Los Angeles Christian Counseling
Relationships can be a great source of joy and laughter, but they are also often our greatest sources of pain and resentment. Having a great relationship with your child, spouse, sibling, parent, colleagues, and neighbors feels good because we are relational creatures and thrive when our relationships are nurturing and meaningful. If friction in these relationships exists, we rightly feel that something isn’t as it should be.Relational conflict and heartbreak can lead to a lack of motivation, changes in appetite that can lead to either weight loss or weight gain, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and a general sense of being unwell. Our flourishing is tied directly to the quality of our relationships with others.
Our relationships don’t always work out as planned, and resentment can take root in those relationships for various reasons. When resentment sets in, what’s the best thing you can do to resolve it? This is an important question, but it’s equally if not more important to understand what resentment is and what causes it.
If you understand these things and the dynamics at work that generate resentment in a relationship, you can prevent your current and future relationships from getting wrecked and floundering on the shoals of resentment.
Resentment is a complex and multi-layered reaction to events that a person experiences. Some have described it as a mixture of disgust, anger, fear, and disappointment. Resentment usually leads people to dwell on and reexperience the events that generated these negative emotions.
Because resentment feeds on itself in this way, it will take residence in a person’s heart and mind until swallows them whole – emotionally, physiologically, and even spiritually. Resentment is quite destructive, not only for the person who’s feeling it but also for the other relationships the person is in.
What Causes Resentment in the First Place?
Resentment is what happens when we are hurt and can’t find a meaningful resolution to that hurt. People can be jerks to you in various ways, and this can cause resentment. Resentment is caused by being treated unfairly, or when a person feels undermined or overlooked by others.
It is also caused by emotional rejection by someone, or when you witness others being given preferential treatment. Other possible causes of resentment include public humiliation, feeling picked on or scorned, or put down by others, being taken advantage of, and also through feeling envy and jealousy.
Its Effects on Relationships
There are several results of feeling resentment toward someone, and they include avoiding the person, having low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, feeling angry toward them, distrusting them and what they say, and struggling to be vulnerable with them even if the health of the relationship depends on that vulnerability.
Resentment may make a person unable to stop thinking about the event, which brings with it recurring feelings of anger or shame. When a person feels resentment, they may also avoid conflict with the person they resent because the relationship is tense or because of fear.
Whether in a working relationship or between siblings or lovers, resentment is poison to that relationship. Not only that, but it can affect other relationships too. For example, you may end up not liking someone because they’re friends with the person you resent, or you may have issues with a current romantic partner because another man or woman hurt you before.
Resolving Resentment in Relationships
Recognize what’s at the root of the resentment.
We aren’t always aware of the effect we have on other people, or of what’s going on in our hearts. If you are the person that’s feeling resentful, you must recognize what’s at the root of your resentment.
Was it something they said, or do you have some soul work of your own to do? Resentment isn’t always rooted in something offensive that the other person has done, but also in our insecurities and sensitivities. It takes wisdom to parse this and understand how best to resolve the issue.
Address issues earlier than later.Resentment can build up over time as a person engages in repeated behavior that frustrates or humiliates another. If someone is acting a certain type of way and you find yourself feeling the stirrings of resentment, it’s better that you express that you’re not happy sooner than later. Sometimes resentment happens because the other person doesn’t even know they’ve offended you.
Instead of letting the situation continue, be assertive and speak out about things before they escalate or carry on. As Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4: 26-27, ESV). By allowing your anger to fester, you present an opportunity for the evil one to undermine and destroy that relationship.
Rectify the behavior that caused it.
If you’re the person at the root of resentment in another’s heart, you need to recognize how your behavior is affecting them and do better. When someone speaks to you about something you said or did to them, and how it affected them, take it seriously and make changes accordingly.
Talk with someone about your feelings.
If you’re feeling resentment toward someone, talk with a trusted person such as a friend, pastor, or counselor. Expressing what you’re feeling gives you an outlet for those emotions, and it can be the first step toward finding healing. Additionally, talking with someone else can help you gain some perspective on what you’re feeling.
Being at the receiving end of someone else’s hurtful words and actions is painful and never easy. However, it helps to be open-minded and recognize that just as people hurt us through their words and actions, we hurt others too. And what we might think is a deliberate slight perhaps is a misunderstanding.
Create room for people to make mistakes, knowing that you make mistakes too. This isn’t to minimize the things we do to one another, or what has been done to you, but it’s to recognize that we can empathize with others because we will often enough find ourselves in the same position.
A step further from being open-minded and recognizing that we all make mistakes is to forgive the person that has wronged us. Resentment can overwhelm you, and the destruction it wreaks extends beyond the immediate relationship that spawned it. Forgiving the other person is for your good and the good of your other relationships. Learning to let go of the hurt that causes resentment can help you be healthier and happier.Not only is it good for you, but forgiving others is part of what it means to be a member of God’s family. Some Bible verses are harder to live out than others. Jesus once said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 43-45, NIV)
Our natural instincts when another person injures us is not to forgive them or wish them and their loved ones well. Perhaps at best we want nothing to do with them, and at worst we wish harm upon them. To love and pray for the people that have harmed us and that we consider “enemies” requires nothing short of God’s help through the Holy Spirit.
Exit the relationship.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away from a relationship that’s aggravating and causing resentment. If you speak to the person and they refuse to rectify their behavior, there may be no other recourse than to walk away before resentment overwhelms you.
In the case of a committed relationship such as a marriage or with familial bonds, leaving the relationship may not be easy, but there may be ways to relieve tension by getting some space or by seeking professional help.
Resentment can devastate relationships
If it takes root, it can undermine trust and vulnerability in that relationship, destroying it from within. Not only that, but resentment also affects the person who experiences it emotionally, spiritually, and physiologically too. Your wellbeing is at risk if resentment presents itself in your life.
With the help of a professional such as a counselor, you can explore the roots of your resentment, parsing whether there’s work you need to do to become assertive or forgive the person who is the focus or at the source of the resentment.
Our feelings aren’t necessarily led by what’s rational, but we feel them nonetheless and they affect our lives in powerful ways. A counselor can walk alongside you as you explore these emotions and learn skills to help you deal with friction and negative interactions in relationships.
God desires us to have healthy relationships because that is how we flourish. With the help of a Christian counselor, you will get guidance and be in a space where your concerns about resentment can be addressed, and you can start your journey toward forgiveness and wholeness. If you want to have peace and not be hampered by resentment in your relationships, do not hesitate to reach out to a counselor for help. Make an appointment today to begin that journey.
“Reluctant Partners”, Courtesy of Andrik Langfield, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting in the Field”, Courtesy of James Kovin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Remodeling”, Courtesy of Roselyn Tirado, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Andre e Natalia”, Courtesy of Andre Revilo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License