Friday, July 06, 2007

Hey! I Resent That!

I read an article recently in a magazine that will remain nameless because it makes me feel old to have it in my house. No, it’s not AARP or Modern Maturity or Arthritis Today but it’s a magazine aimed at women of a certain age. I’m tangenting; forgive me. I’m not yet old but my body and mind are starting to exhibit some of the ravages of time.

Why did I come in here? Oh, yeah, the article.

Connie Schultz wrote a piece in the Magazine-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named that has nothing to do, really, with my topic. However, there was this one little part of one little paragraph that jumped out at me. She wrote that a friend once defined resentment as you drinking the poison and expecting the other person to feel the pain. (note: my aging brain isn’t sure if that’s a direct quote or close to what she said or what I got out of it so I’ll check the magazine when I can and edit, if necessary). Miriam-Webster Online defines resentment as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” I like Connie’s friend’s definition better.

Why do we feel resentment? Someone else’s action or inaction has made our own personal existence less pleasant. Combine that with a lack of resolution about the unpleasantness and you get resentment.

It can be something relatively minor: The person in front of you at Starbucks is quizzing the barista about the growing conditions of the soybeans for the faux-milk in the grande half caff double soy double shot no foam hazelnut latte and asking if the coffee is fair-trade, shade-grown, and organic. Okay, seriously? Someone who cared about all of that wouldn’t be getting their coffee at Starbucks but I’m trying to make a point here. You resent the Soy Latte Lingerer because, damn it, you want your cinnamon chip scone and you want it NOW. That kind of resentment goes away rather quickly.

Then, there are the moderate resentments. These are somewhat serious and have the potential for doing damage but don’t permeate your entire life. I’m talking about things like: the boss who, in trying to do what’s best for the whole division, does not do the right thing and your career gets sidelined for a while; the “friend” who does something so completely unfriendlike that you wonder if they ever were a friend; the co-worker who frequently dorks up something so badly that you end up working late to fix their mistakes; the ex-husband who lied about you to the kids; and the [insert political party] leaders and members who do/don’t support [insert political agenda item].

Of course, all of these resentments don’t measure nearly as high on the Resent-O-Meter as those resentments about people who are part of our daily lives. Resentment focused at family members and significant others eats away at you. It makes your home – that place where you’re supposed to be able to go to get away from everything else – another place that adds to your stress-level. Many times, there’s not anything at all that you can do about the situation (serenity prayer, serenity prayer, serenity prayer…). Other times, a resentment causing situation continues because you don’t know how to fix it. And still other times, you allow it because the alternative is worse.

To me, here’s what’s key about the drinking poison analogy. If you don’t tell the person they’ve angered you or just let go of the resentment and anger, it poisons you. It poisons your mood and the spillover from that poisoned mood affects everything else in your life. It saps the enjoyment from things you normally enjoy because the offender’s offense is relived constantly in your mind. Worse, the resentee doesn’t even realize they’ve done something resent-worthy so they’re just be-bopping along while you sit and stew. They end up blindsided when you finally snap and read them the riot act.

Understanding that, it would make sense that I would learn to just let go of resentments or attack them head-on. I try. I’m even successful some of the time. I need to try harder.


anger hangover said...

I resent the fact that I don't know what to do with my resentment - especially at family members. When letting them know just how you feel falls on deaf ears - what then? I guess I'll take my resentment chilled with a splash of bitterness, please.

Becca said...

Sometimes it is worth it to just let it go. Other times it makes me feel better just to know I've said it, even if I get no response or the person doesn't get it at all. Either way it's kind of dependent on me.

Recently I did the second one when I had been considering the first. I got no response but I still feel great. Even if they can't figure out why, they know the problem exists.

Unless they didn't get my e-mail. That would suck.

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

Anger Hangover -

I love what Becca said about this. I'm going to agree and elaborate with some of my own thoughts.

I don't know if there's anything you can do with it, especially when it falls on deaf ears. I attended Al-Anon for a while and that helped some. Sometimes you have to just let go of it. You can't change them.

For me, it really helps to just get the words out. Whether it's talking to the person or just writing my feelings down on paper (or screen). Not keeping those feelings bottled up helps. Bottling them up causes that anger and resentment to build and build. A touch of bitterness or anger can serve you well if you direct it properly. I find myself getting angry at the situation (or myself for the way I'm handling it).

As much as possible, I refuse to let the actions and attitudes of someone else determine mine. I, alone, am responsible for what I say and how I act. How someone else has treated me is no excuse.

When the resentment is so strong that I'm unable to let it go, I distance myself from the person or situation. That distance can be physical or emotional.

I wish I had better answers.