Resentment is a sneaky emotion. More often than not, we don’t even notice it until it has infested and rotted an entire relationship. But, as helpless as we may seem, I think the problem with resentment is that we actually can see it, and we simply choose not to acknowledge it.
Resentment is what happens when we experience repeated conflict or hurt within a relationship and don’t do anything about it.
What gives resentment power in my life is my initial instinct to deny and ignore my feelings. Denying my feelings of resentment leads to me internalizing much of my anger and hurt, allowing it to build and build until the relationship either corrodes or explodes. But the simple act of acknowledging the hurt in the first place could heal, and even prevent, the fractures in the relationship.
So…If it’s so simple, why don’t we do it?
For me, it’s because I’m afraid. Fear is probably the biggest reason that I don’t wrestle with my feelings of resentment from the start.
I’m afraid of being wrong, of having unjustified emotions, of saying something stupid, of conflict (that’s a big one), and I’m afraid that bringing it up will make everything worse than if I just keep my feelings to myself and “deal with it.”
These are just some of the many lies that resentment tells me in order to gain footholds in my life.
Responding to Resentment
It can be really hard and really scary to tell someone that they have hurt you. But, if you truly value your relationship with that person, you aren’t going to let it be defeated by a bunch of unspoken thoughts and feelings. To me, prioritizing a relationship means taking the time and energy to cultivate and tend to it now. That means talking about issues as they arise, not putting them off until things get worse.
Another reason why people avoid talking about problems in relationships is because talking about problems takes a ton of work. Discussing resentment takes humility on both sides, in addition to respect, love and a mutual devotion to working towards the good of the relationship. It’s important to be prepared mentally, emotionally and spiritually before you discuss feelings of hurt in a relationship, because if either party isn’t committed to reconciliation it could just make matters worse.
Here are some things that are needed to discuss hurt well:
- A calm mind—Although resentment involves passive feelings of anger more often than it involves volcanic emotions, it is still important to make sure that you are in a position where you can talk about your feelings in an appropriate way, and listen well to what the other person has to say.
- Humility—This is important for both parties. It takes humility to put preserving the relationship above being right, which translates into honest communication and sincere listening.
- Respect—Ultimately, real reconciliation from resentment is only going to happen if both people truly respect one another and care about healing the relationship.
Whether you are the one bravely speaking up about your feelings of resentment, or the one faced with the challenge of humbly listening to a friend’s concerns, being up front about your feelings and honestly communicating them is always better for a relationship in the long run.
If you recognize feelings of hurt or anger starting to build up inside you towards another person, pray and consider speaking to them about your feelings. Often, simply getting your emotions off your chest is enough to reconcile whatever resentment you’re starting to feel. However, it may take a lot more time, effort, communication and prayer to heal your wounds of resentment. In this case, continue to seek guidance from the Lord and from trusted people in your community as you journey towards reconciliation and healing.
Father God, thank you for Your presence, which is faithful even in the midst of relational conflict and hardships. Please give us the strength to face the challenges that arise in our relationships head on, instead of waiting for things to boil over. Help us to love one another with the humility and grace of Your Son. And please refine our relationships through each conflict so that they may more perfectly reflect You. Above all, open our eyes to ways that we can change and better love those around us. Amen.