Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

Manage Significant  Resentments

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/resent.htm

Updated  02-14-2015

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I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end

I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

- William Blake

      This is one of a series of lesson-4 articles on how to evolve satisfying relationships. The series builds on the concepts in Lessons 1 thru 3, so read them first. This article offers perspective on "resentment," and practical options for (a) reducing it in yourself, and (b) responding well to it in other people.

      This brief YouTube video offers ideas on relating to "difficult people. It mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that seven.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Website and the premises  underlying it;

  • self-improvement Lessons 1-4 here;

  • this perspective on self and mutual respect; and...

  • useful communication options to irritating behaviors

      How would you describe the normal human emotion we call resentment? How would you finish this sentence: “I really resent _________!" Do you feel that resentment can be helpful or constructive? Stay tuned…

      To see if this article is relevant to your situation, try this…

Status Check: T = "true enough;" F = "false;" and "?" = "I'm not sure," or "I don't care."

I feel a mix of calm, centered, energized, light, focused, resilient, up, grounded, relaxed, alert, aware, serene, purposeful, compassionate, and clear, so my true Self is probably guiding me  now. (T  F ?)

I’m clear enough on the difference between resentment, envy, frustration, distrust, disrespect, anger, and dislike now. (T  F ?)

I feel that resentment is a normal, useful human response that can help people identify unmet needs, and promote more satisfying relationships among adults and kids. (T  F ?)

I know what causes resentment in me or other people. (T  F ?)

I often feel significantly resentful toward one or more adults or kids now. (T  F ?)

I know how to dig down below resentment to discover the unmet primary needs  that cause it, or I’m interested in learning how to do that. (T  F ?)

I’m comfortable (a) expressing my resentment to others, and (b) reacting to people who resent me. (T  F ?)

The adults who raised me knew how to express resentments constructively. (T  F ?)

I can improve the way I respond to significant resentments  (T  F  ?)

      Pause and reflect: if you just learned something useful or interesting, what is it?

      What are you aware of now?

colorbutton.gif Perspective

      Consider these premises…

Needs are natural physical, psychological, and spiritual discomforts. They cause most animal behavior. (Reflexes and instincts cause the rest).

All human emotions are valuable signs that some current needs are unfilled. Some are uncomfortable, but none are inherently "negative."

Relationship “problems” are caused by conflicting and unmet current needs. 

The human need for respect is present in all solo and social situations and relationships, and shapes all communications. And…

Every able adult is responsible for identifying and filling her or his own primary needs.

      Reflect: how do you feel about these opinions?

      I suggest that resentment differs from dislike, contempt, frustration, envy, and distrust. Do you agree? Often, these emotional responses bloom together. Distinguishing between each of them can help identify and fill the primary needs causing them. The learnable skill of awareness can help you make these distinctions if your Self leads your other subselves (personality).

      Contempt says “I don’t respect something about you.” Frustration occurs when someone or something blocks an important current need, and you feel unable to remove the block. Envy suggests another person has something you feel you deserve and/r wish you had.

      Distrust results from the need to feel safe. Resentment is an instinctive reaction to feeling disrespected by a person or group. Common triggers for this reaction are feeling used, ignored, betrayed, misjudged, lied to, interrupted, and/or being treated "unfairly." Reality-check: think of the last person you resented, and see if you felt any of these.

      Premise: significant resentment says “I need to feel respected by (someone).” Notice the important distinction between “You need to respect me more,” and “I need to feel more respected by you.” A common reflex is to blame the disrespectful one as being wrong or bad. For some people, this can include blaming God, “Satan,” or other spiritual targets. Your true Self knows “I am responsible for my self-respect, and for asserting my needs and feelings to other people who disrespect me.” Notice your reaction to that idea…

      Believing “I deserve (someone’s) respect” is an illusion. Like trust, love, and friendship, respect can only be spontaneous, and must be earned. In other words, you are responsible for earning others’ respect, and telling others what you need in order to respect them.

Reality check: think of someone you don’t resent: do you usually feel respected enough by them? Have you requested or demanded their respect, or have you earned it?

      Resentments range from acceptable (no action needed) to significant (action required). I propose that excessive resentment (and other relationship stressors) clearly…

promotes lose-lose competitions in or between people and families, and…

feeds divisive loyalty conflicts and associated relationship triangles.

      Bottom line: if significant resentments stress you, the real issues are you or someone (a) feeling too ignored and disrespected and (b) not knowing what to do about that, and/or (c) not taking responsibility for changing that. If you agree with this and aren’t acting on it, you're probably controlled by a false self.

      If you disagree with these ideas, what do you believe? Which of your subselves is answering?

colorbutton.gif Surface and Secondary Problems

      As you know, a “problem” (unfilled needs) between two people can cause a web of (secondary) problems with other people. For example, a child “forgets” her mother’s request to pick up her toys from the living room floor. The Mom's  primary needs might be to feel...

  • a sense of order in her home,

  • competent at teaching her child,

  • self-respect for asserting her needs, and...

  • impactful, vs. being a passive victim in her own home.

      If she chastises her child or gets angry, the girl can run to her father (or someone) and claim her parent “is mean,” “yelled at me,” or “doesn’t like me.” If her dad questions or criticizes his wife (“Aren’t you over-reacting a bit?”), all three people are caught in a loyalty conflict and a persecutor-victim-rescuer relationship triangle. 

      Mom can resent the child for ignoring her needs (disrespecting her) and enlisting her father “against her.” The child can resent her mom for “being too mean,” and the dad can resent both of them for “not handling their own problems” or other things. All this can happen in less than five minutes. The original set of unfilled needs sparked behaviors that caused a mosaic of secondary needs among all three people. Note that the girl and her father had their own sets of primary needs which fed into these secondary problems.  

      How many times a day or night does this kind of chain reaction happen among your family members? When it happens, how well can the people involved separate primary from secondary problems (needs), and stay focused on resolving the former? In this example, resentment signaled that each person needed to feel self-respect and respected enough by the other two people.

      So - if resentments hinder your personal serenity and/or your family harmony, what can you do?

colorbutton.gif Options

      1)  Ensure that your true Self is leading your inner family of subselves. Signs that this is true are (a) your feeling mutually respectful despite significant conflicts; and (b) your accepting that you may be causing half of the first two “resentment” (disrespect) problems below.

      2)  Reframe resentment as disrespect, and admit you have one or more of these three problems:

you resent (feel disrespected by) one or more people, and/or…

someone resents (feels disrespected by) you; or…

another person resents someone, which causes problems for you - like catching you in a stressful loyalty conflict or relationship triangle.

       3) Check to see that you have a genuine mutual respect attitude toward yourself and the other person/s. If you don't, a false self controls you.

       4) Use awareness, clear thinking, and dig-down skills to identify your primary needs. Assert them clearly, and handle responses with respectful empathic listening and calm reassertion.

       If the other person seems psychologically wounded, tailor these ideas to your situation. Stay clear: converting your Inner Critic’s blame into compassion for a Grown Wounded Child doesn’t mean you have to endure the person's behaviors! It means that you can assert your boundaries with them firmly and respectfully ("We're of equal dignity") rather than disdainfully or critically ("I'm 1-up"). It also means you can choose to avoid pitying them, which inherently sends provocative "I'm 1-up" verbal and non-verbal R-messages.

       Does this look complex and difficult? At first, it is! So was driving a car, or doing your job, when you first began. You can do these steps, over time if your Self is guiding you.

colorbutton.gif Example

    Here’s how these options might sound in action:

Your ex (sarcastic false self): "Well, how are you enjoying the mega-thousand dollar multimedia center you bought with my money?"

Your Self (calmly recalling your perception that s/he's wounded, not rude, insensitive, stupid, or bad as your Inner Critic declares): "You sound really resentful." (an observation, not a criticism);

Ex: "Me resentful? Just because you and your jerk lawyer walked off with 90% of our assets after you dumped me, you think I shouldn't feel resentful?"

Your Self: "You feel hurt and angry because you feel the whole process and the outcome was so unfair, and you feel justified in resenting me and the process." (this is empathic listening, not agreeing!);

Ex (false self confused by your calm respectful response): "Well, uh... you finally got that right."

Your Self: "Pat, I can't change your perception or rewrite our history. I'm truly sad you're burdened by so much anger and resentment."

Ex (sarcastically, distrusting your sincerity): "Yeah, sure you are. And pigs can fly, too..."

Your Self: "It's hard for you to trust that I mean that." (More genuinely-compassionate empathic listening.)

Ex (again startled by your reaction): "Of course it is, after all the crap you've dumped on me."

Your Self (repressing your Inner Critic’s reflex to counter-blame, and your Warrior subself’s instinct to fight): "Pat, I need to know what you need from me so you'll start to bring down your resentment over past things we can't change. Our kids really need us to get past this together. I know you want what I want for them..." (clear assertion, based on your common co-parenting objective);

Ex (startled): "Huh? You want to know what I need?" That's a first!"

Your Self: "I guess you haven't heard that question from me very often, have you?" (genuinely respectful affirmation, not defending, explaining, groveling, attacking, giving examples,...)

Ex: "That's for sure..."

Your Self: "Well, I mean it now. What can I do to help lower your resentment of me and our past, so we can give the kids the best we've got in the present?" (reasserting what you need, with a genuine mutual-respect attitude. You calmly expect an attacking response now).

Ex: (angrily) "Well you might start by admitting that you gave me the shaft! I know this is too much to hope for in my lifetime, but you need to apologize to me." (Expectation confirmed: your ex seems ruled by an angry subself, and isn’t aware of this).

Your Self (calmly, with steady eye contact): "You're saying you'd let go of some hurt and resentment at me if you heard me acknowledge how hurt you've been by my actions."  (Note: this a hearing check, not a question. It tests to see if you're hearing your ex mate clearly, vs. agreeing  with them! Hearing checks set the stage for possible problem-solving).

+ + +

      How does this example of using the seven communication skills (with your true Self holding a genuine mutual-respect attitude) compare to how you usually think, feel, and respond to a resentful person? If some protective subselves give you thoughts like "This is unreal. I could never talk like that...", available in hardcover and paperback editionschallenge them: why not?

      In teaching the seven skills, I’ve seen many average adults learn to speak their version of this example. With commitment, patience, and willingness to learn from mistakes, you can learn to communicate like this. Then you can teach your kids how to do so. The unique Lesson-2 guidebook Satisfactions offers concepts and effective tools, and shows you the way...

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This Lesson-4 article focuses on identifying and reducing excessive resentments to improve relationships. The article begins with a status check and five premises, and proposes that resentment is a normal (not shameful or "negative") response to feeling disrespected. The rest of the article outlines a set of preparation options, and then key ideas for identifying and resolving the real reasons for excessive resentments (disrespects) in three social situations.

      Key options are...

  • put your Self in charge (Lesson-1 recovery),

  • if the other person seems psychologically wounded (ruled by a false self). use options like these; and...

  • patiently apply the Lesson-2 communication skills to (a) convert disrespect into compassion, and to (b) assert and enforce respectful boundaries.

      Option: re-do the Status Check above, and see what you experience. Then pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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