How to Release and Prevent Resentment in Your Relationships
It doesn’t take much to resent people a little bit – even the neighbors playing music every Saturday morning fifteen minutes before you think they should start playing music leads to resentment. You might think it’s tiny – nothing to bother about – but everything you carry within you will affect you and those around you. Especially if you have a lot of small grudges you’re holding onto, or some bigger ones from your childhood that you never let go of. Resentment isn’t always towards others either, it’s towards ourselves.
Sometimes we don’t even know we hold onto resentment because let’s face it: while we are busy trying to make sure our boss understands we deserve a raise, attend the gym, meet up with friends and find the wo/man of our dreams we don’t necessarily pay attention to that little nagging voice in our head. We’re too busy sorting out what’s happening in the moment to pay attention to our subconscious, but that very same subconscious we aren’t paying attention to also leads us in the moment without us realizing. So it’s time to pay attention.
After I cured RSI (repetitive strain injury) in my hands by reading Dr. John Sarno’s book about how emotions affect our body I will never again think that ignoring emotions is good idea because it doesn’t only impact your moods and your relationship with yourself and others, it also impacts your health.
So let’s look at how to resolve resentment, shall we?
Why Do We Hold onto Resentment?
If you really think it’s no big deal that your neighbors have an annoying habit to play music at 8:45 every Saturday when you want to sleep to 09:00, why does the resentment get lodged in your subconscious? You love your neighbors and you don’t want to create a fuss by telling them their little habit annoys you. So why is there still resentment?
And why are you still holding a grudge towards the kid that bullied you in school 20 years ago? It’s not something you think about, your life is far away from that kid now, so why is the resentment still there if someone reminds you of your childhood? You think you ended up in a good place, that life taught you things by putting you through the school of hard knocks, so why the resentment?
The truth is, it’s not just resentment we carry with us. We carry with us any emotion we experienced unless we faced it. Not wallowed in it. Not got lost in it. But faced it. Sat holding it in the palm of our hand until we’ve truly felt it, then let it go.
I tend to liken people to houses: if you keep the doors and windows open emotions flow through you and as pleasant, or unpleasant, as they may be, they don’t hurt you. The problem comes when you let something in that you try to suppress, or hold onto, because it gets stuck.
You are annoyed with the neighbors. But you don’t want to think about it, because they’re nice people. So you suppress your anger. You don’t face it and let it go, or walk over to your neighbors and kindly ask if they can move their music schedule by fifteen minutes. You just knock your feelings to the side. And chances are, if you do that with the neighbors, you do it with other stuff too. So your annoyance with the neighbors will only be one of a hundred little things bugging you that you never cared to resolve. Meaning you have a pool of resentment inside.
As for the bully from your childhood, most likely you were really upset when you were being bullied. You were hurt. You went through emotional upheaval. And you didn’t face those emotions, looking at them until they evaporated as you realized the bully had no real power over you (however real it seemed at the time). No, you engaged with the emotions. Either you felt stuck in them, or you battled them. To battle something, it needs to exist. It won’t go away. It will only be punched about.
How Resentment Affects Us
To be honest I don’t know how your resentment affects you. It may come out in snapping at your partner for a really small issue as inside there are a hundred other issues that just got triggered by that one small thing. It may come out when you’re having a bad day and your guards are down. Maybe you’ll flip on your boss, maybe you’ll yell at your kid, maybe you’ll tell your parents to bugger off because even though what they did just then was practically nothing, you’re carrying a dam of resentment within you that just exploded.
It could be that your resentment towards someone from long ago makes your react in certain ways today. For example, if you were bullied by that kid and someone does something in your life today that reminds you of that kid, you react funnily. Your resentment ends up being targeted at the person today instead of the person from yesterday.
Resentment may also be wallowed in. You could spend your time thinking about all the wrongs someone has done to you. As the story goes, the person you’re imprisoning with your thoughts is no other than yourself though. Your resentment will make you unhappy. Instead of thinking about rainbows and sunsets you’re thinking about the injustice of someone else’s actions. You’re trapping yourself in misery.
As mentioned, Sarno’s book (Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection) alerted me to the fact that emotions can turn into physical pain. Sarno argues that suppressed anger causes pain as the body invents physical aches and pains to distract us from the anger. And it can be for small things. Sarno used the example of a mother who had a baby and was tired and feeling angry at the baby for screaming because she wanted to sleep. Then she felt guilty, because of course the baby couldn’t help screaming. Her brain didn’t want to deal with her anger towards her baby because she felt ashamed of it, so instead she ended up with back pain. Other times it can be anger/resentment because we feel the pressure on us to always exceed is too much, or we don’t stand up for ourselves.
Sarno says that most of us would rather face the emotions than the pain – sometimes it’s truly very small things – but we don’t because we don’t even realize what’s happening. The brain is seemingly programmed and, as I said earlier, we’re too busy with what’s just in front of us to realize what’s happening inside of us.
Letting Go of Resentment
So how do you get rid of resentment?
One way is to make a list. List anything and everything you resent in life and people, as well as in yourself. Then go through the list, item for item, and feel the resentment. For each item, close your eyes and explore exactly what you feel. Hang with the feeling till you realize it’s just a feeling. Let it evaporate.
You should also look at the resentment you feel for people in your life currently and deal with what needs to be dealt with coming from a place of love, or a place of all seeing wisdom, as opposed to emotional entanglement. Tell the people who you feel resentment for due to their actions that what they are doing is hurting/annoying you. But come from that place of rational wisdom, or love, not of resentment. It’s not about telling them about your resentment (normally anyway), but about resolving the issue; the thing that makes you resent them. You don’t have to be angry with them for their habits, you need to explain to them why you don’t accept them, or would like them to change them.
Of course, beware you don’t resent people for misunderstandings, or because of things they truly can’t help. If, on the other hand, your resentment is founded in a serious issue and things don’t change after a talk, you may need to step away. Being around people and situations that make you resent them is not healthy. Not at all.
Also, if you have trouble letting go of something someone’s done, remember that most people are like a cause and effect equation: they only do what they do because of what they’ve been through. They never learned to take charge of their emotions and act in spite of them. They’ve been slaves to the events in their lives and the thoughts resulting from them.