Everyday Concerns, Future Consequences Part 4: Resentment

Posted on 11/19/10 by erynwicker

This week, the last week in our series of looking at a few of the everyday concerns that have future consequences, we will explore the topic of resentment. The dictionary describes resentment in the following ways:

  • Righteous anger or animosity felt as a result of a real or imagined grievance
  • A feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill-will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury
  • Feelings of malice or anger from an experience that are felt again or relived in the mind.

And what would an article about resentment be without a little self-disclosure:      I grew up with an older brother who played hockey, he also played baseball and soccer – and he played them well – but that’s not the point. Hockey, even minor hockey, is a sport of commitment – of time, energy, and money. I also grew up with two working parents, a dad who liked to coach the brother’s hockey, and a mom who as a nurse sometimes had to work during game or practice time. So I was a hockey sister. For anyone who doesn’t know exactly what a hockey sister is, it looks something like this: if your dad is the coach you have to go to practices and pretend you care, if your mom likes to watch you go to all the games, even the away games, on buses or not, or school nights or not, you go to tournaments in places like Kamloops (the tournament capital of B.C.), you go shopping for new equipment on family outing days, and if you’re like me and like to play dress up you occasionally give your family a laugh by dressing up in your brother’s gear and walking around the house rather nonchalantly. Now the first year or five of being a hockey sister weren’t so bad because I was little and compliant, but by about year nine it was pushing its luck as I was 13 and annoyed. I was bitter at all the money being spent on tournaments and equipment (I wanted a pool), I was angry that my brother and his hockey took precedence over other activities (what’s wrong with watching my dance recitals?), and every time something was brought up about hockey I would seethe. I realized that hockey wasn’t going away, at least not in my family, so I should try to rid myself of this resentment that had been building. I decided to be a proactive, and took it upon myself to present my parents with an itemized invoice for the money and time that was owed to me in order to balance what was given to my brother. I took into account gas, tournament fees, hotel costs, food, equipment, skate sharpening, registration fees, etc.  Twenty-one thousand dollars later I announced that either large bills or a cheque would suffice. After the laughter subsided so did my resentment – well perhaps not that quickly, but eventually I realized that it wasn’t my brother’s doing (he just wanted to play hockey), and it wasn’t totally my parents doing (they were just supporting him), so it was up to me to change how I felt and how I reacted to the situation. And now years later, parental support towards grad school not minor sports, I’m totally over the hockey thing, well almost over it, well…at least I’ve moved on to other resentments.

That’s the thing about resentment – we think we are hurting the other person or that they or the situation are worse because we are holding this grudge, but it’s simply not true. In fact, most of the time the individuals or companies or situations that we are resentful towards don’t have a clue, and we only end up hurting ourselves.  A statement that actress Susan Saint James made after a tragic family accident sums it up superbly: “Resentment is like taking poison and then expecting the other person to die.”

Bad things happen – relationships end, business deals are broken, lies are told, friendships are betrayed, people are mistreated, losses occur, and the list goes on. However, some individuals are able to release the negative feelings associated with these events; while other harbor unexpressed anger and hurt, which build over time, and in turn become resentment. And it may seem that the resentments are caused by what happened, but they’re not – they are caused by how we relate and react to what happened. Resenting someone or something allows that to be the focus of the problem, the cause and the fault, instead of having to look at ourselves. If we looked inward we would be confronted with the feelings of hurt that we were trying to avoid by resenting in the first place.

Allowing resentment to take root in our lives and continue to grow, entangling itself in our many systems can have unfortunate consequences. Some of these include:

  • Being dishonest with ourselves and others about our true feelings
  • Feelings of depression
  • Becoming stuck in terms of personal growth
  • Developing patterns of blaming or avoidant behaviours
  • Having nightmares or distressing thoughts about the individuals or experience
  • Increased feelings of anger
  • Inability to forgive, let go, or move forward
  • Increased stress
  • Impact on physical health such as headaches, stomachaches
  • Decreased ability to experience positive emotions such as happiness and joy
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Decreased satisfaction with life

So now that we can identify the presence of resentment in our lives, and can recognize the impact it can have in the present and future we need to know how to work towards conquering it. Because letting go of resentment is not for the benefit of the other person or situation; letting go of resentment is for you. The psychologist created website www.coping.org outlines 5 steps to overcoming resentment that I have adapted for us below:

Step 1: Identify who the individual(s) are and what they did to make me resentful – including questioning how they hurt, offended or victimized me, whether the offenses are real or imagined, what the resentment has done to my attitude and my future, and how paralyzed I feel by each of the resentments in terms of moving forward.

Step 2: Create new ways of looking at my past, present, and future – including questioning if there is any irrational thinking at play, identifying and working through any roadblocks to feeling and expressing the anger and hurt, developing new behaviours that allow free expression, creating new rational replacement thoughts, exploring how life will be positively affected by loosening the bonds of resentment, and cultivating new attitudes and behaviours that keep life rid of resentment.

Step 3: Now that we have identified the means and roots of the resentments, and considered a change in attitude and belief system, we need to: Explain for myself why and how each person treated my badly and whether it was real or imagined; work on forgiving each person, letting go, and trying to forget – remembering that forgiveness is for me, not them, and; do something to commemorate this transition such as writing a letter that won’t be sent or releasing balloons or another type of ritual.

Step 4:  Work on visualizing my life, present and future, without the negative impact of resentment. Start to recognize and praise the improvements you notice, and ask others to affirm this for you.

Step 5:  If I am still bogged down by the negative effects of resentment, accept that this is okay in this moment and that I tried my best, and then go back to Step 1 and begin again.

Resentments can be worked through – some by physically working on them such as outlets of exercise and distraction, some by expression of them via writing or artistic means, some by hard work and determination, and some through professional help. If you or someone you know has any questions or would like help dealing with or letting go of resentments and their impact please contact a helping professional such as a registered psychologist or clinical counsellor.

Some resources that might provide further information and/or assistance are: Releasing Anger and Resentment: Free Yourself from the Past, Create a Positive Future an audio cassette by J. Levine and The Forgiving Self : The Road from Resentment to Connection by R. Karen.