The most common addiction, and its only antidote
My list would start with my family and the countless times I felt hurt by them.
And there are oh, so many others who can be added to the list.
There’s the man who tried to blame me when I didn’t get paid for a job.
There’s the man who sold me on big claims and promises, while behind the scenes there was a much different story.
There’s the contractor who took sevens months longer than he promised to finish the job, and then sued me because the deal fell apart because he didn’t finish on time.
There’s that time when a person in my life turned her needs into unwarranted and unfair criticisms of me.
So many painful experiences with so many people for whom I harbor resentment.
Sentiment: feeling. Re: again.
Resentment: to feel feelings of anger, pain, indignation, frustration, victimhood over and over and over again. To hold onto those feelings tightly and refuse to let go.
Story of my life. Oh, how well I know resentment.
The sweet and poisonous drug of resentment
I, like so many others, am so prone to getting addicted to my emotional pain. In fact, I believe it’s the single most common addiction.
People hurt us once, and then we hold onto those feelings as if they are precious, as if we can’t live without them.
And those feelings fester, grow, and solidify into stories of victimhood.
“I can’t believe she would do that.” “He is such a jerk.” “She doesn’t care about anyone but herself.”
Indeed, those feelings and stories are precious to us because they serve a specific purpose: They justify our resentment and behavior.
As long as we have someone else or some circumstance to blame, we don’t have to take responsibility for our choices, our pain, and our lives.
- “I’m depressed because my parents didn’t love me. It’s their fault and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
- “I can’t open up and be honest and emotionally intimate in relationships because I could never trust my parents with my feelings. I’m broken because of them and I’ll always be like this.”
- “I steal because my older brother taught me to do it and I never had a good role model.”
- “I’m promiscuous because my father told me I’m worthless.”
- “I’m addicted to porn because my mother rejected me.”
- “I drink/lie/cheat/get defensive/lose my temper, etc. because…”
We all have our own stories and excuses. We all have people whom we blame for our pain, for where we’ve ended up in life, for all the ways in which we’re stuck.
Victimhood is actually a sweet place to be, in a perverted way. It’s a shield, an escape from the cold, hard truth that we and we alone are responsible for our choices, behavior, and results.
As miserable as it is, victimhood — having someone else to blame for our life — actually feels much better than the perceived alternative: that we are to blame.
(And let me be clear: I’m not judging or blaming anyone for all the misguided and destructive ways we try to numb our pain. I do it as much, if not more so, than anyone. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, other than it simply holds us hostage and keeps us stuck and suffering.)
The antidote we avoid
There’s only one way out of the prison of resentment, and that is to take personal responsibility.
When I say “responsibility,” clue into how that word feels to you.
For most people, it conjures feelings of blame, shame, and pain. It feels like a burden.
It’s like carrying the weight of the original wounds, and then adding another hundred pounds to that weight. Subconsciously, it has a dark and heavy feel to it.
We cringe at hearing “It’s your responsibility” because what we really hear is, “It’s your fault. You are to blame.”
Am I right?
Embracing the joy of response-ability
Let’s take another look at the word “responsibility” to see if we can change our orientation to it.
Break the word down and we find “response” plus “ability.” In other words, responsibility simply means having the ability to respond.
Responsibility is our ability to choose our actions and responses to anything that happens to us. It is our ability to choose how we spend our time and energy. It is our ability to create different outcomes.
As Viktor Frankl discovered in a Nazi concentration camp,
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Reclaiming our power
Responsibility is not a blaming or shameful word, but rather an empowering word.
Responsibility, when properly understood, is one of the most exciting, powerful, and joyful principles we have to create our ideal lives.
The people who take the least responsibility for their circumstances and results have the least power and ability to improve them. Likewise, those who take the most responsibility have the greatest power and ability to improve their circumstances and results.
Until we accept responsibility, we have no power to change anything because we have no power over our circumstances.
If we didn’t cause something, then there’s nothing we can do to fix it. But if we see how we are the owners of our feelings and results, we have the power to change them.
The point of taking responsibility isn’t to increase our burden of shame, but simply to relieve our suffering.
We are not to blame for the ways people hurt us. But we are responsible for how we respond.
And that’s the most relieving and empowering thing we can ever learn.