Riding the Resentment Rut
"Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace." -Buddha
Every once in a while I find myself barking righteous indignation into thin air. I imagine the object of my ire is standing before me where I can clearly and forcefully speak my piece. I allow myself these moments, then I turn my attention back to getting on with my life. I have found peace in being able to quickly and privately vent when embittered feelings arise. However, I do not allow myself to dwell on these feelings lest I be caught in a rut of resentment so deep that I can't get out.
Holding onto resentment is not uncommon among women approaching or over 50, especially when dealing with multiple life transitions such as job loss, divorce, caretaking or grief. The need to find control somewhere in an unraveling life may be hard to resist. And holding onto resentment can often feel like “being in charge.”
For family and friends, this stubborn act of clinging to resentment is off-putting. Emotions are out of control and it’s difficult to be around. In his article, 10 Steps to Letting Go of Resentment, Mark Sichel, L.C.S.W., asks readers in this situation to, "Realize that you are using resentment to replicate old dramas and acknowledge that you cannot change the past."
It’s important to understand that normal or healthy anger is not the same as deep-seeded rage or resentment. Some degree of justifiable frustration is healthy to express when you’ve been wronged. However, when expressing frustration turns to dwelling on bitterness, it’s time to make a different choice.
Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., tells us, “Bitterness, which I define as a chronic and pervasive state of smoldering resentment, is one of the most destructive and toxic of human emotions.” In his article, Can Bitterness Become a Mental Disorder?, he further explains, “Embitterment, like resentment and hostility, results from the long-term mismanagement of annoyance, irritation, frustration, anger or rage.”
So, how can you free yourself of antipathy and move on with your life in peace?
Dr. Diamond concludes that the only successful way to resolve resentment is by “confronting and consciously acknowledging the repressed and often justified anger or rage burning beneath, of which [resentment] is but a manifest symptom.”
There are some steps you can take to confront these feelings. One way is to practice forgiveness. Advises Sichel, “Forgive when you can, and practice willful and deliberate forgetfulness when you cannot, keeping in mind that these acts are gifts to yourself rather than capitulation to the people you resent."
Forgiveness can go a long way toward realizing that it’s no longer necessary to attach so much importance to your bitterness. The simple act of forgiving "the wrong," however, may not be enough. If some part of your resentment is directed inward, it may be necessary to also forgive yourself in order to move on with your life.
Another way to get control over your resentment is by changing your thoughts. Cognitive-behavioral clinicians sometimes recommend cognitive restructuring, a set of influential questions to help manage the patterns of thinking that destroy our lives. Ask yourself…
1. What are the valid reasons for and against holding on to my resentment?
2. Is there another way of looking at or handling the object of my resentment?
3. Does the object of resentment have bearing on my life today? In five years? Ten years?
4. What action can I take to move on from this resentment? What can I do to stop the patterns of thinking that fuel my resentment?
Through these exercises you may begin to realize that carrying anger won’t vindicate you. It will instead wreak havoc on your own life. The remarkable thing about coming to this understanding is learning that these are choices that you have made… and they are choices that you can unmake by choosing acceptance.
"Acceptance does not mean submission to a degrading situation. It means accepting the fact of the situation, then deciding what we will do about it."1
If you find yourself unable to move past your resentment using the recommendations above, you may need to seek the help of a professional. For many women of an assured age, the life transitions they are experiencing may strain their finances and make seeking help seem impossible. If you are one of these women, or if you simply need to find help, here are some ways that you may be able to connect with someone. Help is out there for you.
1. Ask your doctor for a referral or check with your insurance about support benefits
2. Find support groups through the local hospital, churches or civic center
3. Use online websites like www.betterhelp.com and www.7cups.com
4. Call 211 for health and human agency directories
5. Reach out to Leaping the Chasm online and start a conversation
Whether you occasionally bark at a figment of your imagination, forgive and forget, or seek help... however you go about moving away from your resentment, the first step is to choose to do so.
To share your experience, join Leaping the Chasm online. www.leapingthechasm.com
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About Leaping the Chasm
Leaping the Chasm™ (LTC) provides candid conversations and social media engagement for women in their 40's, 50's, 60's and beyond who are undergoing the personal, physical, financial, education and employment transitions that often accompany mid-life. These conversations are intended to share experiences, transfer knowledge, improve outlook, make new friends, and help identify opportunities for this powerful demographic.
1Courage to Change, page 256, Author Unknown