Feeling resentful is normal. Doing resentment well is a skill. However, getting stuck in resentment takes energy and can leave us in a negative, dark and lonely place. What to do?
Sometimes we can do resentment so well, that noone would ever guess, just how much resentment we carry. We hide it well. Sometimes we can cram in so much resentment and can carry it for years, decades, even a life time. That is a skill and requires determination and focus.
I know. I used to be a master resenter, but decided I had to thoroughly knock it on the head, because it became unbearably hard and painful to live life like that. It does not leave much room for the good stuff, like cheerfulness, hope, being light hearted, being good company, being happy, to feel love. It all became too negative and dark.
There is nothing right or wrong about resentment. It is a normal feeling, often a residual of anger, which we might feel about injustice, betrayals of trust, indifference and so on. We all have a range of circumstances or human behaviours, which if we are at the receiving end of, will make us feel angry. And unless we do something helpful and constructive about it, then the anger will fester and turn into bitter resentment. And before we know it, it can become a permanent state of being and looking at the world. Instead of rose-tinted glasses, we will look at life through dark shades of resentment.
You may also recognise some of the physical manifestations of resentment: the knotted stomach, the heaviness in the chest, the lump in the throat, the tension in the shoulders, lower back or other parts of the body, the headaches, the restless sleep and more. If you are a master resenter you will have at least some of these.
So the issue here is how not to get stuck and burn out or being over-burdened; how to channel the skill and energy it takes to do resentment into a more helpful way of dealing with people and situations that trigger all of this in us.
Step 1: Pick an example
When I started looking at my pattern, I would pick a situation that made me feel really angry and resentful, and I tried to articulate in my head (you can also say it out loud or write it down), what thoughts and opinions were going on for me at the time. This went something like:
- You think you will get away with this.
- You think you are better than me.
- This is not fair.
- I cannot get through to you, you just don't get it.
- You have betrayed me.
- You have disappointed me.
- I am stuck in this .
- You have the control and there is nothing I can do.
Now if you repeat the same exercise for something or someone, that you feel resentment for, you might come up with your own expression of feelings and beliefs.
Step 2: What does this tell you?
In my case, all thoughts lebd to one conclusion: I am stuck and nothing will change because of the THE OTHER. In that mindset, the often unspoken and unconscious assumption is: I will only feel better if YOU do something about it, if you stop doing what you do, if you apologise etc.
Step 3: Realisation and re-thinking.
I realised thinking like that was wrong, wrong, big time wrong and dangerous. That is what is called giving power away. People (including you and I) are what they are. We are not perfect and we are limited. If we make our feelings totally dependent on how others treat us or what feelings they evoke in us, then we are on shaky grounds.
So, what to do. I started to understand and recognise my anger and resentment triggers. A major issue for me is hitting my head against the proverbial wall, when dealing with companies who I pay to provide me with a service, but they don't and fail to see the problem, and are inconsistent, and arrogant and unhelpful and turn it on me, as if I am the one with the problem. That is a big thing for me, and even writing about it, I feel the resentment surging up, because, bottom line, I feel helpless.
But I realise, what I actually feel is the fear about being helpless. I am a grown woman. I may have been helpless as a child, when people treated me unfairly, and I may have somehow internalised that experience and the fear of feeling like this. But the fact is, I am not helpless and therefore the feeling and fear are, while understandable, not a reflection of the real situation.
The reality is, I can walk away, I can complain, I can pick my battles, I have better things to get on with in my life, than carrying bitterness about xyz. Life is too short, I have got to get on, and I want to get on.
Step 4: Preparation
Knowing all that, I know that when I go or find myself in such trigger situations, then I need to remind myself of what might happen, and remind myself of my self-worth and my dignity, and that ultimately I have a choice to pick my battles and also a choice to vote with my feet and go to another provider (which we often don't do, because it is too much, assumed, hassle...). I accept responsibility for the choices I make.
In summary, resentment is human and understandable. Too much is unhealthy, emotionally and physically. We have the ability and choice to break out of the patterns, which may take determination and energy. Not doing resentment well, that is a skill, just like doing resentment well.
Karin Sieger is a BACP registered and accredited psychotherapist based in London. She specialises in supporting people affected by life-changing and life-shortening illnesses like cancer, anxiety and loss. Her blog is Between Self and Doubt.