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Is Resentment Holding You Back?
I started this series after reflecting on ways that my thinking or internal conversations were holding me back. The first article talks about why learning to let go helps us move ahead. The second article shares my experience with permitting myself to step away. In this third article, I want to uncover the self-limiting impact of holding onto resentment.
Resentment is feeling deep and bitter anger and ill-will. Unjust treatment is a common reason for this feeling. Most people don't know how to confront and navigate situations that create resentment. Instead, they respond with suppressed emotion, avoidance tactics, passive-aggressive talk, or subversive actions.
Unresolved resentment escalates to contempt, which is the judgment of another person as vile or repulsive. As you can imagine, these emotions eradicate the possibility of civil discourse, as discovered in the micro-expressions research of Dr. John Gottman. He found contempt expressions to be the most reliable predictor of divorce after observing just a few general conversation minutes between couples. This finding underscores that the presence of contempt is a bad sign for the health of relationships.
To understand how resentment occurs, let's begin with a basic model for the constructive exchange of ideas and information.
Healthy, productive communication requires three conditions of mutuality to be present.
MUTUAL PURPOSE = Committed to Manifesting Shared Intentions
MUTUAL MEANING = Committed to Creating Shared Understanding
MUTUAL RESPECT = Committed to Treating Others With Dignity
When any of these conditions are compromised, miscommunication that can escalate into relationship-ending aggression occurs.
In this model, mutual respect is prime. Without mutual respect, none of the other conditions are possible. The deep, negative feelings resentment produces not only inhibit the expression of respect but also keep us stuck in a pattern of thinking and behaving that traps us.
But here's the thing, holding onto resentment, no matter how justified, is a choice. And as impossible as it may seem, you can let it go by examining your feelings closely and answering these two questions.
1) What's the pay-off?
2) Do you want to be right, or do you want things to change?
Regardless of your awareness, there is always a pay-off associated with our choices. Psychologists termed this reinforcement, and it is widely used to shape behavior. Here are some examples of the pay-offs for holding onto resentment.
There are areas in our lives in which we can walk away from individuals whom we resent. For most of us, however, the workplace isn't one of them. Being in an emotionally combative situation is stressful and distracting. Few of us can perform at our best when carrying this emotional burden, which leads to my assertion that resentment holds us back.
Letting go of resentment is not easy. Psychologists have studied our need to be right, which they've tied to chemicals released during conflict and the ego's protection. [read more] Additionally, our education system reinforces having the correct answer as the ideal state. Nature and nurture conspire to strengthen a neurological pattern that causes us to double down on our rightness and exclude other information to the contrary.
Additionally, the fact that unjust treatment is at the core of resentment makes the process of letting go more challenging. Mark Sichel, LCSW, makes the perfect case for rising to this challenge.
"Letting go of a resentment is not a gift to the person you resent. It is, rather, a gift to yourself."
Holding onto resentment gives it power over our lives in unintended and self-destructive ways. Naming it, facing it, and letting it go is your opportunity to reclaim your extraordinary and manifest your fullest potential.