In December 2019, the Australian Government released the ‘Right to opportunity: Consultation report to help shape the next national disability strategy’. The results within the report were unsurprising regarding what people with disability want for their lives or their vision for a life of fulfillment. Essentially, they want what the rest of society wants: their fundamental human rights recognised and realised. They want the chance to participate meaningfully in the community and enjoy activities others take for granted, like appreciating the company of friends and family, watching their favourite football team in a live match, or going to the shops and the movies. And they are hopeful. They want to bring about transformation in their lives. But if there is one thing that will kill off a vision, as well as relationships, possibilities, workability and more, faster than anything else, it’s resentment. As a leadership coach who specialises in working with people living with disability and someone who lives with a disability, I know how all-consuming resentment can be – including when it simmers beneath the surface – and how much it can be exacerbated when we are treated differently from others.
For people living with disability, everyday activities can be littered with instances and interactions that have the potential to lead to shame, emotional distress and resentment. The latter can stop us in our tracks, damage self-esteem and confidence and impact our careers and goals. The 2009 National Disability Support (NDS) Strategy Consultation Report, which is currently in place, states: “People with disabilities and their families, friends and carers reported daily instances of being segregated, excluded, marginalised and ignored. At best they reported being treated as different. At worst they reported experiencing exclusion and abuse, and being the subject of fear, ignorance and prejudice.” Many of the submissions in the report described the experience of being ostracised from the rest of the community. Here are some examples: a Neighbourhood House that only offered separate programs for people with disabilities; a child who was not allowed to join a local kindergarten; a young man with autism who could not find a school to attend; a woman who had to have a check-up on the kitchen table at her doctor’s office because the standard equipment was unsuitable for her. You can no doubt imagine how cases like these could lead to resentment.
How self-righteousness can fuel resentment and create a vicious cycle
Sometimes people are unaware of the emotional hurt they cause us. Or worse, they know but won’t apologise or take responsibility for it due to a sense of self-righteousness. When referring to self-righteousness, I am referring to the point of view that one is totally correct or morally superior. Self-righteousness, in particular, can leave the person who has been hurt feeling bitter and resentful. Their own self-righteousness subsequently grows, and the expectation of an apology intensifies their bitterness. They continue to drink the poison in the hope that the other person is sensing the brunt of their resentment. Attempts to rationalise their resentment may lead to self-talk about others who they believe don't care, are callous and lack compassion. At other times, they may blame their disability as the source of all their issues, leading to a perception that their hopes and dreams will never be realised.
Years ago, during my first semester at university, I discovered that I needed urgent surgery, the recovery for which would cause me to miss the majority of the semester. In my mind at the time, the surgery threatened my dreams of ever achieving a degree, and this led me to become resentful. Holding on to my resentment kept me from ever trying again. At the time, I remember blaming God for making a mistake in creating me, one for which I was now paying. Years later, I realised that my self-righteous victimhood only further fuelled my resentment, creating a vicious cycle.
Forgiveness helps us let go of resentment
Forgiveness has a decisive role to play here. When we don't forgive – be it others or ourselves – resentments pile up and get swept under the carpet. A lack of forgiveness commonly leads to victimhood. When being a victim, there is no freedom to act. A more effective option is to choose powerfully to be responsible and consider all available options and possibilities. There is always another option, and forgiveness – including self-forgiveness – is the best pathway forward when it comes to letting go of resentment.
Forgiveness is a quality that is commonly misunderstood. We may receive advice like, “get over it”, “let it go”, “forget about it”, or the even more unhelpful, “put the past in the past”. But the question of whether or not to forgive is primarily driven by a concern that forgiveness will condone the harm done. Not forgiving becomes an insurance policy to protect ourselves from being hurt again. The tension created can pull us to pieces on the inside as the resentment eats away at us. There is a loss of capacity and power in situations where resentment is present. Worse still, this can lead to a loss of relationships and the support we depend on with our disability.
Discovering what forgiveness is as a transcendent way of being for humanity offers a more positive path forward in moving from being a victim to owning the circumstances and challenges in life. For clarity, I always refer to the Being Framework™’s distinction of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is the quality of being able to let go and move on. It provides access to restoring integrity back to how it used to be before the act or event you are forgiving. When you forgive, you completely discard any resentment, anger, or hurt towards a person (including yourself) in relation to the act in question. Forgiveness is not about condoning another’s behaviour or actions. Rather, it is the freeing and releasing of oneself from the past while embracing the lesson learnt. Forgiveness brings about ease and flow.”
I recently worked with the leader of an organisation who held a grudge over a disagreement with one of his business partners. The conversation did not go the way he wanted or expected, and he blamed his partner for being ignorant and stubborn. During our coaching session, he reflected on what had happened. He began to realise he was also responsible for the breakdown. Being confronted by the reality of his self-righteous behaviour, there was only one course of action to resolve the guilt from his inauthenticity. It was forgiveness. Later, he shared the instant relief he felt in asking for and receiving forgiveness. The partnership was restored, and workability and freedom returned to the relationship. As a bonus, this newfound awareness was an opportunity for my client to consider where else this might be happening and take steps to bring closure to his previously unhealthy relationship with forgiveness.
As a coach, I use the Being Profile® as the primary tool to support my clients to discover and transform their ways of being – the underlying qualities that drive their behaviours, decisions and actions – one of which is forgiveness. The assessment tool quickly shines the light on aspects of themselves that have been hidden and ignored. When we consider the profound impact an unhealthy relationship with forgiveness can have, this revelation provides the impetus to be set free to forgive ourselves and others and be forgiven.
There are many opportunities and reasons to be resentful, particularly if you have a disability. If you continue to allow resentment to build up, it will impact your life in ways that you can’t yet see. Resentment is drinking the poison and hoping the other person dies. In other words, it’s madness! Being willing to forgive, learn the lesson and move on is genius. Forgiveness restores ownership of your life and your effectiveness in getting matters resolved. The flow-on effect is workability, partnership, and connection with others. In this way, forgiveness facilitates ease and flow.