Resentment: is this what I'm feeling?
What is resentment?
Of all the emotions, resentment is one that does not appear to have any positive aspects. Anger, even hatred, can propel you into action that can have positive and beneficial outcomes. Jealousy and envy can mobilise you into action to change your circumstances. But resentment…it doesn’t appear to have any positive side effects. What happens to us when we are resentful? We are basically saying ‘poor me, bad you’. When we have experienced pain and hurt, betrayal, a perceived injustice, then it is understandable that we feel the unfairness of it all; but by hanging onto resentment we are not allowing ourselves to move on from the hurt of the incident.
However it has been created, holding onto resentment means we are keeping ourselves in the same position mentally and emotionally as that of the original incident - which is hurting who? I once heard resentment described as ‘drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’, and there is some truth in this. What does holding onto all that negativity do to us? How does all that negativity manifest itself? By focusing so much on someone or something in our past, we can make ourselves neglectful of our present. It can colour how we see our future and impact how we respond to people and situations, possibly negatively affecting important relationships.
Counselling can help us identify our emotions, especially painful or negative ones. Sitting with these uncomfortable emotions can help us work through them. Identifying that some of our negative emotions may be rooted in resentment enables us to understand why we want to hold on to that emotion. 'Poor me, bad you' stops us seeing ourselves as having any responsibility for how we feel. It puts the responsibility firmly on the ‘other’. We can’t control how someone else behaves or acts. We can only control how we respond to it.
Being able to talk this through with your counsellor will help you realise that you can take control of these emotions, take control of your responses to whatever traumatic situation led to these resentful feelings. Understanding that we can control our responses can be liberating. We can choose to stay in resentful mode, or we can move on. It doesn’t mean that we forget the hurt, but it does mean that we can let go of it and focus on ourselves rather than on someone else.
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About Donna Sullivan
Donna Sullivan is an Integrative Counsellor who has worked with offenders in prison, women's outreach services and private practice. She specialises in relationship issues, particularly domestic abuse and is currently working on a domestic abuse perpetrator programme with both men and women.