Resentment in relationships is like cancer that slowly grows out of control. The problem with resentment is that it destroys the person who holds onto it, even though they were hoping it would accomplish a different purpose. It is an all-too-common strategy of self-protection that always backfires.
Resentment in Relationships
Resentment occurs within relationships, and it can be healed within relationships. But it first needs to be dealt with at its roots.
You can become resentful after getting angry, or from a string of incidents related to a theme of anger. Anger can be righteous or unrighteous. It can be a warning sign that something needs to be fixed because it is unrighteous or unfair, or it can be a consequence of pride and self-centeredness.
What makes resentment different from anger is the level of intensity. Anger is usually a quick, primal response to hurt, fear, frustration, or injustice. By contrast, resentment is slower burning and longer-lasting. When you feel angry, your body has an adrenaline rush to prepare you for an oncoming attack.
But when you are resentful, the stress hormones rise much more slowly, because you aren’t preparing for an immediate confrontation. Instead, you are simmering in thoughts about why the people who hurt you don’t deserve your respect and how you might retaliate.
The intensity of anger normally burns out after either an apology from the offender or a choice to let it go. However, resentment doesn’t burn out on its own because it is not usually related to one specific incident. It is related to the unfairness of environments or relationship patterns, not isolated incidents. That is why resentment is a more complex and difficult problem than anger.
Why You Persist in Resentment
Resentment pretends to wrap you in self-protection from getting hurt again. However, resentment actually prevents us from connecting with others to heal and make changes in the relationship. Resentment is harmful to relationships because it shows prideful disdain for the other person.Other difficult emotions can accompany it, such as unforgiveness, bitterness, self-pity, and judgment, just to name a few. We persist in it due to our sinful nature because at heart, we are “lovers of self.” (2 Tim. 3:1). You must repent of it and turn away from it in order to keep your relationship from getting worse and worse over time.
When you resent someone, it doesn’t only stay in your mind. It harms your body because it is a low-grade activator for stress hormones. The more stress hormones your body must process over time, the more adverse effects you can see on your immune system, gastrointestinal system, and cardiovascular system. To remove resentment in your life is to do your body and perhaps even your life span a big favor.
You may persist in resentment because you feel entitled to it. But it is a slow poison for you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and especially spiritually. Resentment does nothing good for you in the short term or long term. You can work to remove it with God’s help.
Three Strategies for Removing Resentment
There are three strategies recommended for removing resentment.
Give the Matter Over to God
The only true way to remove resentment is to repent and give the matter over to God. Since resentment is so deeply rooted and so negative, we need supernatural power to remove it. We can’t do this in ourselves – we desperately need God’s help to overcome this sin. There are several ways we can hand the matter over to him.
First, we can commit to daily prayer over the matter. Jesus instructed us to pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:44), and the person who provokes your resentment probably feels like your enemy. The more you pray over the matter, the more God will soften your heart. It’s nearly impossible to hate someone for whom you pray daily, no matter how much they have hurt you.
You should also pray for yourself. Resentment is a great sin, and you need forgiveness. In your daily prayer, you can repent and turn away from the sin of resentment. You must surrender the matter over to God, repeatedly, asking God to replace your resentment with forgiveness and love toward the other person.Second, you can read the Bible for examples of how to release resentment. Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, is an excellent example of someone to emulate (see Genesis 37-50). He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, then spent time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
In the end, his heart was no longer resentful toward his brothers. Instead, he was able to say by God’s grace: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20)
Another example is Jesus himself. He chose not to resent the Pharisees, who resisted him and eventually crucified him. He said about them right before he died: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37)
He also spoke this prayer as the Roman soldiers were nailing him to the cross: “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34)
By meditating on those examples, you can ask God to give you the spirit of forgiveness in place of the spirit of resentment. Do this every time you are tempted to ruminate on the reasons for your resentment, which are likely more often than you realize. You won’t be able to do this in your own power. But God will grant you his power to let go of resentful feelings and trust him to take care of the matter better than you can yourself.
Attunement means to be focused on your feelings and the feelings of others. If you are dealing with a situation that caused resentment in the past, but you are no longer in a relationship with that person, you can practice attunement to your own feelings. Think carefully about how you felt when the relationship triggered your hurt. Write those feelings down and look over them. Do they still have a hold on you? If so, you can get help from a Christian counselor.If you are still in a relationship that stirs your resentment, you can increase attunement not only of your own feelings but also for the feelings that the other person expresses. Attunement for them will force you to focus on something other than your hurts. It may help you see their side of the story that you have not considered before.
Attunement can also help you to work towards communicating what you need from the other person instead of putting up a wall of resentment. Again, this may be easier and more productive to do with guidance from a Christian counselor.
Empathy is one of the biggest resentment erasers, and you don’t even need both people to do it to make a difference. When you empathize with the other person rather than getting defensive about their perceived or real faults, you can change your perspective. Empathy breathes hope into the relationship because there is something new toward which you can move.
Try to learn as much as you can about your offender’s past. Is there something you can see that stirs your compassion for what they have endured? This knowledge can help you develop empathy and a healthy separation from the pain that you have suffered. It can give you something to work on rather than ruminating over past grievances.
Christian Counseling for Resentment in Relationships
Resentment in relationships is one of the most difficult problems we encounter in our counseling offices. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to overcome. If you are willing to work on letting go of resentment, you are in a good place for the healing process to begin. We would love to work with you as you break free from resentment’s stronghold on your life.
“Getting Away”, Courtesy of Averie Woodard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cloudy Day”, Courtesy of Vijendra Singh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reaching Out”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Metal Footbridge”, Courtesy of Tim Swaan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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