How To Use Resentment To Your Advantage

Do you spend a portion of the day in a RICH STEW OF RESENTMENT, ruminating over the people and practices that irritate you? Perhaps it’s time to move on, says KATY MC GUINNESS

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Twelve-steppers and self-helpers learn that letting go of grudges and bitterness is an important step on the road to recovery. That the harbouring of resentments is akin to drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. But it’s not easy, when bitterness is such an ingrained part of our national psyche.

Resentment is a low-level emotion, constantly simmering. It’s a persistent feeling of being hard done by, of not being respected, appreciated, praised or rewarded, of being treated unjustly. But someone can become so consumed with resentment that it can overshadow a life. Resentment is not only toxic, but also – due to a chemical reaction in the body – intoxicating, warns psychologist Dr Paula Bloom, which makes it difficult to cast aside.

When you first become parents, you might resent your partner’s adult-onset nocturnal deafness. Fast forward a few years and you may have become the default parent, the one to whom every communication from school and sports club, from government agency, from doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and optician, is addressed, the one called first when anything goes wrong, expected to drop everything and rush to the rescue. It’s you who has to find the €3 for the cake sale, locate the rugby socks and magic up a Prittstick, all before 7.30 am. And it’s you who makes the mid-week trip miles out of your way to the schoolbook suppliers for the crucial past papers that are needed immediately.

You might be the one who visits most regularly, who brings them to appointments, to the supermarket, who deals with the pharmacist and chiropodist. Who takes a morning off work and accompanies them to funerals. Yet your brother or sister who lives abroad, or who lives down the road and simply can’t be bothered, is the prodigal.

The complex relationships that exist within families offer endless opportunity for disgruntlement and pique.  You may resent your parents because they love one of your siblings more than they love you. You might be the one who visits most regularly, who brings them to appointments, to the supermarket, who deals with the pharmacist and chiropodist. Who takes a morning off work and accompanies them to funerals. Yet your brother or sister who lives abroad, or who lives down the road and simply can’t be bothered, is the prodigal. Their intermittent visits are a cause for celebration in the way that yours never are.

At work, you may resent your boss because you are smarter than he is yet he earns twice as much as you do. You may hate it when he asks you to call someone and, before you’ve had a chance to do it, makes the call himself. You resent the assumption that you are not available for a work trip or function just because you have children. You resent a company culture that focuses all of its corporate entertaining on golf and rugby matches. And that nobody sees anything wrong with that.

The causes of resentment are legion, and it is a rare and saintly individual who does not succumb to the odd seethe. But dwelling on negatives does our mental health no good at all. Focusing on the causes of resentment only magnifies their importance, to the extent that bitterness dominates all the good and positive things in a life.

Resentment tends to linger though, because it doesn’t produce enough adrenalin for the boom and bust that accompanies more dramatic forms of anger. Exhaustion limits rage, but a person can stay resentful for years

Resentment often goes hand in hand with fantasies of retribution, which produce small quantities of adrenalin and cortisol in the body – just enough to lead to that intoxicating, though temporary, increase in energy and confidence. Resentment tends to linger though, because it doesn’t produce enough adrenalin for the boom and bust that accompanies more dramatic forms of anger. Exhaustion limits rage, but a person can stay resentful for years, with the fantasy of retaliation perpetuating a mood that may even lead to depression and anxiety.

Rather than stewing, try challenging the behaviour that triggers your resentment, in the hope of changing it. The more calmly you do this, the better your chance of being heard and understood. You may be pleasantly surprised and, if not, then at least you tried.  If civilised challenge is not an option, accepting that the behaviour is not going to change and resolving not to allow it headspace is a positive choice. Or go a step further and consider forgiving (not the same as forgetting), which brings with it extraordinary and documented health benefits, as well as that unparalleled sense of serenity that goes with staking claim to the moral high ground.

The cause of the resentment may remain part of your life, the other person’s responsibility for hurting you is not denied and the wrong is neither minimised nor justified.

Research at the Mayo Clinic shows that embracing forgiveness can lead to healthier relationships, greater psychological well-being, less anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, improved heart health and higher self-esteem. The cause of the resentment may remain part of your life, the other person’s responsibility for hurting you is not denied and the wrong is neither minimised nor justified. But letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge, making an active choice to forgive the person without excusing the act, brings with it a kind of peace and allows you to stop defining your life by how you’re been hurt.

Alternatively, you could make like Beyoncé and write a hit song about it. Which could be just the sweetest way of all to get your own back. It might go something like this:

How do I resent thee? Let me count the ways …

OTHER STEW INGREDIENTS

1. RELIGION As a fully-fledged adult, you may resent having to get married in a church or go to mass to keep your parents or the in-laws or the school happy.

2. WEDDING INVITATIONS You could resent being invited to a wedding when you are not really friends with the couple. You could resent having to pay to attend a stag or hen party, to cough up for a fascinator, and to buy an expensive gift.

3. THE BOOK CLUB You resent that the people in your book club have such execrable taste that you are forced to squander your precious reading time on their selections.

4. THE NEIGHBOURS You resent the couple next door with their new 151 cars and the mad old lady for feeding the foxes. And you resent the guy who lets his dog poo directly outside your gate under cover of darkness. Whoever he is.

5. OH, AND MONEY You may resent those who can buy their way out of trouble. Because if you had their money, you would spend it so much better than they do.

Katy McGuinness

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our March issue, out Saturday March 5.

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