Resentment is Like Taking Poison and Waiting for the Other Person To Die

Carrie Fisher? Nelson Mandel? Malachy McCourt? Emmet Fox? Bert Ghezzi? Susan Cheever? Alan Brandt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A vivid simile depicts the self-destructiveness of a common bitter emotion. Here are two versions:

  1. Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.
  2. Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else.

This figurative language has been credited to the actress Carrie Fisher, the statesman Nelson Mandela, the author Malachy McCourt, and others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1980 book “The Angry Christian” by Bert Ghezzi. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves.

This simile is not identical, but it shares key elements with the target saying. QI believes that this figurative framework evolved over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Historically, the term “grouch” referred to a mood of ill temper, sullenness, or resentment. A 1913 column by Albert Ford Ferguson in “The Cincinnati Post” of Ohio stated that experiencing this feeling was detrimental: 2

How many times do you poison yourself with a grouch?

Ferguson suggested that this unhappy mood caused problems with the nervous system and the digestion of food. Hence, this emotional state was poisonous. QI considers this to be a precursor in the evolution of the modern saying:

Cut out the grouch and you’ll put five to 20 years usefulness onto the end of your life. BECAUSE CUTTING OUT THE GROUCH MEANS CUTTING OUT THE DOSE OF POISON YOU TAKE EVERY TIME YOU HAVE ONE.

In 1938 Emmet Fox published “The Sermon on the Mount: A General Introduction to Scientific Christianity”. Fox mentioned two figures from history that often inspire feelings of hatred: 3

I once came across an old sermon which was delivered in London during the French Revolution. The author, who took an extremely superficial view of the Gospel, said, referring to the Sermon on the Mount: “Surely it is justifiable to hate the Arch-Butcher, Robespierre, and to execrate the Bristol murderer.”

Fox disagreed with the dated sermon. He argued that indulging in this hatred was comparable to swallowing poison and attempting to shift the bodily damage by invoking the name of a despised person:

No Scientific Christian ever considers hatred or execration to be “justifiable” in any circumstances, but whatever your opinion about that might be, there is no question about its practical consequences to you. You might as well swallow a dose of prussic acid in two gulps, and think to protect yourself by saying, “This one is for Robespierre; and this one for the Bristol murderer.” You will hardly have any doubt as to who will receive the benefit of the poison.

The passage above was a milestone in the evolution of the saying; however, the topic was hatred in general and not resentment. Also, the phrasing was complex and prolix.

In 1943 an editorial in “The Christian Science Monitor” presented a concise thematically pertinent remark about hatred: 4

Americans will remember Pearl Harbor. The British will recall the horror of the blitz. Germans will have the remembrance of bombs that fell from Allied planes. The victims of brutality will not find it easy to forget or to forgive.

Yet hate is a poison more deadly to the hater than the hated.

In 1950 a Texas newspaper advice columnist named Ann Carroll responded to a letter writer who was unhappy with her husband. Carroll employed a precursor remark while warning about dangers of resentment: 5

Understand that resentment is the most potent poison generated in the human body. It causes physical and spiritual wreckage if allowed to boil within.

In 1980 Bert Ghezzi published “The Angry Christian” which contained the following match as mentioned earlier in this article:

Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves.

The statement by Ghezzi was remembered in the 1991 book “Secrets of Your Family Tree: Healing for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families”. The passage above was reprinted together with a precise citation pointing to “The Angry Christian”. 6

The prize-winning author Susan Cheever published “A Woman’s Life: The Story of an Ordinary American and Her Extraordinary Generation” in 1994. An instance of the saying was included: 7

Being resentful, they say, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Linda’s resentments against David, often extremely justifiable resentments, led her to take a lot of poison in the hope of hurting him.

In 1995 Ashton Applewhite published a compilation of sayings titled “Thinking Positive” with the following entry: 8

Resentment is like taking poison and hoping it’ll kill someone else.
— Alan Brandt

Also in 1995 the book “Treating Addicted Survivors of Trauma” by Katie Evans and J. Michael Sullivan included this: 9

Keeping resentments is like “swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.” The goal is not to forgive and forget, but to grieve and let go.

In 1998 “The New York Times published a piece about the author Malachy McCourt who discussed his unhappiness and anger as a young man in Limerick, Ireland: 10

“It made you feel like nothing and there was no place to go but down. It was assumed we’d be low-class the rest of our lives. But who can you blame? Governments and churches that are gone now? It’s useless. Let those things live rent-free in your head and you’ll be a lunatic. Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

In 2002 the “Santa Cruz Sentinel” of Santa Cruz, California interviewed psychologist Frederic Luskin who ascribed a version of the saying about “hatred” to Nelson Mandela: 11

Luskin likes to quote anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela when he talks about forgiveness. Mandela once said that hatred is like drinking poison and then waiting for it to kill your enemy, Luskin says. It’s the same way with refusing to forgive.

In 2003 the actress Carrie Fisher published “The Best Awful: A Novel” which included the following: 12

It was best put by what she’d heard someone in AA say a few years back: “Resentment is like drinking a poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

In conclusion, this saying evolved over time. The 1938 citation from Emmet Fox presented an interesting transitional form. The 1980 citation from Bert Ghezzi displayed several crucial elements of the modern expression. Susan Cheever, Malachy McCourt, and Carrie Fisher employed the saying after it was already in circulation.

Image Notes: Picture of a bottle of poison from qimono at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Edward Banatt, Rose M. Ocana, and Justin Truong whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Bodhipaksa who runs the website fakebuddhaquotes.com who located the intriguing 1938 citation. Thanks also to researcher Barry Popik and the volunteer editors at Wikiquote. Special thanks to the librarians at the B. L. Fisher Library of the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.)

Notes:

  1. 1980, The Angry Christian by Bert Ghezzi, Quote Page 99, Servant, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Verified with scans; thanks to the B.L. Fisher Library of the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky)
  2. 1913 August 4, The Cincinnati Post, Here’s the Truth about That Grouch You Carry by Albert Ford Ferguson, Quote Page 4, Column 5 and 6, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1938, The Sermon on the Mount: A General Introduction to Scientific Christianity in the Form of a Spiritual Key to Matthew V, VI and VII by Emmet Fox, Quote Page 98 and 99, Published by Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1943 May 25, The Christian Science Monitor, Editorial: Tomorrow Is Ours, Quote Page 16, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  5. 1950 August 31, El Paso Herald-Post, Ask Mrs. Carrol: Be More Like Object of Hubby’s Flirtation by Ann Carroll, Quote Page 25, Column 1, El Paso, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 1991 Copyright, Secrets of Your Family Tree: Healing for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by David Carder, Earl Henslin, John Townsend, et al, Quote Page 228, Guideposts, Carmel, New York. (Verified with scans of 1996 reprint)
  7. 1994, A Woman’s Life: The Story of an Ordinary American and Her Extraordinary Generation by Susan Cheever, Quote Page 132 and 133, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1995, Thinking Positive: Words of Inspiration, Encouragement, and Validation for People with AIDS and Those Who Care for Them, Compiled by Ashton Applewhite, Quote Page 45, A Fireside Book: Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1995, Treating Addicted Survivors of Trauma by Katie Evans and J. Michael Sullivan, Quote Page 147, Guilford Press, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  10. 1998 July 29, New York Times, How a Rogue Turns Himself into a Saint: The Blarney Fails to Hide an Emotional Directness by Alex Witchel, Quote Page E1, New York. (ProQuest)
  11. 2002 March 28, Santa Cruz Sentinel, The book on forgiving by Peggy Townsend (Sentinel Staff Writer), Quote Page B2, Column 1, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)
  12. 2003, The Best Awful: A Novel by Carrie Fisher, Quote Page 30, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview)