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Resentment is as poisonous to our own hearts as it is to our relationships.
Yet, who among us isn’t at least a little familiar with its bitter taste?
Recently I asked this question to my social media community. How does resentment build in a relationship?
Throughout the commentary, the most repeated statement (made in various contexts) was: lack of communication leads to resentment.
What we refuse to talk about, or suppress, will fester beneath the surface. Silence can suffocate even the sweetest connections.
Lack of clarity around expectations, disrespect, invalidation, withholding, compromising our own needs, feelings, or values for the other’s approval all lead to communication breakdown. Then there is lying, gaslighting, and manipulation, which are even more harsh ways that poor communication can manifest.
It’s natural to feel resentful or, at the least, angry if someone is being abusive or taking us for granted. These dynamics can be actual, but they can also be perceptive. As with any volatile emotion, the key to disarming it is taking accountability for our role in the dynamic.
Remembering times when I was feeling resentful, I notice a tightening around my chest and temples. My teeth feel on edge; my jaw twitches. These are notable and immediate sensations that present in my body. This says to me that resentment is physical as well as emotional.
Resentment feels like I’m battling with myself to not say what is on my mind or in my heart and it tastes like ashes, like something died on my tongue.
Developmental environments, traumatic influences, and parental presence are all factors that we can give compassionate consideration to when discovering how we, ourselves, and others communicate.
From a psychoneuroimmunological standpoint, when we hold back emotions—anger, grief, sadness, or even the expression of our own needs—it can lead to physiological consequences. We may experience increased inflammation, decreased digestive function, lethargy, anxiety, depression, or other neuroses.
Over the course of a long-term relationship, not acknowledging my feelings or my needs slowly built up resentment but also led to anxiety. During the course of that relationship, I waffled back and forth from blaming my partner to blaming myself for our relationship not working.
We didn’t talk about the important things. We talked around them. Eventually my anxiety came to an apex and my anger became undeniable and uncontainable. That isn’t to say that I lost control. A more accurate articulation would be that I gained enough discernment, along with my frustration, to finally say, enough.
In retrospect, it is easy to see that in the absence of fulfilling communication, dissolving the relationship was the most sane and compassionate thing to do. In the midst of the drama, however, my own fears of being rejected or abandoned perpetuated the cycle of silence, withholding, and passive aggressive, as well as passive avoidant, communication.
Not only was I afraid to say what I needed to my partner, but to admit those needs to myself.
Not having needs met can become a point of contention in any relationship. Ultimately, as adults, we are responsible for meeting our own needs. That includes having a matured enough sense of discernment as to who is safe, secure, and reliable enough to share those needs with.
Over time, the absence of care can begin to feel like a violation even if the other person is not willfully harming us. Neglect is painful and is a form of abuse. If we find ourselves constantly struggling to express our feelings, or share our needs, this is not only emotionally exhausting, but can be taxing to our nervous system as it leaves us in a low grade fight-or-flight response.
A healthy system is one that is capable of conflict.
For some of us, conflict can feel extremely threatening and we will go to great lengths to avoid it at all costs. However, there is no resolution possible without engaging with skillfulness in conflict.
Conflict can be internal, interpersonal, transpersonal, and, of course, relational. Often we set up conflict in our relationship by first holding the conflicted state internally within ourselves.
When I think of resentment, there is a physical tightening in my body. If I am resenting someone or something, then I am binding myself to that person or that situation. I am not allowing my feelings or needs to flow freely.
The root of resolve is Latin: re solvere. It means to loosen.
If we wish to let go of resentment, we must return our stagnant feelings to a fluid state. We must acknowledge how we feel before we even contemplate the possibility of forgiveness if it is warranted. And it may not be another to whom we wish to extend our forgiveness. We may first need to forgive ourselves.
Feeling helpless can brew resentment and that can be an indicator of mental or emotional regression. In times like this, we can compassionately inquire as to how old we feel and what, if any, are the appropriate actions to take on our own behalf.
Resentment not only builds when others cross our boundaries, but when we, ourselves, are disingenuous with our yes and no.
Anger is often an indication that our boundaries have been violated. Though we tend to think of others as being the perpetrators in such scenarios, the truth is that we can, just as easily, and often more readily, violate our own boundaries when we fail to communicate how we feel and what we need.
This behavior is often referred to as people pleasing and we may fall into this when we have trained ourselves to put the needs of others over our own.
If we find ourselves regularly in situations that we are incongruent with, we need to look at the choices that we are making rather than blaming others. Saying no can feel uncomfortable at times. However, if we constantly say yes, even when we do not want to, we are choosing to act out of integrity with our own needs.
If we are not willing to advocate for our needs then we may place those needs, inappropriately, on others.
The inappropriate placement of a need might look like holding another to an expectation that has not been openly discussed. It might also look like we are sacrificing ourselves for others’ approval or attention. This pattern is often rooted in us believing that we, as we are, are not enough, that in order to be worthy of love and belonging we need to do something, prove something, or give up something essential in ourselves.
Real love will never ask that of us.
Accountability is the antidote that dissolves the poison of resentment.
When we are willing to claim who we are, how we feel, and what we need, we can step into the warm embrace of vulnerability together.