Resentment is a horrible feeling. It’s an awful combination of bitterness, indignation and dissatisfaction. It is when we feel we have been treated unfairly.
Resentment is futile and destructive. But it is perversely appealing, and common in many women’s lives. Sometimes it feels strangely compulsive to climb onto the moral high horse, muttering and seething. Telling everybody how completely useless our kids / husband / neighbours are.
Resentfulness is a rationaliser, it means we do not see our own mistakes, our own role in the debacle so clearly. We are so busy blaming someone else, we don’t see our own part in it.
When we feel resentful, we put ourselves into the role of victim. And we are strangely dishonest to ourselves about it.
Barb was telling me how annoyed she was with her lazy husband. “Oh no, I’m not a victim! But I can’t believe he left the whole clean-up to me, and made me feel like a slave, I had to stay up doing dishes while he drank whiskey with our house guest”.
That’s a victim. Barb is holding herself ransom to her husband’s indifference to housework.
Resentment is often accompanied by silence.
When Barb’s husband poured the whiskey for his mate, Barb sighed and rolled up her sleeves, muttering under her breath that she couldn’t believe she was still putting up with this.
She could have said “I’m leaving the dishes until the morning, when you can help me with them”, and left the room. She could have laughed and called them lazy bastards, and asked them to dry while she washed. She could have plainly stated “I resent that you are relaxing and expecting me to clean up”.
There are so many things she could have done instead of muttering quietly and doing it by herself.
Every time a client wails “but he should know what needs to be done!”, I come back with “you have to say what needs to be done. You must say what you need. Why on earth are you silent?”.
There is an expectation that our children and spouses should be able to spot what needs to be done, and step in, without us asking. And yes, that would be completely fabulous. It also unlikely in most homes. However, the expectation that it should be like this is so destructive. Expectation means disappointment. Disappointment means resentment. Resentment means communication breaks down. Cue an unpleasant home life.
When you speak your truth, you tell the world what you need. “I need you to stop saying such disrespectful things. I need you to take responsibility for this commitment. I need you to treat me fairly.”
Most people will respond. They will get away with what you let them get away with. When you call them on poor behaviour, they step up. If you are brave, and speak up with them, you end up with some sort of compromise, a spirit of cooperation, and no resentment. I believe most people are like that. They would agree to do those dishes together in the morning, or dry them together tonight.
But you have to stay flexible. Insisting they are done NOW, is imposing your own timeline on somebody else. That’s plain bossy. Some things are truly time pressing, other things (doing the dishes) are truly not. Perhaps you like them done quickly, but that’s your preference, and part of your personality. Perhaps Barb’s husbands most favourite time of day is the after-dinner relax, perhaps he has been looking forward to this part of the evening, and is very happy to step up in the morning. Insisting, being inflexible and bossy, is unpleasant to be around. Your private resentment turns into a big shared argument.
Some people however, don’t respond right. They dig in repeatedly, they resist, and they refuse to change their behaviour. If they persist that you should do the dishes, alone, while they relax, then that is a different story. They are not interested in meeting you in the middle, they are not interested in respecting your needs.
That requires a whole lot of further thought. Serious questions need to be asked. A one-off refusal could be put down to a bad day. Repeated refusal is more alarming. Maybe that person needs a time-out from your life. Maybe you need to talk to a professional about this, and see your way clear. That’s a topic for another day.
Climbing onto the moral high horse, is a precarious place to be. Feeling resentful, while staying quiet is lonely. Not saying what you need is disempowering. When you are feeling resentful, you have to turn around and try to see your own role in enabling it.