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Removing Compulsion – Resentment and bitterness

In the subconscious mind, immorality is often associated with pleasure. Because such pleasure is socially forbidden, it becomes tied to anxiety. In turn, this anxiety helps to generate compulsion. Therefore the process of purifying the subconscious mind involves both releasing this anxiety and bringing the immoral thoughts into normal consciousness. [¹]. The function of resentment and bitterness is that they remove the attractiveness of forbidden ideas and vain phantasies.

In the abreaction of guilt, when the first two stages of narcissism and jealousy are worked through, the stage of guilt is reached. Now feelings of degradation arise concerning the immorality of the catharsis stage. The last stage, that of resentment, highlights the feelings of degradation and rejects all the previous excitement. [²].

Prior to the catharsis, immorality was associated with pleasure (at a subconscious level of mind). During the catharsis this subconscious pleasure is raised to the conscious level of mind. When abreaction is complete the resentment and bitterness have dissociated the pleasure from the immoral thoughts.

Anxiety was attached to the memories since to take pleasure in immorality is not socially acceptable. The final result is that both anxiety and pleasure are separated from the aspect of immorality that was the subject of the abre action. Whence such immoral thoughts no longer bother the person because there are no longer any emotional dynamics in the subconscious mind attached to such thoughts.

In this way, the subconscious mind is gradually purified of compulsive immoral thoughts and the amount of determinism is reduced. The person may still call up immoral phantasies if he / she wants to, but they no longer retain their previous influence over him / her and so will not affect their behaviour.

Purification and Sensuality

Why does the purification of the subconscious mind produce so much distress? . Why is the elimination of determinism so disturbing for the adult ? The distress turns upon the links between determinism, sensuality and conformity. The young child desires support above all else. It needs boundaries within which it can feel secure. If these boundaries are not supplied by the parents, or if the parental boundaries are inharmonious to it, then the child has to create its own boundaries as it grows up.

Boundaries are created as a way of producing a safe haven. Why does the child, and the adult, need a safe environment ? . Because the person fears his freedom! The fear of freedom, the fear of venturing into the unknown, underlies most human activity. [³].

The boundaries that the person accepts or creates are ones that offer the promise of happiness. He / she prefers to seek happiness and conformity rather than freedom. Happiness and conformity are safer options to the fear of freedom. [4]. And happiness is sought within forms of sensuality. Freedom is buried and denied by activities such as the over-indulgence in sex, alcohol, cannabis, television and by the pursuit of a nice respectable social status. This burial of freedom is characterised by the sense of alienation or by the sense of there being no meaning to life.

As the desire for freedom grows within the person, so he / she must devote more and more energy to repressing it. As freedom is denied more and more, so sensuality grows in intensity. The more that a person is dominated by any form of sensuality, the more compulsive becomes their behavior, and the more difficult it is for them to cultivate broad-mindedness and flexibility. A psycho-analysis has the effect of eliminating weakness and determinism (though only if they were created in the current life, and not in past lives), and so enlarges the possibilities of freedom. Therefore a psychoanalysis always affects the sensuality of the person. [5]

The fascination with sensuality is almost overwhelming for the great majority of people. And the few individuals who have traditionally denied sensuality (at least outwardly) – the mystic, the meditator, the solitary contemplator – do not practice a style of living that is appealing to other types of personality ; the advocacy of asceticism, or even world-denial, is only for the few.

The problem for modern times is to learn to handle sensuality and conformity without being swallowed up by them ; there is a place in a human life for both sensuality and conformity, but it is the over-indulgence in them that causes the problem. Relationships need to become based on harmony and quality of life, rather than on sensuality. This demands an attitude of mind that is very hard to attain: flexibility with depth of character. The Victorian mind had character but also rigid and repressive traits. Whereas it seems to me that many modern people have flexibility but little depth of character.

How does a person develop character ? . And how does a person switch from rigidity to flexibility ? . Usually by working through sorrow. Happiness does not motivate a person to change their way of life. Why should a person change when life seems good to them? . But the demand of modern times is to develop the capacity to change, to become mentally flexible, to cast away inadequate beliefs, and in the process to develop character.

Unfortunately it is only prolonged periods of resentment and of bitterness that force the person to achieve these abilities. Only prolonged periods of such unhappiness lead to the re-structuring of belief systems. The major obstacle in life is to surmount this unhappiness instead of being engulfed by it, which happened to those who embraced Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s onwards.

Eliminating Weakness

The effects of social conditioning, together with a naive approach to life, create many immature beliefs in the child. These beliefs create a legacy of resentment and bitterness within the subconscious mind. In order for a person to evolve, these negative aspects of character need to be resolved so that he / she can become detached from them.

Only by working through the resentment and the bitterness is detachment attained. Despite the sorrow that they cause, both resentment and bitterness have a positive function. Resentment and bitterness can eliminate weakness from the mind.Resentment focuses on removing degeneracy and degradation from one’s character, usually in matters of sexuality and social behaviour. Resentment cleans up social traits and attitudes.

Bitterness focuses on removing dependency from one’s character, usually in matters of authority. It is generated by the loss of romanticism and heroic ideals (both important issues within narcissism). There is nothing noble in sexual immorality and degradation, so this is why the abre action of pride usually follows resentment ; there is nothing idealistic about sex. Bitterness strengthens traits and attitudes of individuality.

If resentment and bitterness are not worked through then they lead to the production of long-term effects. Resentment narrows a person’s views of society. Resentment facilitates the establishment of morality and a social conscience, plus the desire for a strong political leader. Such a leader may focus on either victimising or getting rid of the ‘weak’ or ‘degenerate’ sectors of society: for example, Hitler focused his resentment on socialists, gypsies, Jews. Bitterness hardens a person.

Bitterness leads to the denigration of society and the cultivation of a conscience of individual values; the person avoids helping other people since they are ‘inferior’. Politically this view leads to the prejudice that other countries are ‘inferior’ to one’s own (as in Hitler’s view of the Slav countries of eastern Europe).

Social . Abreaction

The two common abreactions affect society just as much as they affect the individual. Therefore they lead to two forms of social abreaction, which I call laws of social change. The morality of an age determines what is good and evil, and these ideas form the content of social abreaction. The intensity of these abreactions depend on the rate of social change: the faster the change the greater are the effects of abreaction.

First Law of Social Change

The social abreaction of guilt starts from the excitement of catharsis and ends in resentment. The intensity of the former helps to determine the intensity of the latter. Politically the resentment generates Conservative, even Fascist, attitudes. Social change may start from left-wing views but always ends in a right-wing backlash. The euphoria of revolutions leads to political dictatorship. Politically, resentment is used to establish control over people who have no self-control or who are weak, that is, those who are immoral, or who have no standards, or who are perceived to be degenerate (usually these criticisms are seen to be relevant only to the poor). Governmental social care programmes are cut back as the poor are blamed and penalised. In addition, asylum seekers to Britain are re-classified as economic migrants who are seeking to sponge off state welfare ; this label allows the state to reject them as undesirables.

Second Law of Social Change

The social abreaction of pride starts from sorrow and ends in bitterness. This abreaction usually ends in forms of Nazism, such as police death squads, the Stalinist political show-trials of the 1930s, and political or sectarian genocide. Bitterness is always worse than resentment. So Nazism is always worse than Fascism. Bitterness is used to reject claims of equality from other sectors of society. Such sectors are perceived to be inferior. Hence racialism, ethnic conflicts, and disputes between religions come to the foreground during social change.


Abreaction is not a new phenomenon of the twentieth century. It has existed from historical times, perhaps even from the first moment that primitive man created society. Therefore neither Fascism nor Nazism are new phenomena. It is only the content of social abreaction that changes as eras change ; the process itself is invariable. In the person, these two abreactions can follow one another. So too these two abreactions can follow one another in social abreaction. The difference between the change within the person and the change within society lies in the time that is taken to assimilate the abreactions. The effects of abreaction on the person may last for weeks or months, whereas the effects of social abreaction may last for years or even decades.

I give examples of dramatic historical change involving social abreaction.

  1. The most decisive shift in ancient thinking occurred in Athens in the fifth-century BC. Socrates switched philosophical thought from cosmological themes to themes of morality and virtue. This event took place in the aftermath of Athens’s defeat in the war with Sparta. The change of fortune of Athens led to a change in philosophical reflection. Social abreaction was the backdrop to philosophical ideas that became centred on what is good in life and what is to be rejected because it produces weakness in character. Resentment underpinned Plato’s criticism of art.
  2. The French Revolution of 1793 illustrates both abreactions. The first stage of change ended in the white terror (Fascism) of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. This was then followed by the red terror (Nazism).
  3. After World War II the British Labour government created the National Health Service. This was a product of the catharsis generated by the end of the war. With hindsight we can see that if the Health Service had not been created at that moment then it would never have been created at all due to unfavourable political conditions in modern times.
  • Obtain became too closely attached to a European parliament.
  • The break-up of the old USSR from 1989 onwards. Initially the ending of communist party domination produced a social catharsis. When this ended it was followed by the rise of right-wing politics, an increase in anti-Semitism, and violence towards women. Always during abreaction society seeks scapegoats. And abreactive bitterness has propelled various political regions to declare their independence from Russia.

These two laws are laws of social change ; they are absent in times of social stability. Can the social turmoil be controlled, even ameliorated? Yes. The social catharsis (the jazz age) generated by the end of World War I.. led to Fascism and then to Nazism. This meant that World War II was inevitable. Each defeated generation passes on its bitterness to the next generation. So why did World War III not occur ?

The decisive factor that stopped the transmission of bitterness to the next generation after World War II was the Marshall Plan, the economic rebuilding of western Europe funded by America. The lesson to learn from this result is that in an age of rapid social change it is essential for some degree of government funding into community projects to be established on a regular basis. This funding will ameliorate the worst excesses of economic and social de-stabilisation, and hence will soften the intensity of social abreaction.

Why does social abreaction happen?

When growing up, each child has to repress some of his/her potential. This is what is meant by social conditioning – only some character traits and attitudes are deemed to be desirable. Then in a period of social change, when rules of social conduct have to be adjusted to the new situation, some of this repression is released. This change in social norms initiates the social abreaction.


Abreaction is a frequent experience of daily life. People seek excitement and joy, but end in finding resentment and bitterness. When a person has insight into the cause of a problem, then the abreactional process leads to the ending of that problem. But when there is no insight, problems remain and the unending craving for pleasure (including sexual pleasure) leads to unending unhappiness.

By understanding why unhappiness occurs, the person comes to realise that only by making relationships harmonious is there a chance of avoiding sorrow. To attain to harmony in relationships requires that weaknesses of character be eliminated from oneself. Unfortunately this is a very painful process.

The resolution of resentment and bitterness by the practice of forgiveness and acceptance is the subject of the last article on abreaction : Abreaction 5.

The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. [¹]. Anxiety is an emotion. My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See home page. [1]
[²]. The overall stages of abreaction are described in the second article on Abreaction : Laws of the Unconscious Mind. The analysis of catharsis is described in the third article on Abreaction : Catharsis and Suggestion. [2]
[³]. There is a note on determinism in the first article on Abreaction.
There is a more detailed description in the article Characteristics of a Psycho-Analysis on my website The Subconscious Mind. See Links page.
For a wider view, see the article Determinism. [3]
[4]. The desire for conformity is underpinned by the self-pity mode of jealousy. Conformity is different from uniformity. Uniformity is underpinned by love. [4]
[5]. A psycho-analysis cannot eliminate karmic problems (that is, problems that originate from previous lives on Earth). This limitation is described in the article Character Transformation on my website The Subconscious Mind. See Links page. [5]

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath.All Rights Reserved.