Melancholic resentment

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One of the drawbacks of studying religion at an early age is lacking the maturity or the intelligence to distinguish between personal conditions and universal ones.

For instance, all the religious traditions of which I am aware are pessimistic about worldly goals and prospects. Whether it’s being crushed beneath the wheel of samsara or being dashed to pieces in the shipwreck of worldly desires and cares, our religious traditions use pessimism to encourage us to find the permanent, unchanging spiritual centre of all existence.

We are not supposed to take this pessimistic view as a justification for resentment, a sardonic defence against feeling let-down by life or the people in it.

Resentment is a particular risk for Melancholics. As Conrad Hock writes:

The melancholic who gives way to sad moods, falls into many faults against charity and becomes a real burden to his fellow men.

a) He easily loses confidence in his fellow men, (especially Superiors, Confessors), because of slight defects which he discovers in them, or on account of corrections in small matters.

b) He is vehemently exasperated and provoked by disorder or injustice. The cause of his exasperation is often justifiable, but rarely to the degree felt.

c) He can hardly forgive offences. The first offense he ignores quite easily. But renewed offenses penetrate deeply into the soul and can hardly be forgotten. Strong aversion easily takes root in his heart against persons from whom he has suffered, or in whom he finds this or that fault. This aversion becomes so strong that he can hardly see these persons without new excitement, that he does not want to speak to them and is exasperated by the very thought of them. Usually this aversion is abandoned only after the melancholic is separated from persons who incurred his displeasure and at times only after months or even years.

d) He is very suspicious. He rarely trusts people and is always afraid that others have a grudge against him. Thus he often and without cause entertains uncharitable and unjust suspicion about his neighbor, conjectures evil intentions, and fears dangers which do not exist at all.

e) He sees everything from the dark side. He is peevish, always draws attention to the serious side of affairs, complains regularly about the perversion of people, bad times, downfall of morals, etc. His motto is: things grow worse all along. Offenses, mishaps, obstacles he always considers much worse than they really are. The consequence is often excessive sadness, unfounded vexation about others, brooding for weeks and weeks on account of real or imaginary insults. Melancholic persons who give way to this disposition to look at everything through a dark glass, gradually become pessimists, that is, persons who always expect a bad result; hypochondriacs, that is, persons who complain continually of insignificant ailments and constantly fear grave sickness; misanthropes, that is, persons who suffer from fear and hatred of men.

I’ve been looking into resentment recently and the definition I like best so far is that:

Resentment is a mixture of disappointment, anger, and fear.

At times any one element of the mixture might predominate, but the heart of the resentment is ultimately a sense of injustice – persistent and far-reaching enough to cause not only anger but disappointment and fear.

Failure breeds resentment when it not only feels unjust but also has implications for future hopes and prospects. Failure makes us angry at ourselves or others, it also disappoints us when we realise that the hoped-for success will not come, and it makes us afraid of future failures, or of the missed opportunity to succeed. It’s much harder to feel resentment if the failure doesn’t really hurt our future prospects.

The danger in becoming a pessimist is that we may roll all our small resentments into one big resentment against the world, God, or life itself. This is problematic partly because such a large and all-encompassing resentment is hard to bear and hard to escape or forget. But also because pessimism is often couched as a ‘realist’ perspective. Believing that one’s large, all-encompassing resentment is objectively valid only makes it harder to let go.

So what can we do about this resentment?

The best advice I have found so far (and it came easily, despite my pessimism) is that we need to recognise resentment as a form of addiction, that is, a compulsive activity we indulge in order to escape other feelings or experiences.

Resentment is addictive because it gives us a cheap sense of self-righteousness and vindication, or as the article puts it, an illusion of strength. After all, the anger component of resentment is classically defined as a desire for vengeance: that is, a desire to set right the perceived injustice perpetrated against us.

So long as we hold on to either anger or resentment, we feel that our cause is not lost. The perceived injustice might be decades old, but we can still feel that we are achieving some measure of vindication by remaining angry, where ‘forgive and forget’ feels too much like letting the guilty party off the hook.

Yet for that same reason, resentment is incredibly weak. It’s like saying to your oppressor “See? I’m still suffering for what you did to me!”  The emotional logic is childish: you made me feel bad, and I shall keep feeling bad until you realise your mistake. Naturally, it’s childish because most of us begin resenting people and situations in childhood, the same place we learn all our primary emotional responses.

It’s hard to remain resentful when you realise that you’re engaging in an adult form of sulking.


9 thoughts on “Melancholic resentment

  1. I suspect that resenters are poor at simple math’s. They have difficulty getting beyond simple addition. Thus they add to their misery by re engaging the same thoughts until the pattern is established as a network in their brains locking themselves into an indelible habit from which they cannot escape. If they practiced subtraction they could form a habit of disengagement by saying ‘ no’ immediately and every time the same old thought pops up its boring head. This immediate dismissal strategy comes recommended by the Good Lord Himself who has been known to tell repeated offenders of nasty thoughts to dismiss them immediately, mentioning His Name, if desired, as a sure way of clearing the mind. Multiplication of immediate acceptances of every aberrant negative thought wears out the ‘tempter’ who has to source new resentments in order to maintain the mood where he feels most comfortable, namely lazy acceptance of his condition by the tempted. Although repetitive thoughts do not lend themselves to division because of their singular nature, it is useful nevertheless to seek to divide the thought in a search for the slightest hint of fresh insight, because hidden in every problem is the key to its solution. Thus, one could add to acceptance, agreement, with those parts that warrant it and substitution of a positive perspective on those parts which might exude even the slightest suggestion of light in the darkness. There is no point in going on to higher math’s, though I suspect if one reaches that stage, major problems like why God allows suffering and why does He ask us to do an apprentice ship here on earth before taking us to heaven could be solved in an acceptable geometric diagram using an appropriate algorithm.

    • Thanks Hugh, I agree with your point, with the caveat that in some cases resentment can become deeply ingrained in a person’s character such that it becomes second-nature.

      • Zac, I am no expert on the brain, I don’t think resentment can become ingrained in ones character. The most it can become is a habit located in the brain. These are ingrained in the brain and can be replaced or at least overridden by repeating an opposing charitable way of thinking i.e. forming a new habit. Could it be that Our Lady asks us to say the Rosary in order to overcome ‘bad; habits. This is as much a matter of Our Lady using our own capacity to cure ourselves her role being to encourage us to persevere in repetition., while giving us an abundance of powerful replacement thoughts. Happy Easter, now there is a thought worth repeating!

        • I think we’re describing the same thing in different words. I mean ‘character’ as the sum of one’s habits and choices, as opposed to temperament which is from birth.

          It’s true we can replace resentful thoughts with better ones, and likewise habitual actions. Though there has to be in the first instance a recognition of the problem and a desire to change. I think that’s where grace comes into the picture…we might take for granted that we can make a change if we really want to, but can we make ourselves want to?

  2. instead as fault
    the fault of false maturity that is common to those who are of this world
    and ridicule those who would be not of this world but still in this world
    to the point that the bad features of melancholy result
    rather than its inherent higher spiritual potentials

  3. the superior man is a humble servant of the creator
    leaning not to human understanding and philosophies
    but to true spiritual understanding and realization
    for all tho in that process is likely to be persecuted by those who are of this world…
    colassians chapter 2

    English Standard Version
    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

  4. world views ..4 suggested 2 treated here…

    postmodern view of reality and humanity and war and international relations
    Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed;

    postmodernists advocate that instead of finding one’s true identity
    taking on various identities adapted to what works in dealing with life
    versus being based on a universal interpretation whereby one finds one true identity
    instead they reject
    any notions that truth is found through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.

    Eph 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
    Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
    Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
    Eph 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
    Eph 6:14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
    Eph 6:15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
    Eph 6:16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
    Eph 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
    Eph 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
    Eph 6:19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,

    oh the other 2 of the 4
    Scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry;
    Social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization

    .the last suggests a 5th eastern trandtioanal view?

    the western spiritual tradition tho being better in a sense as it is more active
    rather that perhaps the eastern is too withdrawn and passive

  5. hmmm 5 world views?
    suggest to me that their full resolve is a 3 against 2 dynamic

    Not Peace but Division

    49“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

    Interpreting the Times

    54He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

    57“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

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