Respecting resentment: the cultivation & relaxing of animosity

We can contrast the term animosity with the term affinity. Animosity is a mode of social competitiveness.

It is not the physical aggression of a lion attacking an antelope or a group of hyenas intimidating the lion to take what remains of the carcass. There are many forms of physical aggression without animosity, including all forms of play fighting as well as practices of physical discipline or punishment as well as a pilot dropping a bomb on a group of civilians. There is typically no personal animosity in those cases.

There are different levels of danger or destructiveness. There may be great concern for maintaining the welfare or the other or no concern at all. But, with animosity, there is a focused concern on intentionally harming the other (or at least disturbing them).

So animosity can include physical violence, although animosity is fundamentally social. animosity Typically involves an attempt to destroy or injure or someone socially, like to damage their reputation or long-term wellbeing.

Of course, Animosity can also lead to threats or acts of physical aggression. The aggressiveness would have a specific intent though. In pure rage (or a predator simply hunting prey), an aggressor would likely just want to drive off or kill their target. However, with animosity, there may be a more socially cruel intent, like to injure someone physically and with the goal of causing them lasting embarrassment or shame, making sure that they survive and face social scrutiny.

The desire is to socially crush the target. Further, animosity is always rooted in some perceived past justification. For instance, Revenge always involves animosity.

I am envy someone’s results in an appreciative way (like admiring their results). However, if we add some animosity to that admiration or envy, then it is jealousy.

If we fear what someone might do, that alone would not lead to animosity, for that is simply fear. However, if we resent what we wanted them to do but they did not do, then we may invent a cover story to attract social validation of an underlying animosity. Maybe we present (or project) a story of fear about what they might do. However, if there is fury and bitterness covered by a story of fear, then that story is either only part of the bigger picture or… entirely a pretense.

So far, we have been exploring the topic of animosity without much reference to resentment. Basically, animosity can suddenly arise and then suddenly dissolve.

Resentment is the social cultivation of lasting animosity. Resentment is social because it involves telling one or more stories repeatedly in ways that result in animosity. The stories can be presented to an audience (which could even be the target of the animosity) or simply privately rehearsed for later use (like journaling or thinking about some past trigger).

Next, let’s add a deeper attention to the issue of respect. When we respect resentment or animosity, what does that mean?

We are open to exploring it for what it is. We may have some ideas already about what it is or what it should be or what it should not be, yet respect implies a preference for actual observation over pre-existing presumptions or expectations or speculations.

Here is an example. Two siblings of different ages were at a shopping mall with one adult and the older sibling said “can I go over to the pet store and pet that puppy?” The adult said “yes.” So the older child went and pet the puppy (and the other two went in to the bookstore next door to the pet store).

So far, there is no animosity or resentment, right? But then the younger sibling said “do they have snakes in that pet store?” The adult said “I told you that we are going to avoid all snakes because some snakes can hurt you.”

That was not the response the younger child was hoping for. For one thing, the response was not even directly to the question that the child had asked.

So, the child displayed some frustration and said: “do they have snakes or not?” The adult said “you did not take a nap yet today, did you?”

The child said “snakes are SOOO cool, but puppies are stupid.” The adult said “I will tell you what is really cool… winter!”

The child said “no, snakes are way cooler than winter. That is why I hate puppies.” The adult erupted in to laughter.

The child said in an accusative tone “why are you laughing? You probably think puppies are so great, don’t you? You don’t even know anything about them. Jamie got a new puppy and it jumped all over me and I hate puppies and I hate you, too!”

The adult calmly said “I understand what you are saying… and I am going to take that as a no in regard to the nap.”

“We are not even talking about naps,” the child protested. “Jamie should not even have a puppy. It is not fair. Pat’s dad has a pet snake and it is so cool. I should have one too. It will be my best friend and then I will get a tattoo of it on my arm like Luke Skywalker.”

Again, the adult burst out laughing. “But This is not funny,” shouted the child.

The adult, who was the grandfather of the two kids, said to the child “do you know what the word spoiled means?” The child said “I am not talking about food. Yes I know that Food gets spoiled. So Yes I know everything about spoiled. You are the one who clearly does not know anything about snakes. You think that you are cool, grandpa, but you are NOT cool. You are very uncool.”

By the way, grandpa had a tattoo of a snake on one shoulder. Apparently the child did not know that.

So what was going on in that story? How was it related to animosity and resentment?

Obviously, the child was very combative. We could say that they were trying to socially bully (as in attempt to cause distress for) the grandfather. If the child could trigger enough guilt in the grandfather, then the grandfather could submit to the child to avoid further harassment. Basically, it was a variation of throwing a tantrum.

There were a few displays of animosity, too. First, the child said puppies are stupid and then claimed to hate puppies twice. However, the only specific puppy mentioned was Jamie’s new puppy. In fact, the animosity was not really toward all puppies or one puppy, but toward Jamie, who allegedly “should not even have a puppy.”

People only socially compete with those that they perceive as threats. Further, it can matter if there is an audience or not.

For instance, if Jamie wanted to intimidate the new puppy, Jamie might not directly do it. Rather than physically intimidate or bully the puppy, Jamie might do it socially (through someone else).

Jamie might go to an adult and loudly complain that “this puppy needs to be taught how to behave properly.” If Jamie does that in the presence of the puppy (and with the attention of the puppy on what Jamie is doing), then that is displaying an indirect or social threat to the puppy. If the puppy is submissive to the adult to whom Jamie is presenting a demand for intervention, then Jamie is openly presenting a social threat to the puppy (right in front of the puppy).

It is not a secret demand for intervention. Jamie may even be very deliberate about making sure that the puppy is aware of the process.

Backing up to the first example, there was the animosity in the statement that “Jamie should not even have a puppy.” The speaker presents a conclusive awareness of whether or not Jamie should have a puppy, then declares their verdict.

However, Jamie does not have any lasting importance. There would not likely be any resentment toward Jamie (just a fleeting moment of convenient animosity).

If there was resentment, it might be from the child toward the Grandfather. The grandfather does not approve the child’s request. Clearly, that could become a pattern, right? If the grandfather does not fully unravel the child’s animosity, then resentment seems a likely result. In fact, even if the grandfather submitted to the child’s blackmail tantrums and bullying, the child might still resent the grandfather.

Or, the grandfather might resent the child or other people involved. “Who raised such a spoiled brat? I bet it is my daughter-in-law who is to blame! And How did I get stuck with this horrible afternoon? I can’t believe that I was tricked in to this. They did not even give this child a nap yet today. What kind of parents would treat their kids like that and then have so little respect for ME?”

Consider that resenting someone is an activity or practice. It takes ongoing verbal activity.

Further, it is a coping mechanism. More specifically, it is a “freeze response.”

Let’s explore that idea now. With fear, there are a few variations. Fear is a concern, usually sudden, for potential danger or loss.

The most common fear response is to withdraw or flee. If there is a possible threat and I am far away from it, then I can either investigate it from a safer distance or simply stay away.

Another popular fear response is to physically fight (or at least argue). When a creature would prefer to flee, but is not aware of a favorable escape route, they will predictably fight.

In the story above, the child was interested in attracting the support and guidance of grandpa. The actual outcome in relation to a snake might have been interesting to the child for a few seconds or a few minutes, but obviously is not a core need (like hunger or sleep). The child did make reference though to the snake becoming their “best friend.” Maybe grandpa would be an even better friend than a snake, right?

So, the child was arguing with grandpa. They were fighting socially against grandpa in the hopes of bullying grandpa in to being their best friend. It might not be the best method, but the underlying desire makes sense. Plus, that method might work well… at least for a while… at least with someone as interested and perceptive as grandpa.

As for fear, there are two other common responses (besides fight and flight): freeze and fake. We will skip the response of fake for now and simply note that it is just a special case of the freeze response.

With freezing in response to a possible threat, there are two occasions that lead to freezing. First is the case when there is a major possible threat and the primary options of fleeing or fighting do not currently seem relevant. That is a “stiff” freezing that can quickly shift to fighting or fleeing.

There is also a more casual or relaxed “freeze response.” That is when there is a perceived threat or potential loss, but it is not major but only minor. We could even call that a “pause response.” There is no freezing stiff in terror. There is just a pause and extra care or caution or alertness.

Basically, that is being “frozen” to simply wait to see what else happens. It is being attentive.

The more extreme freezing has elevated stress hormones and an interest in finding an opening to flee or fight. And resentment is actually the verbal activity of maintaining an elevated stress level and looking for an opportunity to fight.

Let’s explore that further now. In the example above, the child displayed animosity toward their grandpa a few times. For instance, The social invalidation of “you do not know anything about ____” was not a respectful, plain statement of a sincere perception, but a dismissive, condescending, or even harassing statement. It was social animosity.

However, it was not resentment. Resentment would be an hour later though, like still complaining about how stupid grandpa was (and “always is”). Or a decade later, there could be a resenting of how grandpa behaved in ways that he allegedly should not have done.

In other words, grandpa did not do what the child expected or imagined. In fact, whatever grandpa does, it is easy to construct a later speculation about exactly what he should have done. That is often an important part of the practice of resentment.

To simply imagine what the child might have liked grandpa to do is not resenting. To sustain a personal state of stress and animosity by constructing a complaint about what grandpa should have done is resentment.

Resenting grandpa is done when there is no interaction with grandpa. Maybe grandpa is across the room. Maybe grandpa died thirty years ago. Resenting grandpa is entirely independent of grandpa.

Resentment is a coping mechanism to maintain an internal state of stress by focusing on particular historical details in particular ways. Why resent grandpa thirty years later? It is cultivating a current state of animosity (in relation to anyone).

When there is a perceived benefit to maintaining a state of general animosity (toward most everyone, but usually with some exceptions), then people invest time in to the practice of resenting. But how is that ever beneficial?

Imagine a child who is somewhat scared of three things, but is also terrified of anyone knowing that they are somewhat scared of those three things. What is a great cover? Socially displaying constant animosity toward an unrelated thing can be a great way to distract attention from what is otherwise obvious.

Resentment is a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with shame. If I am ashamed of one thing, I can even present social displays about how some other thing is very shameful: what that person said, what that politician did not do but should have done, or the fact that Jamie’s puppy was very disrespectful to minority disabled military veterans.

In other words, resentment is not really the fight response. It is more like faking the fight response.

I rehearse verbally a fantastic social justification for resenting whoever or whatever. I present it to others. Ideally, they congratulate me for shaming and ridiculing whoever I claim to resent. They sympathize with my animosity. They support my “freeze response” of standing here impatiently waiting for my favorite villain to apologize to me like they clearly should.

However, some people do not seem very interested in the drama of my tantrums about what should not have happened 200 years ago. Clearly, they are almost as stupid as puppies.

Or, maybe resentment is not just faking the fight response. Maybe it is trying to set up an argument with a particular person (or at least about a particular subject). Maybe it is staying frozen in an obsessive, internal rehearsal of animosity until someone comes along and volunteers (whether they know it or not) to hear an outpouring of contempt about what should have happened 900 years ago.

So what is the solution? How does the practice of resentment shift or relax?

First, someone can only resent one thing in a given moment of time. If there is a big enough common threat, then a bunch of people who have been obsessively resenting each other for 4000 years can suddenly focus on resenting someone else that has socially betrayed them by revealing their naïveté.

“Copernicus has insulted both of our great nations by suggesting that our favorite models might be imprecise. Both of our nations have consulted all of the top members of the priesthood in the international ministry of infallible science and 100% of us agree that our model is simply the most scientific model in the entire history of hysterical denial. Climate change is ____ and so are vaccines! We do not need to show data or reproduce any experiments because SCIENCE!”

So, an old resentment can be interrupted by a new one. The old resenting may be renewed of course. But then it can easily be replaced once again.

The other alternative is to recognize what exactly is involved in the practice of resenting (of conjuring resentment). The practitioner claims to place a curse on their target, but is themselves possessed by their own curse. If their target has been dead and gone for 63,937 years, then the internal state of stress that they cultivate is for themselves alone.

Sure, they may be afraid of social stress and thus erupt in to repulsion and animosity whenever approached. However, that is literally to protect themselves from the biggest threat in their hell: humility.

How is humility a threat to hell? Hell is the practice of agonizing to avoid social humiliation. Humility is a state of being interested enough in social results to welcome feedback and humiliation so as to adjust and then be more effective in the future.

Or, maybe hell is not just about avoiding humiliation. Maybe hell is about avoiding criticism. Humiliation might be as simple as wanting some result and then attempting to produce it, then failing completely. That is really no big deal. However, being criticized for a humiliating failure can be very repulsive.

People may lash out harshly in relation to criticism. Maybe they expect it. Maybe they interpret things as criticism even when none was intended.

They want to avoid being bullied. Being socially humble is not complicated at all. However, pretending to be invulnerable can be even more stressful than simply being vulnerable and not hiding it.

Everyone is vulnerable to experiencing fear, flight, fighting, freezing, and faking. Pretending otherwise is optional.

Even snakes and puppies and grandpas get afraid. But only humans have a very advanced adaption for coping with intense amounts of social stress: resenting.

It is a signal indicating that someone is still processing through grief (or trauma etc) and they are embarrassed about having that grief witnessed by anyone else. They may really want to cry, but every time they start to cry, they panic and instead invoke a recipe for resentment so that they prevent or interrupt their grieving (to instead display a grievance).

Sometimes, someone may value some time alone. However, if they lack the sense of social stability to just directly say “I would prefer some time alone,” then what might result is occasional animosity or resentment or contempt.

They may give the general social message of “stay away from me” while also directly inviting others to “agree with me.” There can be an internal tension between their own awareness of themselves and some set of social ideals that they were pressured to internalize.

They may want to project themselves as “only good” and frame certain others as “especially deserving of contempt.” But is the contempt about the actual history or really just about distracting from their own experiences that they relate to as shameful (such as fear, anger, or grief)?

What naturally happens as I become alert to the reality of what resenting is and what it is for? Do I deny my own resentment or recognize it calmly? Do I hysterically resent others for practicing resentment, or hysterically defend certain instances of resentment, or simply recognize the reality of their practices of resenting?

Do I develop a sense of humor in regard to resentment? Do I sarcastically complain that some puppies just do not resent snakes as much as they should?

If I see resenting an one of many options, then I can apologize for it (or for the consequences of it). I can seek to develop my skill at that coping mechanism and method as well as to develop in other ways.

Also, my sense that there is some universally-relevant “one right way of doing things” or “one wrong way of doing things” may naturally relax as I learn about the different developmental stages of children or the different social expectations across different cultures and subcultures. Over time, I may get less interested in resentment in particular and more interested in motivation and effectiveness.

Can people develop a habit of finding things to resent? Sure they can. They can also develop other habits, like finding things to respect, to admire, to appreciate, to value, or to cultivate.

By “they,” I mean people like me. It is even possible that you could develop new habits or at least interact with people who have different habits from what is most familiar to you currently. Maybe you will find something attractive… or even fascinating or delightful.


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