I’ve always thought of resentment as well-deserved seething. Percolating anger that my neighbor bought the new car I’ve had my eye on for three years, or frustration that my coworker is skating out the door while I toil away at work, or reliving the anger of my ex walking out on me after our home was flooded. One of the most thought-provoking concepts from Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart, is her definition of resentment, “Resentment is the feeling of frustration, judgment, anger, “better than,” and/ or hidden envy related to perceived unfairness or injustice. It’s an emotion that we often experience when we fail to set boundaries or ask for what we need, or when expectations let us down because they were based on things we can’t control, like what other people think, what they feel, or how they’re going to react.” The wakeup call for me is that resentment is within my control and that it’s not something I have to fall victim to.
4 ways to squelch resentment:
Clear boundaries. I coach many clients that are unable to set up boundaries between work time and personal time. Working until midnight, answering emails from bed, or catching up on work all day Sunday so that Monday goes smoother. I actually had a client that worked all day (from home) and never left her laptop except to use the bathroom. Sometimes she even forgot to eat. Figure out a boundary or as Christine Kane calls it the Natural No. I don’t work on Sundays, I don’t work past 6 PM, I don’t take my laptop on vacation, I don’t have meetings during lunch hour, I don’t schedule back-to-back meetings, I don’t check email on the weekends, or I don’t have my phone at the dinner table. When I have clear boundaries, I don’t envy others when they have clear boundaries. So, I don’t envy my co-worker for leaving at 4:30 PM because I leave at 5 PM. As Brown wrote, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” I’m less resentful when I have clear boundaries.
Give without expectation. I can remember feeling that if I helped someone move that they would return the favor. If I send a Christmas Card, they would send me one. A tit for tat or quid pro quo. When the other party doesn’t come through, I end up feeling resentful. So just give without expectation. No reciprocity. As Jared Akers wrote for Tiny Buddha, “When you give without expectations—only when you’re comfortable giving for the sake of it—you’re less likely to resent people for letting you down.” It’s a big relief to not be keeping track in my “expectation ledger”. I’m less resentful when I give without any expectations.
Embrace love. I’ve been meditating for years. At the end of my meditation, I do a loving kindness meditation for myself, my dog, my family, my friends, my clients and all living creatures. I also wish loving kindness for some folks that I dislike like a particular co-worker or ex. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. I want to hold onto my resentment and the loving kindness can feel awkward. As Akers wrote, “What’s the opposite of anger, hate, or fear? That’s right: love. By sending only love toward someone, praying that they receive all the wonderful things you want for yourself in life, you’re slowly chiseling away at negative emotions that do you more harm than good. Don’t believe me? Try it.” It’s similar to curiosity being the antidote for fear, love is the antidote for resentment.
Don’t attach to outcome. I was completely attached to the outcome when each of my marriages fell apart. I had pictured growing old with each of my husbands. This led to resentment to both of these men even though they are not responsible for my happiness. As Aker wrote, “The key to finding happiness is realizing that you already possess everything you need to be happy. When you realize happiness is an inside job, you’re less apt to place demands on other people and situations.” So, whether or not, I’m married at 85 years of age, I’m responsible for how I am in the moment. Whether or not I retire, or move to Portugal or travel cross country in a RV or live in a house with my mother. No one outside of you is in charge of your happiness. Letting go of the outcome squelches resentment.
This is a lifelong practice. I’m not perfect at it. I’m traveling overseas with my adult children this week. Odds are my son will be late, my daughter will bring too many clothes and I won’t get to do everything I planned. The important thing is not to let resentment harsh my joy and as Bryon Katie says, “love what is.”