Part of being human means that sometimes we will grapple with feelings of resentment. We will simmer and stew about the unfairness of something and harbour ill feelings and grudges. Knowing that we’re grappling with feelings of resentment towards a loved one, though, can leave us feeling bad about ourselves and the relationship. We don’t like to feel like the type of person that feels resentful. It’s as if resentment signifies that we’re a bad, selfish or grudge-bearing person. At the same time though, we also don’t like being in a relationship that causes ill-feeling. When it’s a loved one, we can wind up feeling trapped, frustrated, anxious and confused about how to resolve the situation. So what’s the answer? How do we manage resentment with a loved one and limit the source of ill feeling?

Resentment comes from hoarded feelings, misspent yeses, and a misplaced sense of obligation and guilt. It signifies that we need to create healthier boundaries.

When it’s short-term feelings of resentment, it’s typically because we’re acting as though we’ve been “made” to do something. Or we feel that something is unfair but aren’t saying anything. Like when we resent tidying up or volunteering to do something. It might feel unfair because no one is helping, or it’s always us. But we haven’t necessarily communicated our needs or may have forced ourselves into something unnecessarily.

With medium- to long-term resentment, it’s from a longstanding pattern of making ourselves do something or be someone we’re not. When we consider everything we’ve suppressed and repressed in order to ‘get on’ with this person, our resentment and frustration make sense. Like when we play a role (e.g. the Good Girl/Guy) and bend over backwards and the other person doesn’t appreciate us.

When we experience resentment it means we’ve been people pleasing.

People pleasing is a form of silent rage that stokes a fire of resentment.

Being a people pleaser means that we’ve taken on roles in our relationships as a way to meet our needs and protect ourselves. It’s suppressing and repressing our authentic selves to please others and control their feelings and behaviour. We use the identity of the mask of people pleasing to gain attention, affection, approval, love and validation but to also avoid life’s inevitables–conflict, criticism, stress, disappointment, loss and rejection. Outwardly, we may have an appearance of calm, compliance, etc., but inwardly, we’re seething.

Roles (and people pleasing), though, make us behave in ways that are out of alignment with our values and needs. We act from a place of feeling as if we’re duty bound to be a certain type of person in our relationship. There’s a sense of having to suck it up and take the crap. It’s as if, for instance, we believe it’s our job to be Peacemaker, Black Sheep, Listener or Under- or Overachiever.

People pleasing is us showing other people how to behave.

We play all nicey-nice through our people pleasing and do what we think others need, want and expect or that will make them behave better and we ultimately expect people to reciprocate by playing their part, their role. e.g. We play the Good Daughter/Son and expect our unpleasable or difficult parent to become the Good Mother/Father. Our people pleasing, though, is like creating debt and then expecting others to pay it off. We play the role of Best Partner in the World and expect our emotionally unavailable partner to change their ways and commit. Whatever our people pleasing, we compromise and hurt ourselves. And, of course, when people don’t meet our expectations, resentment builds. We feel ripped off, shortchanged or devalued.

Resentment is always the clue that we’ve done something for the wrong reasons.

With resentment, there’s an underlying sense of feeling as if we have or had no choice.

Resentment can only exist when there is obligation, real or imagined. This means that resentment is an expression of where we’ve previously felt as if we have no agency. If we truly believe that we have a say in at least some of our circumstances and value healthy boundaries, we do things from a place of desire, not obliging, guilting or even shaming ourselves into it. We also do things from a place of being conscious, aware and present, not in a pattern. Even when something is a genuine obligation, when we have agency, we act automously.

We feel resentful towards people when we do what might for all intents and purposes be “good” things but for the wrong reasons. We do something, not because it’s who we are and what we want to do but because it’s what we think is expected of us. It represents the childlike thinking of growing up during the Age of Obedience where we obeyed anyone we perceived to be an authority over us, which in a child’s world is anyone we perceive to have power over us.

Whenever we do things from a place of obligation or guilt, it always, always, always leads to resentment. And the more we play roles in our relationships instead of being authentic, the more resentment we create. Hence if we lose whatever sense of obligation there is, the resentment fades.

Resentment just makes us wind each other up.

People pleasing, including playing roles, covers up old hurts and losses by suppressing and repressing our needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions. Each time people piss us off and disappoint us despite the lengths we go to to “keep the peace” or be worthy enough of them being different, it just reminds us of our unmet needs. This is especially so around family or anyone with whom we have a longstanding relationship. For example, we learned to people-please in the way we do as a result of interacting with our parents and trying to appease them and then they still criticise us anyway. Or we took a back seat to our sibling’s more pressing needs and our parent still doesn’t acknowledge how difficult things are or were for us.

We resent…
  • Saying yes when we really need, want to or should say no
  • Playing nice while silently fuming or hurting
  • Feeling as though we have to be a person we don’t want to be in order to do the ‘job’ of our role
  • Being passed over despite the efforts we’ve made
  • Being good when everyone else doesn’t bother to make the effort
  • Feeling like if we don’t do what someone wants and expects, even if it’s unreasonable, we’re going to get a load of drama and upset
  • Having to be the One Who Always Had Their Stuff Together
  • Exploiting ourselves and allowing others to exploit us in the process
  • Biting our tongue
  • Pretending that our needs don’t matter
  • Being guilted and shamed into doing stuff
  • Turning a blind eye yet again
  • Being compared
  • Feeling put-upon and dumped on
  • Being the scapegoat
  • Being chastised, cussed out or cut off the moment we put so much as a pubic hair out of place
  • All of the above while someone else seems to get away with murder. Hell, they might do exactly the same as us (or worse) and no one bats an eyelid
  • Not being allowed to be ourselves or feeling as though we can’t allow us to be ourselves

Resentment means that there’s a wrong reason in our intentions and actions.

This means we need to figure out what we need to stop or start doing.

It could be that we need to…

If we don’t say yes authentically, we say it fearfully, avoidantly and resentfully, and that leads to far more problems than if we’d just said no in the first place.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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