Deep within we each have a receptacle of infinite storage capacity. Envision it as made of iron, heavy and growing heavier. From its surface protrude rough spikes. As threatening as this sounds, given the courage to contemplate the contents, inside this cache lies a treasure trove of opportunity to learn and to grow.

In this dark place resentments dwell. Some date back to our earliest childhood memories, while some are as new as our anger at the driver who blew through the pedestrian crosswalk as you stepped into the street with your dog. (This happened to me yesterday.) The cache lies in wait until a similar situation triggers a the memory of a stored resentment, be it a confrontation with your partner, or a bad day at work, or an another encounter with a rude driver.

A negative experience becomes a resentment when we cling to the emotions engendered. Some resentments are big and readily accessed. We may review these over and over incur minds or in conversations with others. “And then there was the time that….” Resentments may be pulled out on special occasions, like a family gathering or an argument with a partner. “You always say/do that!” Other resentments are deeply buried but still can affect our well-being.

How do we feel when we connect with an item from this festering collection? I try never to suggest feelings to others (“You must be feeling…”) but I can tell you what it is like for me–queasiness in the stomach, buzzing in the head, increased respirations, and, perhaps, a welling of tears.

Resentments may result from what is said, what is left unsaid, what is done, what is neglected, perceived injustices, or negative self-comparison with others. Resentment is an emotional response to perceived harm to the self. When I say “perceived harm,” I don’t mean the harm is imaginary. It means that we interpret what happened in a personal, negative fashion.

We, as human beings, share this tendency to store resentments. The unhealed existence of a dark cache impairs us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is toxic to our own well-being and to our relationships.. In extreme cases it may lead to harming oneself or the one whom we see as having injured us.

What is to be done? Funny you should ask.

Practice thought-awareness  This is the most important aspect of healing resentment. When you begin dwelling on a past injury, or introduce a lingering grudge into a conversation, take note. If you are alone, say aloud, “I am thinking about the time my cousin Sharon called me a dumb ass.” Take note of how you are feeling, physically and emotionally. 

Write the memory down, along with feelings  “In 1992 at my 7th birthday party, my cousin Sharon called me a dumb ass and pushed me after I spilled pink punch on her white shoes. The other kids laughed. I felt embarrassed. Everyone thinks I’m dumb. Sharon is mean. She ruined my birthday party. When I remember this now it makes me feel angry. It wasn’t fair; I didn’t mean to spill my punch on her.

Consider what you can do now to rectify the situation Talking with or writing to Sharon is an option, but you haven’t seen her since your grandmother’s funeral ten years ago and it took awhile to even recognize her (but the resentment memory did crop up ). In this example communicating with the source of the resentment will not be useful.

In responding to resentment, it is important to distinguish rectification from retribution, like giving Sharon an atomic wedgie at grandma’s funeral luncheon. In reality, rectification of a long-held resentment is RARELY helpful, and retribution is never the way to go. If you spoke to Sharon, the likelihood of her remembering that particular incident is slight. Even if she did, her most reasonable response would be, “I was like 10 years old! Get over it.” If the situation is more recent and you have the kind of relationship where honest conversation is a possibility, give it a try, but first give it a think.

Consider why this particular memory is an emotional trigger. You may think this memory is about Sharon but our resentments are ours. What we choose to resent tells us less about the offending party than about ourselves. Sharon did speak rudely. You could have said, “You’re a bigger dumb ass” and run away. You could have offered to have your mom to help her clean off her shoes. You could have explained that it was a total accident. You could have told her that her shoes were ugly anyway. But why choose to perceive this as an injury? That’s the first question.

Over time an examination of our resentments can lead to better relationships, improved self-awareness, and greater peace of mind. Resentments are toxic to our well-being, and may be used to justify poor behavior or lack of responsibility for our actions.

Please stay aware, keep in touch, and let me know if I can be of assistance to you.

**An important caveat. Your Dark Cache may contain memories of experiences which resulted in deep and lasting trauma. In that case, please find a trusted guide to help you navigate and deal with these memories. One technique that some (including me) have found effective in treating the trauma resulting from abuse or violence is EMDR treatment administered by a licensed therapist. Click on this link for more information:

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