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What Will Your Resentment Cost You?

Steven Losardo, LMFT

How Do We Define Resentment?

One way to think of resentment is when we “feel again (or re-send) the pain or hurt caused by others” (Tylim, 2005). When we are still suffering, resentment refers us to the past, and we project thoughts of an undefined fantasy of revenge into the future (Tylim, 2005). While resentments can provide boundary setting, simultaneously, they break the normal flow of mental life that links to memory functioning. As a result, a belief that revenge is a moral emotion giving the right to act develops. 

The worst outcomes of this emotion can be vengeance, violent retributions, and vendettas. These acts bring sought-after relief from the pain and humiliation. However, the serenity does not last as long as the resentment has a great memory. The intensity of the resentment cycle builds when we suffer and connects us to the person who causes the pain. The momentum leads to preparation for the next strike back and retaliation or an act of revenge. Ultimately, the process leaves the injured party in a “form of psychic bondage.”  

What Is An Example of Resentment?

Maple and her partner Ash usually are not able to compromise during disagreements. Their inflexibility creates several disagreements and regrettable incidents (Gottman, 2017). In a conflict between couples, Maple withdraws, giving in to Ash to end the tension. This act comes with the cost of harboring resentment. Over time, Maple also views Ash as stubborn while disengaging emotionally and physically (Gottman, 2017). Ash lacks congruence, feeling “victorious” in the arguments, then hurt and confused seeing Maple shut down while pulling away (Gottman, 2017). Neither sees the other as an ally as this is officially WAR! In the end, both feel lonely and frustrated in the relationship. 

How Can Resentment be Dangerous?

Resentments oppose receiving apologies that bring restoration. If given an apology, the interaction with resentment memories stops the realignment interaction (Girard & Mullet, 1997). This moment inhibits the mourning process, and the acceptance needed to heal on the way to forgiveness (Girard & Mullet, 1997). As a result, a path to future relational discord still builds on past grievances. Additionally, the firmly held resentments transmit from one generation to another if not navigated. This resentment rite of passage can also include aggression, violence, or other by-products. 

Resentment is in opposition to forgiveness, which is problematic for every marriage. A lack of forgiveness is probably the most significant danger to our intimate relationships. When there is a lack of forgiveness towards one’s partner, the anger, fear, stress, and bitterness do not disappear (Enright, 1991; Worthington 1999; Luskin 2002). Additional issues may come, such as disruptions of one’s thoughts, inefficient emotions, or health issues (Engel, 1977).  

Is There an Antidote for Resentment?

Forgiveness can result in a profound transformation that can generate compassion and care for oneself removing the resentment memory cycle. Allowing resentment to signal our souls to move to forgive instead of revenge is the ultimate sacrifice. It is important to remember that we can forgive, and reconciliation need not or, in certain cases, should not occur. (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015; Worthington 1999).

No Way Out?

Stosny (2022) notes that habituated resentment/anger comes with a habit of blame, automatic negative attributions, victim identity, and temporary narcissism. These barriers likely obstruct any attempts of your partner to change. He concludes that “it’s imperative that you focus on your own healing and well-being.” Adding, “reclaim the core value lost in the fog of walking on eggshells.”  Seem hopeless? It may not be!!! There is hope for compromise related to situations like Maple and Ash. They may need the commitment to grid it out! Couples can reclaim not only their well-being but also their relationship. 

Grind It Out

Albeit hard work, a couple can understand their resentment cycle and find the middle ground (Gottman, 2017). For example, first, the couple may need to explore each partner’s fear, anger, or early childhood history that may relate to problems with compromise (Gottman, 2017). Next, exploring what it means to each partner to compromise can illuminate (Gottman, 2017). Mantras may sound like, “I am not being a good patriarch of the family” or “I’m not being a good feminist (Gottman, 2017).” Sound familiar? 

Differences in histories and meaning systems create differences in attitudes about compromise (Gottman, 2017). Both partners must understand each other’s positions on the discussed issue to minimize blame or criticism arising from one partner’s unwillingness to compromise (Gottman, 2017). Couples can sort out what aspects of their positions on an issue are inflexible versus what aspects are more flexible (Gottman, 2017). Once here, the real hard work can begin. The couple will most often need to uncover the regrettable incidents that may contain a litany of resentments. There is time and space in the big reveal for each other’s pain to be understood, apologizes, forgiveness, and love. Will you DARE end the war?

Need Some Help?

As part of your process, your therapist can assist. When beginning a conversation around resentment, they have various intervention strategies. Reach out to Symmetry Counseling in Chicago if you need help. You will be glad you did! 

References

Engel, G. L. (1977). The need for a new medical model: A challenge for biomedicine. Science,

196(4286), 129–136. 

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy: An empirical guide for

resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological

Association. 

Framo, J.L. (1992). Family of Origin Therapy. Brunner/Mazel: New York, New York. 

Excerpt: Family of origin as handled in traditional psychotherapy, p 7-12.

Girard, M., & Mullet, E. (1997). Forgiveness in adolescents, young, middle-aged, and older adults.

Journal of Adult Development, 4(4), 209-220.

Gottman, J.  (2017). Level 1 Clinical training manual: Gottman method couple

therapy. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute Inc.

Stosny, S. (2022). Does resentment or anger rule your home? They start small and gradually

consume relationships. Retrieved on January 31, 2022 from

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger in-the-age-entitlement/202201/does

resentment-or-anger-rule-your-home.

Tylim, I. (2005). The power of apologies in transforming resentment into forgiveness.

International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 2(3), 260-270.

Worthington, E. (1999). Hope-focused marriage counseling: A guide to brief therapy (2nd ed.). 

Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press

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