In order to deal with stress, we must first define what it is. For us, stress is not the sun, wind, rain, or starvation, as it is for animals. For human beings, most stress is simply cruelty, in one form or another, directed at us by other stressed-out human beings, who themselves have been victimized by cruelty and stress in their own pasts.
Just what is it about cruelty that makes it so hard to deal with, and how would you like to overcome your anger at no charge?
Imagine that someone said or did something cruel to you, but that you did not react in any way whatsoever—you did not become upset, resentful, or even ruffled. You simply observed that this person was saying or doing something cruel, as though you were calmly observing the scene in a movie. You simply would not be stressed by what would appear to others to be a highly stressful encounter. Principle number one: Stress and cruelty affect us as profoundly as they do, only because we react to them resentfully. Personal experience and common sense both bear out the basic truth of what is being said here.
What, then, is this thing called resentment? Resentment is like a tiny little electrical shock that we feel in the presence of injustice. Once we begin to respond resentfully to any form of intimidation, all of our happiness, health, wealth, and wisdom are in danger of extinction. This common condition can set in immediately through a severe trauma, or it can grow up in us gradually over many years of accumulated aggravation.
The word resentment comes from the Latin root which means, literally, "to feel again." It implies a re-experiencing of previous anger. This pent-up rage makes us lose control so that we may become violent, to the point that we do and say things for which we are sorry later when we regain our composure.
Something strange but undeniable happens when we resent. Besides finding ourselves saddled with great conflict, we find within us something of the identity of the person we resent! We can't stop thinking about the person we resent. Even more bizarre, we actually start agreeing with his ideas; we can't say no to him. For instance: You have an emotional argument with someone, during the course of which you become very upset. Although you started out sure of yourself and your perception of the issue being debated, the upset and resentment emotionalizes your thinking and causes you to become confused and doubtful as to your original position. Now you find, to your bewilderment, that you actually start to agree with the other party (who may, in reality, be totally wrong).
Not only does resentment cause us to become confused, it actually throws open our minds to outside suggestion.
In fact, very often our adversary consciously or unconsciously wants us to resent him, because he senses that this will separate us from our own common sense and enlightened reason. Unless we are upset away from our own calm center of dignity, he or she would be unable to dominate us or plant suggestions in our minds. Again, when we are upset, we have no power to resist suggestion.Conquering resentment is the key to dealing with all stress, even stress that does not appear to be related in any way to cruelty, such as the stress of balancing the household budget, or the stress of our children needing a great deal of our attention. The reason is simple: The way we react to all stress, even the innocent problems, discomforts, and responsibilities of life, is conditioned and keyed to the way in which we deal with cruelty. In other words if we react with upset and resentment to cruelty and thoughtlessness, we will also react that way, in one form or another, to all stressful situations.
"Resentment is the establishing cause of all past traumas, and
a reinforcing cause of them
in the present."
Resentment plays millions of tricks with our minds. One of them is to make us feel lost and empty, and that intensifies the need for love and approval. This opens the door to binges with food and sex—anything to fill the emptiness. But when we find gratification through people, places, and things, as love substitutes, we are literally breeding addiction within ourselves. Why? Because the pleasure is only a love substitute, which by its very nature feeds the anger that gave rise to it, making us even more angry—and round it goes.
That is the nature of addiction to anything, from gambling, to food, to drugs and alcohol. How do we solve all these stress problems? By applying Principle number two: Locate the resentment and drop it in the present moment. If we can locate our resentment in every present intimidation, and let it pass, we discover to our amazement that our fears, fetishes, phobias and guilt, in fact all those faults we have hated in ourselves and others, begin to disappear.
Please freeze-frame this point: Resentment is the root cause of all the suffering in your life, bad decisions, even many diseases. Being upset makes us suggestible, gullible, and submissive to cruel authority. We grow up as permanent victims, and tyrants and manipulators see to it that their quarry never outgrow their secret hostilities by piling on cruelty upon cruelty, terror upon terror, and confusion upon confusion.
Incredibly, very often the victim of secret, suppressed rage feels love and warmth towards his violator, and truly believes that his slavery is a loving service. This is because the hate he feels automatically produces guilt, which automatically creates a powerful need for him to "make up" for that guilt—with false love. An entire nation can be controlled by this hate-love phenomenon. Consider the nation of Iran. Do you really believe that the late Ayatollah Khomeini's followers truly loved him? Of course not, they hated him. They had religion forced upon them when they were children, in a society that has no tolerance for a different view. The result is rage and conformity—and a strange loyalty to serve the violator, even to the death.
Resentment is the establishing cause of all past traumas, and a reinforcing cause of them in the present. That is why so many of us never get well. At the same time, however, it gives great hope for a cure to those willing to engage in a little introspection. There is no need to look into the past to find the cause of our problems; we can gauge our pasts by carefully observing how we relate to people, places, and things in the present.
You see, objects that were present in the scene of any cruel, traumatic event become associated with the person who hurt us, and can have the same effect upon us as the person did. Example: You may not like the color red; for some unknown reason red irritates you. Or you could like it too much. But there's no need to look deeper (although there is a deeper root cause) because the reactions you are now experiencing are, for all practical purposes, the root. Just notice the irritation, and see if you can locate the resentment that underlies it. As you observe it, it disappears. Sometime later, the memory of the originating incident will surface all by itself, and you will have a flash of understanding about it—and then it is gone, along with your problem.
One man I counseled felt irritable in the presence of balloons, especially red ones. One of the few times his father played with him, it turns out, he gave his son some red balloons. However, his father played with him in a cold, indifferent, hypocritical way; he was impatient and didn't really want to play with his son, but did so out of obligation. Sensing his father's hypocrisy and coldness, the boy resented this, knowing it wasn't real love. That trauma affected him throughout his life and was associated in his mind with balloons. Of course, that was only one of hundreds of traumas that can make up a person's life.
The key to overcoming resentment is very basic: We must learn to observe everything objectively, including personal conflicts, without becoming upset and thereby refueling the problem. This ability to confront problems without becoming upset or emotionally caught up with them is an essential and time-honored discipline, necessary for our mental, emotional, and even physical health and well-being.