|The other day I was chatting with an old graduate school friend who has been a therapist for the last twenty some years. Despite all her experience, she was seething with a resentment. I was able to coach her out of it, and she suggested I share the story as she found it useful.
Without all the deets, here’s what happened. My friend (let’s call her Julie) was angry that her struggling son was demonizing her and didn’t appreciate everything she’d done for him. Who among us hasn’t been there?
To make matters worse, the situation, which had been going on for quite some time, had escalated to the point that Julie was being advised by other people to be the “adult” and apologize, which really busted her chops given how she’d been treated.
Her son was now living with his father, which was not just painful, but made Julie feel like he’d somehow “won,” by being allowed to hold on to the false narrative that Julie was the root of all evil.
Sounds miserable, but here’s the good news: resentments are fertile ground for self-growth if we’re willing to use them that way. Sliding into the blame game is easy. What’s hard is making a daily practice of not falling prey to victimhood whether it’s traffic, the epic battles of step-families, crappy bosses, inconsiderate spouses or any myriad of human life struggle.
Even Al-Anon teaches us that while we all at times have very good reasons to be upset with the people in our lives, resentments are caused by one of two conditions:
- We had an unrealistic expectation, or
- We failed to set a boundary.
Resentments are on us.
Here is what Julie said:
“I have been groveling to this kid for a year trying to make things good between us. Plus, you would not believe what I’ve given up for this kid. I’ve put my career on hold. He’s had the most privileged childhood you could imagine.”
In these seminal sentences we see that Julie had both unrealistic expectations and failed to set a boundary.
Let’s start with expectations. For any of you who haven’t had a relationship with a teenager, let alone a troubled one, let me be the first to tell you, expecting them to appreciate anything is about as realistic as expecting to see a frog ice skate because you bought him little tiny skates.
It’s an excellent idea to check in with yourself before you do whatever you’re about to do and think about if you’re going to be upset if appreciation or validation or whatever else doesn’t show up, because it’s fifty-fifty at best. That means it’s fifty-fifty that you’re going to be in a shit mood, and it’s on YOU.
Now for boundaries. What boundary did Julie fail to set? When her son raged at her, she groveled to try to repair things. She abandoned herself.
Her son didn’t tell her to grovel; she decided to do that. Her son didn’t tell her to put her life on hold; she did that. Why? Because she was trying to control the outcome. We don’t have control of outcomes though, so this again is on her. It’s like being mad because a cartwheel doesn’t produce an ice cream sundae.
The reactions of other people at the end of the day, are random. The lesson? Other people are allowed to have their feelings. Your job is to hold on to yourself.
The more we can own our resentments, the quicker the resentment goes away; the sooner we step into our power, away from being a victim, and take giant step toward self-love.
The next time you’re feeling grumpy about a situation, demand of yourself to find your part in it. Hold the spotlight there; don’t wander into what someone else did or said. This has benefits beyond inner peace, self-regulation and empowerment. Without soapboxing,I’ll just ask you to Imagine a world where we all only pointed the finger at ourselves…
Here’s a bonus lesson from this conversation: While Julie was encouraged to apologize to her son (yet again), I advised against it. It’s important not to make an amend before you’re ready, even if you know your part in it. Why? Because doing so can lead to a resentment.
While resentments are our teachers, the goal is to mind ourselves so well, that they don’t pop up to begin with. The day after coaching Julie, I woke up with a resentment on another matter myself. How did I make it go away? I figured out the boundary I had allowed to be crossed, and no matter how many times my finger wants to point, I wrench it back at myself. Did I do it perfectly? No, but I did it better than the last time and not quite as good as I’ll do it the next.