Resentment, like trauma, can occur both as a result of something being done to us- as well as not getting enough of something we need in relationships. Resentment is a multi-layered experience involving anger, disappointment and bitterness. It’s a feeling often resulting from a need repeatedly being unmet or denied, and a relational experience lacking resolution.
Resentment likes to linger underneath the surface, eroding the foundations of the relationship away the longer it goes unspoken- and it’s been known to grow quietly in the dark. At times it can feel like recycled anger- cyclic in some ways as a previous experience feels re-injured because it’s not receiving the proper acknowledgement it deserves. This can happen for many reasons.
I often talk with patients about resentment as valuable information around one of the following three things happening:
- Uncommunicated, unrealistic or unmet expectations
- A perceived imbalance or unfairness in the relationship that lacks resolution
- Behaviors that keep us abandoning our boundaries: People pleasing behaviors, codependency patterns, conflict avoidance, or saying ‘yes’ resentfully instead of authentically.
Sometimes we may even carry the feeling with us long after a relationship or experience has ended. Holding on to resentment may give us a perceived control over a situation that may have lacked control in the moment for us, perhaps like we are now punishing them in some ways.
In reality, holding on to resentment keeps us in a pattern of feeling controlled by our anger, disempowered and sometimes trapped in past experiences.
So, how do we speak to our resentment? What do we do with it? How can we prevent it from growing once we do feel the signs of resentment popping up in our relationship? Catch a few things to consider below.
How to work on releasing patterns of resentment:
- Self- awareness:
Being self- aware in this context can look like checking in with yourself to be able to identify the signs of resentment in your relationship which look like the following: chronic irritability or hostility, rumination over their behaviors, passive aggression, self-blame, feeling in fight or flight mode all the time, disconnection and more.
Self awareness may also include seeing a therapist to investigate the origins of the pain and bring light to certain relational patterns, as well as exploring expectation management in relationships.
- Communication on core issues:
Resentment is fundamentally fed by avoidance. Sometimes we believe the other person should know better or should be able to mind-read us so we avoid talking about X. Other times we give up on finding resolution over X because it feels like we’ve already communicated it about a hundred times. The fact of the matter is- whenever there is a recurring issue in any relationship, something is not being heard or understood. This might mean approaching something distinctly different, rather than going into the conversation again with the same exact tools we’ve been using.
- Being open to a new narrative existing:
Through reflection, insight and communication, we may arrive at a place where we are presented with new information on the issue that we did not have before. Sometimes the most difficult thing is creating space for that information to be integrated in, and being open to seeing the situation in a new or more holistic light. This may look like using empathy to better understand the other person’s position, knowing that two different (but valid) experiences are often happening at the same time during misunderstanding and conflict.
As a therapist I know forgiveness may not always be an option in certain circumstances- and that’s okay. However, in the situations where forgiveness is applicable and possible, it can be quite powerful for your healing journey. Forgiveness means you are deciding to release your resentment toward someone, give your mind and body more freedom, and doesn’t necessarily require the participation of anyone else but your own.
- Accountability and ownership:
Resentment typically involves two main characters-and you’re one of them, right? For one example, if you’re someone who chronically people pleases their way out of conflict to achieve temporary comfort, but is left with the inevitable discomfort of abandoning a need in the process, ownership here can be profoundly healing here for both parties. A reminder that conflict-avoidance behaviors can actually increase avoidance in your life in the long run. Therapy is a great space to explore what’s underlying these behaviors and how to heal through them.