“The worst enemy in life is resentment.”
As a life coach, I often hear people say they are no longer in love with their partner. They really believe that they have fallen out of love. However, commonly what has happened is that they weren’t attending to both big and small issues in their relationship, and then they were unable to resolve the issues. This is where resentment begins to accumulate. And resentment is completely toxic to relationships.
Destructive Power of Resentment
Everyone in a relationship experiences disappointment from time to time, some more than others. Resentment, however, is different. Resentment is the process in your mind of repeatedly replaying a feeling and event that led up to this resentment. When you grow to resent something or someone (and no, it doesn’t happen over night, you have to work at it), you don’t replay an inventory of specifics, but rather you re-experience them—relive them—in ways that affect you psychologically, emotionally, and often spiritually in incredibly harmful ways. A person’s inability to conquer resentment becomes the greatest obstacle to repairing a crumbling intimate connection, family problem, or damaged friendship.
Resentment is often triggered by recent, specific angry disagreements between people. Yet they usually capture hostility that goes much further back in the past, often years before the triggering event. Your partner may accuse you of some recent transgression, but the fire that burns so brightly inside them is fueled by years of real or imagined episodes of contempt or indifference. For example, your partner may become incensed by a broken promise or breach of some kind and they can’t let go of it because of a long history of disregard and frustration.
A friend might accuse you of forgetting a holiday, but once again, the recent complaint is just a trigger for those deep feelings. The overly strong reaction you experience almost never seems to be in proportion to the level of offense that set them off in your relationship. Resentment is always a result of a long history of hidden unhappiness. Here are some things that can cause such unhappiness in a person’s life:
- We might feel that people did gratuitously hurtful, or thoughtless things to us
- People around us did not do for us what we feel they should have done
- We feel that people in our lives have not done enough for us
Resentment expresses a central choice to refuse to forgive, or an unwillingness to let the past stay in the past in a relationship; to bury the hatchet so to speak.
The Past: Get Over It So here is how it goes: You rehash and review your painful past events, even as you express a desire to let them go. You do that because you suffer under the illusion that by nurturing your resentment, you will somehow gain the justice you believe you deserve. When you hang painfully onto the need to be “right” and overload yourself, crushing your ability heal and be at peace with yourself or your partner. At times you cling to the imagined offences because you don’t know any other way of coming to grips with your feelings of hurt and rejection, aka fear.
Learning to let go of those feelings is the only path to peace, because living that way only brings you continuing punishment and suffering. In turn, this prevents the building or at times continuing, a relationship based on support, nurturing, and love. Letting go of your resentment isn’t a present to the person you resent, but more importantly, it is a gift to you. Hanging onto your angry or hurt feelings about something only gets in the way of your being able to heal the very wounds that cause you such suffering.
Letting go, whether that means healing the wrong, or taking a path to wholeness and peace within yourself, is fundamental to keeping your present—and your relationship—free of your past. Here is a quote about resentment I would like to share with you…it is worth a moment to read: “The moment you start to resent a person, you become his slave.
He controls your dreams, absorbs your digestion, robs you of your peace of mind and goodwill, and takes away the pleasure of your work. You find he ruins your religion and nullifies your prayers. Suddenly ou cannot take a vacation without his going along. You let him destroy your freedom of mind and hounds you wherever you go.
. There is no way to escape the person you resent. He is with you when you are awake. Your privacy is invaded when you sleep. You see him close beside you when you drive your car and when you are on the job. You can never have efficiency or happiness. He influences even the tone of your voice. You find that you now take medicine for indigestion, headaches, and loss of energy. He even steals your last moment of consciousness before you go to sleep. So, if you want to be a slave, harbor your resentments!”
Here’s another thought along the same lines: “Living with resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to get sick.” Now you see what is probably the most damaging side of resentment. It may be the one you are currently experiencing. And here is a reality check: If you spend any time at all considering getting even or demonstrating that you are right, and the other person is wrong, you might consider that the person who you resent may be feeling just fine, enjoying their life, and is likely not bothered at all by any of the stuff taking up space in your brain. In the end, resentment hurts you and your relationship a lot more than that person who bears your grudge.
As it turns out, there are indeed good ways to extricate yourself from the grasp of resentment. Many of the ways are healthy and life-affirming actions, and can help you reach a place of freedom from obsessing about past mistakes. Many choices are available to select from so please consider the 10 suggestions and see how things change in your life and relationship:
10 Steps to Letting Go of Resentment
1. See resentment as the addictive state it is.
2. You are using resentment to repeat old dramas. Accept that the past is the past and you can’t change it.
3. Your resentment comes from confusing people in the present with people from the past.
4. Admit that you can’t control people who have hurt you.
5. Try and understand that your resentment gives you only feelings of strength rather than real strength. Focus on and accept your real strength and power.
6. Learn in advance to see the signs that provoke resentment. Learn to use the acronym HALT, something used in 12-step programs: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.
7. Practice techniques to stop indulging in resentment. Try putting a new thought between your feelings of resentment and indulging in ruminating about them.
8. Acknowledge your part in allowing what ever happened to occur and forgive yourself. Just forgive yourself. Then make the choice to not let it occur again.
9. Declare peace with the person you resent and with yourself. Forgive when you can, and when you can’t, practice purposeful forgetfulness. Keep in mind that the gift is to yourself and not the other person.
10. Forgive and practice willful and deliberate forgetfulness when you can’t. Do this as a gift to yourself.
To have healthy, adult relationships, you need to bring up concerns when they are mild issues that can be worked through, instead of waiting until you have let resentment take over. The next time you think, “I’m not in love with my partner anymore,” ask yourself if you have let any resentment poison your mind and your relationship.
Frank Hopkins is a certified Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). He is a certified Master Practitioner (ELI-MP) of the iPEC proprietary assessment tool, the Energy Leadership Index. Frank offers seminars on Energy Leadership. He maintains memberships in the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Institute of Coaching (ICPA).