Jane was delighted that she had the afternoon off work. She had carefully arranged for a colleague to cover her at the office so she could get some much-needed Christmas shopping in. Christmas was in two weeks and the family still didn’t have the tree up, let alone any presents under it! The afternoon “off” was a godsend, if not exactly “free.”
Then she got the call from her husband Jake. His meeting went long, and he wouldn’t be able to pick up their child…could she go in his place?
What could she say? Technically she had the “afternoon off.” She would have to cover for her husband, even though it was his turn to pick up. But didn’t he realize the stress she was under? She didn’t see him worrying about getting the tree up in time for the children to enjoy the holidays. Her plans always seemed to play second fiddle to his, even when hers centered on the family. Although she recognized that her husband Jake’s work was important, she felt the sting of resentment…why couldn’t he understand what was important to her and the kids?
Resentment is a sinister feeling, seeping in before you even realize it. By the time you feel its pain, resentment’s claws have already left a mark. Resentment is kind of like hydration. Any desert hiker will tell you to hydrate before you feel thirsty. In fact, once you begin to crave water, it’s too late; you’re already dehydrated.
Once you feel resentment, it’s too late to deflect it. It’s got you.
Resentment follows you around “after the fact,” too. It grows in intensity the longer you hold it. You feel some sort of hurt or indignation and wham! You’re sideswiped with a silent feeling that starts to erode your well-being. If you’re even aware that you could have – might have – done something differently, you’re not sure what it would have been.
And that’s precisely where responsibility comes in.
Nelson Mandela famously said, “Resentment is drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.” Resentment is 100% about taking responsibility for your boundaries.
The other silent killer…
Most cases of resentment get hauled around like a tattered old suitcase from station to station, and the truth is, there’s nothing useful in there. That suitcase is full of rocks just weighing you down, its contents hidden from others. Oh, sure, you may verbally lash your partner for transgressions of the past, or talk about him or her to your friends; but unless you release past hurts, your resentment builds. You just find new ways to twist the old hurt into some new incarnation of culpability that can’t be healed.
But people who harbor resentment feel they’ve been wronged in some way – and in some cases, they’re absolutely justified to feel hurt.
The problem comes to a head when they suppress the resentment and refuse to take responsibility for their feelings and actions inside the relationship.
How do you release resentment and rebuild warmth? Can a serious wrong be righted? Only when the wronged makes some changes within, can resentment truly be healed. While it’s not easy to just “let go,” you can proactively practice ways to prevent future pain and exercise emotional and mental tactics to deal with the past.
“You can’t throw it out unless it belongs to you.”
I recently read an article about getting rid of junk – physical junk – in the house. What a perfect analogy for resentment! The organizer’s advice to the homeowner was to take care of her own stuff, and leave the husband’s stuff alone. You only get to discard junk that you own, bought, or brought into the house. It’s not fair to throw out another person’s stuff, when you still have stuff in there, too
The same applies to resentment: Only when you own your own issues, can you throw them out. (And really, why wouldn’t you want to?)
What you can do is talk with your spouse. You can express why you feel wronged, and then either release it or hold your ground. But the first step is acknowledging that you own the resentment. You spouse may even be oblivious to the fact that you’ve been feeling your level of resentment. It’s probably the right thing to do to tell him or her… as long as you’re willing to accept some of the responsibility for changing the scenario.
Another tactic? Own it, but don’t talk about it. Instead, suck it up and release it. Are you making something out of nothing? Here’s where you have to put on your big girl or boy pants and decide whether that thing you’re resentful about is something you’re going to live with (you know it if it is) or something you are going to attempt to change. IF it’s something you’re going to accept, then you must drop the resentment. If you made the choice to get rid of it, then do it with conviction and make your case. If you made the choice to live with it, then move on.
In Jane’s case, of course the child needed to be picked up, so there were no alternatives to the problem. But she also had to own the fact that she arranged an afternoon of shopping without consulting her husband Jake. How was he to know that she was feeling so constricted by her work schedule? She did not confide in him. She could have taken responsibility in two ways: Either tell Jake that she was planning to take the afternoon off and needed his cooperation to make it happen; OR have a back up plan for the child (e.g. a sitter or after care center for their child). She could also ask her husband to share in the holiday preparations so she didn’t feel so responsible for everything. Either one of those options would have prevented her resentment in feeling dumped on.
And both required her responsibility.
Many times that feeling of resentment is your inner self’s way of saying “Dang, I didn’t stand up for myself, or “I didn’t protect my interests.” And sometimes it means “I need to connect in a clearer way with my partner.”
Learning from past resentment is the best way to prevent future glitches. That resentment belongs to you; and can be alleviated with good communication, clear objectives, and planning.