Whether you are an emotional eater or someone who uses another coping strategy to deal with your emotions, resentment is something we all struggle with.
Pulling away from the World
Meet the Greek, mythological character Philoctetes (image above). Philoctetes was an archer with a bow given to him by the gods. One day a snake bit him and the wound wouldn’t heal (hint hint, wound didn’t heal?)
While at sea his shipmates couldn’t tolerate the stench of his wound and his cries of agony so they abandoned him on an island for 10 years – as any normal person would have done of course. But then comes the interesting part.
Still struggling with the wound AND feeling betrayed by his friends, he retreats into a cave and sits, and broods. And keeps doing that for years and years.
Meanwhile a war is going on and a prophecy is revealed that the Greeks need his bow to win the war. So they send a messenger to ask him to come back but he refuses, feeling resentful about his plight thus far.
Then the Greeks send a ship with really, really important people on it to woo him back. Again he refuses preferring to wallow in his pain and loneliness, and wait for death.
The Resentment in Us
The story of Philoctetes is the story of us all. The initial snake bite was a wound that wouldn’t heal, very much like the injuries inflicted upon us when we were children. Our parents made mistakes, screwed up or outright failed at their task of raising us properly.
Because we were young, we were vulnerable and so wounded in a way that stayed with us into adulthood.
The betrayal by Philoctetes’ friends can be symbolic of how life continued to hurt us in one way or another after our initial wound. Maybe we were bullied, or our friends hurt us or we were ourselves betrayed by our spouses. Lots of things hurt before we grow up.
So once we enter adulthood we understandably feel anger and rage which generally sit just beneath the surface, never really processed and so those emotions are directed inward. We keep them inside and pull away from the world in some manner.
We retreat into our own psychological cave and entrench ourselves there for the long haul.
In the story above you’ll note that Philoctetes’ friends tried to woo him out of the cave and back into the game. The friends represent our own impulses calling us to live our life fully and get our needs met.
Yet we stay in the cave and feel angry that we can’t achieve what we want and that our lives are not going according to plan, to how we wanted life to turn out.
Never realizing that it’s our own resentment that’s holding us back, or rather our unconscious preference to stay in that resentment that holds us back (nobody consciously chooses to do that because if we did we’d stop.)
Maybe that’s why some of us don’t want to know or become aware. So we don’t have to give it up.
It gets Addictive
So Philoctetes was in his cave for 10 whole years, watching his life waste away. He was miserable but also comfortable in that misery. That cave was like being in the mother’s womb; warm, wet and not having to deal with any difficulties in the world.
So it is with us. We also sit in our misery the same way an alcoholic does after many drinks, his eyes half closed, feeling buzzed and warm and fuzzy. Or the emotional eater with a full stomach, feeling sleepy and wanting to curl up in front of the TV and stay there.
Both people are feeling good, but also horribly as well. The food and alcohol soothes but also punishes. Yet because it soothes it takes us away from our problems and we soon learn to crave that state and it slowly becomes addictive.
Our resentment is addictive too and serves the same purposes, to dull our pain, take us away from facing the fears of life and from confronting things about ourselves or our lives that we would rather not see or feel.
Our emotions are just as powerful as substances and hook us into addiction just as easily.
At the end of the story Philoctetes finally does get moving and ends up joining his friends. A vision from the demigod Heracles came to him and urged him to fight the good fight. He did so and they won the war.
The vision of Heracles represents the hero in us that wants to pull ourselves away from the heaviness and comfort of the cave we are hiding in. It tells us that the way to healing is by fully engaging in life and not by holding on to what makes us content (and miserable.)
To do this we have to come to terms with our anger and that requires that we become aware of it. Not just aware the way we know we like chocolate ice cream over vanilla, but I mean REALLY aware. Enough so that you can feel it in your bones and KNOW it well.
It’s the way a first time mother understands what sleep deprivation is like after hearing all about it from her friends who have kids. It’s the, “oh, yeah, now I get it. I knew I’d be tired but I actually feel like I got hit by a truck” realization.
To recognize the resentment when it comes up and see how it plays out in your day to day life. This happens when you open your mouth and start talking. It can be to a therapist, a friend or a group of people. You talk and tell and also listen to others and look for their resentments, so that you can see their patterns in yourself.
Maybe you have a friend who shuts down and eats a tub of ice cream while watching Netflix whenever her boss gives her a hard time. That’s her going into her cave. The ice cream and movie are there to distract her from what she needs to do which is to confront her boss instead. But that’s painful so she chooses to shy away and grumble in resentment.
In that case your job as her friend is to listen and understand and try to see how you also shy away whenever a painful or difficult situation comes up. Notice what you do to cope if you have to say “no” to someone or whenever you feel inadequate or are overwhelmed.
Especially notice how you may be choosing to stay in the warm and fuzzy loneliness and self pity of your resentment. Choosing the drug so to speak.
Awareness is key here because most of this is somewhat unconscious and so when you finally really see what you are doing it becomes harder to keep doing it. Some people stop smoking only after seeing the black inside of a smoker’s lung. The smoker knew they had a bad habit, they knew it was unhealthy for them but still didn’t “really get it” until it was made visceral when they saw the dying lung tissue.
You have to really see.
A couple of points to note:
1- We are enraged because of the wounds inflicted upon us and have the right to be. It’s an important thing to note that our anger is valid.
2- That whatever happened to you as a child is not your fault. How could it be? However it is your mess to clean up because as much as you want the perpetrators to do it, they won’t. And even if they wanted to fix it and saw the errors of their ways and paid for all of your therapy and apologized profusely and became born again nice people to you forever … they couldn’t. It doesn’t work that way.
We all have a mess to clean up that wasn’t ours. Some of us have it much worse than others and it’s not fair one bit either way. But that’s the way we heal. The power is in our our own hands and nobody else’s, meaning we have to do the work.
It sucks in one sense but is ultimately a good thing. It means we need to rely on ourselves to change and grow, no one else.
Ever tried to change someone? Exactly. They never do. If we had to wait until someone did in order for us to heal then we’d never get better.
And how do we change and heal? We become aware. Aware like that new mother who was sleep deprived. Aware like a patient getting their first root canal with the sounds and smells of the drill shoved into their mouth. Aware like kids finding out the truth about Santa. Aware in the way you realize that your mother-in-law is staying over a lot more than “just a few days” as originally planned.
WAYS OF HELPING YOU BECOME AWARE
One helpful practice is to talk with your parents honestly and bring up any resentments you might have with them. This is done purely for you. You don’t have to like them but it is good for you to talk with them and establish a relationship, whatever that might look like.
It’s a way for you to bring the resentment to the surface and deal with it so that you don’t have to keep it inside, where it hurts only you. After you let it out in the most productive way you can, keep talking with them and create that relationship. Again, it doesn’t have to be a good one and again, this is for you.
What you are doing is “relating” to the entity that caused your wound. The more you talk with them the less power you feel they have over you and so the less resentment you experience. You do this even if they don’t deserve a relationship with you, or deserve for you to drop your resentment toward them. BTW if you do feel that way it’s completely normal. It’s just you wanting to hold onto the resentment, to stay in the cave.
That way, you can avoid the parts you feel are ugly or shameful about yourself instead of dealing with them.
Again this practice is for you no matter how nice or mean they are and what they do or don’t deserve. It will help you to call them regularly, even if all you do is argue because you will be becoming more and more aware of how you are feeling and how you react to the people that had the most power over your lives.
Dealing with them will make it 10x easier to deal with the rest of the world. A relationship with them (good or bad) is one of the best investments you’ll make for yourself.
The next practices to cultivate would be to:
– Talk with a therapist
– Join a free online therapy group
– Talk with friends
– Journal regularly
Use some or all of these tools regularly to become more and more aware. It’s what’s needed to pull you out of the addiction and stay out. That addictive pull is powerful and needs to be countered constantly as you’ll see when you work on it.
Finally, there was one more entity trying to woo Philoctetes back to life. It was a chorus and they were singing to him, and telling him about the universality of the wound of resentment.
That it afflicts all of us and in a sense is just how life is. When we realize that, we see that the problem lies with us rather than with others and because of that we have control over it. The work now is to listen to the summons of the hero within us to pull ourselves out, face the pain of the past, the grief of what has been lost, and move ahead.
Leave the cave and feel the sun on your face again. Then look back and feel the shock and awe of your imprisonment, how you were trapped for so long when all you had to do was walk out the door.
You couldn’t see that the door was open though. That’s the trap (not being aware) and we were all, and continue to be, caught in it. It’s something to work on all our lives as growth never stops, even when we get better.
This is important work and is good for us and for all those around us.
Be as selfish as you can with this process and watch how everyone else benefits too.
You change, the world changes.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.