My 10 Steps for Keeping Resentment in Check
About a year ago was the first time I really felt myself figuring out “adulting.” (Don’t draw attention to the facts that I had been working, paying a mortgage and raising a child for years). I knew my schedule. I knew where my stuff went and I put it there. I surprised myself and everyone around me with my meal plans, folded laundry and, most days of the week, clean floors.
I was crushing on myself.
Now that I felt pride in my competency, my issue was becoming other people. I flopped down exhausted on the sofa at night, every item on my to-do list completed at best-in-class standards. It was then I looked up and started noticing the other adults around me. My excellence hadn’t influenced them at all.
As I overachieved on things I thought were important, a little inner dialogue started to form in my head,
Everyone can count on me, but I have no one I can count on.
I’m the only person who cares.
I work my butt off because I love my family, so people failing me is proof I’m not loved back.
I wasn’t trying to keep score, but I was doing a great job at it. The art of noticing made it easier and easier to see how I was doing more, giving more and working on more than anyone else. Any contentment and self-pride in my efforts was left in the shadows of feeling jaded and lonely when I compared my service to my family and the world to others and perceived an imbalance of effort.
Markus would be out for the night and arrive home to a clean house, with the counters clean, lunches for tomorrow packed and a lit candle for dramatic affect. I came home from a night out to frozen pizza left out on the counter and a happy child still wrestling on her pajamas post-bedtime.
While my perception of disparities was easiest to spot at home, it was an energy I was channeling into all of my relationships - family, friendships and work. I could feel like I reached out to my friends more than they did with me. I was always the one to organize social nights. I was single handedly saving the world through Instagram while the rest of you sat idly by.
It took me a while to understand that I was in the throws of resentment, defined as “bitter indignation of having been treated unfairly.” Sounds like a great time.
Being treated unfairly is the part I wanted to put on other people through blame. And I did. I was a Mom martyr - my love for my family and diligence to their needs through ways only I could provide came ahead of my joy and sense of self. The cherubs fluttered their wings around me as a violin played in the background and a bluebird came to wipe away my tears.
My despair and angst were around a flawed concept that my state was permanent and something other people controlled. Until it hit me in the face that, like all feelings, resentment was an emotion that passes through to show me there’s more to learn about myself and my relationship with the world and others.
The teaching ability that’s possible when I approach my feelings without shame still gets me all shook up. For me, when I’m feeling resentment and getting an itch to hit the blame button, I have a list of what might really be going on.
My Resentment Tells Me:
I’m giving too much of my power away to other people.
I’m forgetting there are other ways of doing things besides how I see it.
I’m also giving myself too much power because, even though I’d be a fine candidate for the job, I don’t actually control the universe.
It’s time to remember I’m not the only person carrying a heavy load.
Noticing an experience as a short term feeling instead of permanent and truth is always a big step in the right direction with me. Since feeling resentment usually stems from my relationships with others, this one comes with homework.
I hate homework, so I typically try to avoid getting into the throws of feeling resentful altogether. But as life happens and I feel a sanctimonious pity party coming on (I even have to throw all of my pity parties for myself - ugh) I consult my Resentment Homework Assignments List and go down the row until I’m feeling like my real self again.
You’ll probably never need these, but to give you an idea…
Lilly’s Resentment Homework Assignments
Ask for help. Even in a home with a good equalization of domestic labor, I was getting bogged down in decision fatigue from being what felt like the sole brains of the operation, making every decision. It was time to stop making them all myself. Relatedly, some of your other friends can probably pick where you all have dinner sometimes. They might also be able to call the restaurant for a reservation.
Take something off my plate. This may have to include an admission of overscheduling and an apology. They are uncomfortable words that are capable of leaving my mouth or text fingers without resulting in my death. And if it results in the death of a relationship, it never was one anyways.
Take my hands off someone else’s life. Sometimes a loved one wanted all of my advice and sometimes they didn’t, but I was giving away more energy than I could regenerate for myself. I’ve decided I have no option but to decide that everyone’s on their own path and has their own internal wisdom source. It’s not my job or duty to lend mine out to others so much.
Set boundaries. If I’m participating in life and being a safe person for people to talk to, I’m going to hear some heavy things. I might also be around people who are hurting and not sure how to deal with it, which may affect their behaviors towards me. I can see, feel and understand them without making their hardships mine to carry.
Do something nice for myself. If I have to practice one of the previous assignments first to create the time or mindset to make my care a priority, even better.
Drop my expectations. When I haven’t already decided myself how everything should be, life is more of an experience, unfolding in surprising new ways all of the time. (Was I upset walking into an untidy house after a night out because I expected something else and didn’t communicate it? Jake Ryan would have a clean house ready for me, sure, but did it cross my real life spouse’s mind? And did it really matter?)
Do something nice for a stranger or someone I haven’t been able to connect with lately, without anyone else finding out about it. Like number five, this might mean diverting myself away from some of the usual grassfires that typically take my attention. Reconnection with others helps me remember there’s life outside my bubble of perceived influence. And those grassfires? They typically go out, or at least decide to stay self-contained until my dutiful return.
This one is a pest, but I try to practice...empathy. That Mom who never brings a snack to school functions might be going through some gnarly personal stuff. My parents are human beings who have to wake up and figure out a mess of life just like me. My spouse also had a long day and may have just been able to start cleaning up when I walked in the door. A staggering 99% of the time, everyone is doing their best given the circumstances. I’m allowed to believe that and adjust my expectations accordingly.
I forgive myself. Because just like them, I’m allowed to struggle, too. To make mistakes and blow some things off here and there. I’m a damn good one, but just a regular ol’ human being. I could accept imperfections and maybe even...chill out a little?
I personally feel a higher power that sees my efforts, knows my heart and loves it when I place my trust there. When this relationship comes first, followed by the one I have with myself and then ones with other people, the load is lighter.
I love a success story, so I was thrilled when I got one so soon after starting my resentment detox process. This spring, I was busy - I was running our house, I was in the busiest season of my job, and getting elementary school registration underway. I was doing it all - besides taking my daughter to swim class. In Texas, swim class is not optional. So on top of fears of a summer where my daughter couldn’t fully enjoy the pool with friends, my letting swim classes continue to fall by the wayside was becoming complicit in the harm or death to my child (in my head).
I could feel the resentment coming on. You wouldn’t have your daughter’s swim lessons locked up either if you were in charge of everything. The thought was so pervasive I did something I’ve never done before. I asked for help. I mean, I didn’t do anything so full-out-vulnerable as go to my partner and ask him to partner with me on something. But I did “update” him with a text, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by swim lessons. I know she needed to start back a while ago but the weeks go by without me having time to find the right class, enroll her and get it into our schedule.”
Markus responded in seconds. Just that morning, there had been a flyer up at his gym for kid’s swim lessons. With a few minutes more of his time, our daughter was enrolled and could swim on Saturdays while her Dad had personal time at the gym and Mom had a break for herself too.
After a shame-free owning up to being behind on signing up for classes (because, we can say it together, I’m allowed to make mistakes), remembering that I’m not the only person who can do things, and asking for help, we were better than before. We found swim classes our girl loves, I think especially since they’re a special activity with her Dad. They’re not at the quaint, family-owned school I went to last year with fish murals and achievement ribbons, but, I remember, am not the only person who knows what is best for our family. For me, finding peace often comes through deference.
The changes have been astounding, with a few side effects. I don’t feel like Wonder Woman as often in my life, but my invisible plane hadn’t ever shown up anyways. I’m more vulnerable to others. I have to trust things will happen and understand and forgive when they don’t.
In the space left from my fading resentment and the gaps in my schedule when I don’t do everything myself, gratitude gets in. It’s easy to see how many people love me and want me to have the things I need when I share my heart and let people love me in the ways they know how.
I’ve broken from the resentment rut, but it’s a state for me is something I have to work to keep in remission. Thankfully, the only thing I’m consistently resentful about these days is how much water I need to drink in a day to feel normal (why?). As it bubbles up, I know what resentment tells me and what needs to be done. First up, having mercy for myself and the fact that while I can’t change other people, my attitude is always available for my handy work. It’s something to scan for and think about when I have time to myself. Usually, when my husband is competently taking my daughter to her swim lesson and I’m in my quiet home alone with plenty of time to do nothing but be grateful.