Dr. Maria D. Reyes
Have you ever been cut off in traffic by someone? Or have you ever felt like you were being taken for granted in a relationship? When someone does something that hurts or offends us and we don’t address the ill feelings in their early stages, they can turn into full-blown resentment. Feeling resentful is a complex emotion that combines elements of anger along with a negative outlook toward another person.In a relationship such as a marriage, resentment may only be directed toward a spouse in one area of the marriage, and not in general. For instance, sometimes resentment can develop over sexual intimacy, or if one spouse takes on the bulk of the childcare. When a specific situation, the topic of either sex, caring for the children, etc., comes up, it may generate resentment that doesn’t exist in other areas of the relationship.
In other words, resentment can be isolated to certain areas of a relationship. On the other hand, it’s also possible to find someone who’s been hurt in a romantic relationship becoming not only resentful of the person that hurt them but of everyone who shares the same gender or other attributes as the person that hurt them. In this way, resentment can be a complex reality in people’s lives.
When you start feeling resentful, it colors your relationships, not only with the person of whom you are resentful, but other people as well. You might be resentful of your neighbor for having a tree that constantly drops leaves into your yard and pool, and that affects your relationship with that neighbor.
However, it also affects your spouse and family because they hear about it every time you clean out those leaves or have an argument with the neighbor about it, and it can affect whether your family socializes with them. And so, resentment has a way of affecting other relationships, even though the resentment itself is focused on just one person.
What causes resentment?
When people mistreat you, that can quite easily trigger feelings of resentment toward them and other people. There are many potential causes of resentment, but below are a few of the more common triggers for resentment.
Disappointed expectations Most people have expectations about how they would like things to be, whether it’s about work, how they like their steak or toast done, or how to manage time, or in what condition borrowed items are to be returned. When those expectations are disappointed, it can trigger resentment, especially if it’s not the first time something like that has happened.
Whether one of your pet peeves is people being late and making you late, or colleagues who don’t keep their word which slows down your workflow, resentment can be sparked by disappointed expectations.
Being taken advantage of
We have certain gifts and things with which we can bless others. Typically, the opportunity to bless other people by loaning them our car, making a financial gift, opening our home, and so much more, is something they welcome. The problem comes when other people take advantage of our generosity and willingness to help.
If someone knows you’re willing to offer people rides, and they assume that of course, you’ll help them “because that’s what you do,” it can trigger resentment. Or when someone uses your strong work ethic to get out of doing their own work by palming it off on you, that too can leave you feeling resentful.
Not being heard
In relationships, communication is typically a two-way affair – listening when the other person is expressing themselves and being heard when you choose to speak. This is true whether we’re talking about work relationships, romantic relationships, relationships with strangers, or your local political representative.
Not being heard is painful because it seems to invalidate or even erase your presence. When someone doesn’t hear you, it communicates that what you’re saying isn’t important to them and that can easily trigger resentment.
Whether you’re dealing with people who insist on being right all the time and consequently dismiss what you say, or those who don’t let you get a word in edgewise because their focus is primarily/exclusively on themselves and their agenda, not being heard is one common source of resentment.
Being taken for granted
In addition to being taken advantage of, being taken for granted is a sore spot for many people. When someone assumes things on your behalf without consultation or isn’t appreciative of the things you do, that can trigger resentment. This can happen in the boss-employee relationship or relationships between loved ones.
A boss can ignore the hard work their team has done and not thank them for going the extra mile; a spouse can assume that their better half wants to go to that dinner with X without consulting them; a parent can plan things for their child without talking with them or fail to appreciate them when they do something well unasked. In these and many other situations, people can feel like they are being taken for granted, which can generate resentment.
Feeling put down
Similar to not being heard is being put down. Bullies come in many varieties and can be found in schools, at work, in our families, and in our neighborhoods. When someone puts you down, whether it’s about you or something you have an emotional investment in, that hurts and that hurt can translate to resentment.
Addressing resentful feelings in your life
If you’re feeling resentful toward someone in your life, it’s quite likely that they did or said something to you that caused you harm but for which you haven’t forgiven them. Or if you’ve dealt with resentment before and you want to head it off before it springs up again, there are some things you can do.
To begin addressing the resentment you may be feeling toward them, it’s important to acknowledge that the negative feelings you have toward them are just that – resentment. Naming what you feel toward them goes a long way to dealing with it honestly and fully. Other things to consider when it comes to resentment include:
If you haven’t, make your expectations known
Sometimes we can be resentful because people haven’t met our expectations when we haven’t explicitly made our expectations known. In some cases, we’re reluctant to be called nit-picky or are trying to avoid conflict, so we don’t tell people what our expectations are, and we may hesitate to call them out when they violate them.It’s true that often we teach people how to treat us, so when we’re not explicit about our expectations, we leave it up to them to set the table and determine how things go. If we don’t call people out on how they’ve violated agreed-upon standards, they may just assume that we’re okay with it.
A person may have violated our boundaries or expectations because they simply didn’t know about them. Being clear in this way helps immensely to avoid misunderstandings and the resentment that flows from disappointments.
Sometimes we need to adjust our expectations
In those cases where we have communicated our expectations clearly, it may be that other people struggle to meet our standards. Each person will have to decide for themselves where their line in the sand lies, but in areas where you are flexible, it can be helpful to adjust your expectations.
If you’re in a relationship and you share cooking or cleaning duties in your home, if the other person doesn’t have your level of skill or finesse, you may end up frustrating each other needlessly. You can take on more of those roles or choose to overlook mistakes when you encounter them. Adjusting your expectations is one way for you to avoid falling into resentment.
As a rule (but not a last resort), we must always be willing and able to forgive the person who has hurt us. This will go a long way toward killing resentment. Forgiving them doesn’t mean you think what they did was okay with you or the law, but it is a way for you to let go of your negative feelings toward them and move on with your life.
It’s a choice you make to relinquish the desire to see them suffer for what they did. The Bible reminds us that resentment and bitterness can take root in our lives and relationships, and that affects not just that relationship, but your relationship with others and God. Forgiveness thus frees you from the trap of negative emotions.
Resentment can have a profoundly negative effect on us and the relationships we surround ourselves with. Freeing yourself from resentment is a favor to yourself and your own emotional, mental, and physical well-being, as bitterness affects us on all those levels.
“Talk to the Hand”, Courtesy of Obie Fernandez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Facing the Forest”, Courtesy of Yasin Hosgor, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walking Among the Flowers”, Courtesy of Manu B, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “LOVE”, Courtesy of Tyler Nix, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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