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THE INFECTION OF ‘RESENTMENT’

Clients often cultivate huge resentments.

For the litigator, that poses a considerable challenge – how to sidestep the resentment to build a powerful argument free of its anger and emotion.

Resentments seem to have some common traits. Take client Sarah Jones, “Queen of Resentments.”

Her story keeps getting better all the time.  Client Jones only did a little something wrong… no, make that only one thing wrong… no, come to think of it, Jones is blameless.

  • ·         Jones’s grievances build — stinging words appear, such as “conspiracy” or “they’re all against me.”

  • ·         Full of self-pity, she blames fate or bad luck.

  • ·         It may be years later, but Jones tells the story as if it happened yesterday.

  • ·         Jones portrays herself as a victim — perhaps using overly-dramatic words  [her urinalysis test may have been flawed,   but “they raped me” is hyperbole].

  • ·         She places all the blame elsewhere; likely she resists suggestions to clean up her side of the street.   SHE did nothing wrong.

  • ·         She seeks to “get even” and punish her enemies.  She typically is willing to sacrifice her own peace of mind to accomplish this.

  • ·         Jones may even make herself emotionally ill — we recall a male who got a 30% disability from the VA for depression after resentments began to dominate his  life.

  • ·         Jones truly believes that her bitterness hurts her detractors and that they frequently dwell on her situation. She cannot fathom that they probably cannot even recall it!

  • ·         Her anger produces no joy or closure.   She can see little positive in life or appreciate its small pleasures.

  • ·         She refuses to “smell the roses” — for example, she cannot savor the fact that peers and associates may be willing to speak up for her.

If Jones presents herself as self-righteous and victimized,  effective advocacy will be an uphill battle.  Decision makers likely will grant a fair hearing to Jones’s sadness — but they will tune out her anger and ranting.

That’s the problem.

What’s the solution?

If someone like Jones is willing to listen, how about this:

1.      Jones needs to know that resentment is toxic. To repeat for emphasis, it will put her decision makers on the defensive.

2.      Perhaps Jones can begin “practicing” shedding her resentments by letting someone off the hook each day.  The person walking in front of Jones’s car texting/deleting…the guy cutting in front of her at the supermarket’s  “10 items or less line” with 22 items… the other driver, playing loud music and cutting her off in traffic.   Forgiving someone each day — arguably, it’s good practice.

3.      Jones needs to hear the “other side.” What do THEY say Jones did wrong?   

4.      She might adopt the practice of individuals in 12-step programs; we understand sponsors advise them to pray each day for their detractors.

5.      Ultimately, she must tackle the hardest job — can she forgive her enemies? The great religious traditions of the world seem to echo the premise expressed in the familiar Lord’s Prayer — believers are forgiven, but only to the degree “we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jones probably will bristle at this.  But unless she can discard her bitterness, she is hooked… and advocacy will suffer.

6.      Perhaps Jones can consider WHY is so difficult for her to let go.  Maybe the answer lies in the payoff Jones enjoys.  She gets to be right.  And for many, “being right” is one of the most precious aspects of life.

Someone like Jones may never view the situation objectively.  Wrapped in her anger, Jones may reject a more measured approach from her lawyer.   Yet unless she objectively liberates herself from her resentments, odds are they will cripple her petition — no matter how able the advocate. 


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