How to Manage Resentment
Blog entry by Dan McMillan, M.Ed., R. Psych.
You want to get along. You really do. But there’s that old familiar feeling inside that comes up. Resentment. A smoldering, subtle anger that makes your mind whirl with thought about how you were wronged and how that person was unfair to you. You become focused on a sense of righteous indignation.
How dare they? How could they? They should have known better!
Perhaps you seek relief by having others side with you. This feels slightly better, but you still don’t have resolution. Then you push it down, ignoring it to not make an issue or risk a conflict. The relationship continues along but there is a wedge place between you and this person. This wedge builds into more and more disconnection over time. Then eventually you attack, passive aggressively punishing them and hinting at how they’ve wronged you. This is then met with a counter-attack and defensiveness creating a conflict in the relationship.
So what can you do? How do you resolve this uncomfortable feeling of resentment that we all experience from time to time?
To start, it’s important to understand that you, yes you, are the person responsible for your resentment, not the other. I will say that again because it’s hard to hear.
You, not the other, are responsible for your resentment.
You either allowed your own boundary to be crossed, expected something from another that wasn’t clearly communicated or agreed to, and/or are repressing your own feelings rather than talking to the person vulnerably in hopes of resolution. If you are resentful you have likely done one or more of these three things.
Perhaps you gave too much of yourself. You did a lot for someone and they didn’t return the favour or respond in a way you thought they would. Without knowing it, you signed up that person for a contract that they didn’t agree to. You unconsciously assumed that if you gave then they would do or be something in return. They owed you something for your giving. Perhaps gratitude, excitement, a return favour, or just to take it very seriously when you need help in the future. While on the surface at the time it seemed like you were giving, you weren’t. If these were the hard-to-admit assumptions you held, it was in actuality a presume exchange that the other had no idea they were committing to when they accepted your care.
When not asserting up your needs or boundaries resentment can also occur. If your needs are met you may hold it against the other person afterwards. This can occur in small ways. For example, you did not want to go for pizza, you hoped for sushi. You agree to pizza then find yourself bothered halfway through the meal, starting to think about why you “never” get to choose the restaurant. When you eat your assertive words and not hold a boundary resentment frequently shows up. Holding your feelings in rather than speaking to them effectively. Or worse, only passive-aggressively letting them out.
Unfortunately, this is all your responsibility, not there’s. You have a responsibility to be authentic with your experience to the other person you are in relationship with, including your boundaries and core feelings. If you don’t speak or pursue your true feelings, then how can the other person be responsible for knowing this? No matter what the circumstance, another person can not be expected to know or realize something unless you tell them clearly in a way they can hear. You may also have to do this repeatedly until they understand. You then are responsible for setting and maintaining a boundary if they don’t hear you. If you do all that and it fails, then you won’t be resentful. You may be justifiably angry, but not resentful.
What about if you already are carrying resentment. To clear resentment you need to undo the line that was crossed. You have to voice your underlying feelings, not with blame but with ownership, vulnerability and assertion. Perhaps you say “I had thought I was okay with your choice of pizza rather than sushi, but I am feeling some resentment now that we are here. I’d like to choose where we eat out next week so I feel an equal say in where we eat.” If you over-gave and expected something back, you can voice that too. “I notice I’m finding myself resentful after doing so much for you on your birthday and feeling you didn’t return the favour on mine. You didn’t ask me to do that much, and I understand birthdays are something more important to me, so I choose to do all that. That is on me. But I am still feeling hurt about the idea that I am less valued to you than you are to me. I think I could use some reassurance around this?”.
No matter how you phrase it, the key solution lies in owning your experience rather than blaming the other. Voice it to them then re-establish the boundary that was crossed to feel there is balance again. By doing so you should feel yourself lifting from the dwelling place of resentment and able to move forward again in the relationship with less baggage.
Article by: Dan McMillan, M.Ed., R. Psych.
Daniel is a registered psychologist working out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He counsels individuals and couples in the areas of mental health, relationship, trauma, and men’s mental health issues.