that we don’t still get wounded.
It a form of hardening, but it is also a form of softening. It is a work in us that only God can do.
When we work through our pain and come to a place of forgiveness, He can harden us where we need to be hardened (or grown) and soften us where we need to be softened. We can’t change the offense or wrong, but we can decide to forgive and not hold onto the resentment which will damage us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
I think this scripture (and others) about Jesus not entrusting himself to people is another way of saying He took responsibility for His own emotions. All recovery is about fixing or working through our emotional and spiritual maladies so we can be ‘happy, joyous, and free’ as quoted from A.A.
So, what about peace, joy, serenity, and all the things talked about in sobriety. Those are attainable, but it’s a lifelong process. It’s not like we wake up one day on a cloud and life is just grand. It’s like when a country goes to war so they can have peace. It’s also kind of like the story I told you about in the beginning of this blog about being wounded. I knew I was in for a long haul. I’m still dealing with hurt, and I still struggle with unforgiveness, but every day I choose to work toward peace.
Most days I feel pretty good, but that is from doing the work to get there.
Also, it helps to remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. We forgive so we can be free. Reconciliation happens when the wounding party can see their part and humbly apologize. If they can’t, we can choose not to reconcile, but still forgive.
How do we forgive? We make a choice we are going to forgive. We then pray for the will to do so. After that, we begin to pray for the person(s) who harmed us. All the while continuing to ask God to help us forgive. June Hunt describes this well in her short book Forgiveness-the freedom to let go. We make the decision and pray for the person. In other words, forgiveness starts in the mind. Then, eventually our heart will come into agreement with our mind (Hunt, 2013). It can take several months to several years. It’s a process. Once we find ourselves wishing that person well, we have come to a place of forgiveness.
Alcoholics anonymous big book (4th ed.). (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.
Hunt, J. (2013). Forgiveness-the freedom to let go. Rose Publishing.