Resentment and Acceptance

By Chris Chittenden

When we coach people or otherwise work in organisations, resentment appears as one of the most prevalent moods that we encounter. The impact of this mood cannot be understated. It has a major negative effect on the individual in terms of their outlook on life and is major factor in causing distress and compromising well being. This flows into effects on organisational performance and relationships in general. What is resentment and how can we recognise and deal with it?

Resentment is a mood in which many people spend a great deal of time and accordingly we term it as one of the "basic moods of life". The mood of resentment is born out of our view of ourselves, others and the world, where we assess that there are things we cannot change but wish we could. As such, resentment can be associated with virtually any aspect of life, but for this article we will focus on a mood of resentment linked to our relationships with other human beings.

Resentment can come from any situation. It relates to our private conversations about our expectations of the future and what is possible for us. Let's look at a few simple examples. If, in your work, you feel that you are the best person for promotion and that promotion goes to someone else, there is a space for resentment to evolve. If you accept a commitment from a friend that they will do something for you that is very important to you and they do not follow through, there is a space for resentment to evolve. If you feel that other members of your team should have the same work ethic as you do and you assess that they don't and never will, then there is a space for resentment to evolve. In all of these examples, something that you expect to happen, does not. As a result you assess that some future possibilities have been closed and there is nothing you can do about it.

More often than not, our initial emotional response to such events is one of anger in varying degrees and our immediate response is often one of direct action to right the wrong that we feel has been done. If our attempts to deal with the situation prove fruitless, then we can begin to believe that we have no control over the situation and our resentment can build. We see moods in part as a "predisposition for action". The actions that tend to be associated with a mood of resentment are blame and revenge. This is where resentment can have such a powerful and negative influence on an organisation. Resentment leaves us in a space where we cannot move forward. We get caught up in a story about the past and how things could have been different. The result is that we seek ways to get back at those whom we think have wronged us. This often shows up as negative gossip, lack of commitment to the other person and even direct sabotage.

Resentment is also often found in people who are showing signs of stress and is a mood that if it hangs around for long enough can have a profound impact on our health and well being.

The opposite mood to resentment is acceptance or peace. This mood comes about when we can accept the things that have occurred even though we cannot change them. From a mood of peace we can move forward and get on with life in a way that is beneficial. So how can we move from a mood of resentment to one of acceptance?

There are many ways that we can make this transition. A good place to start is with what we term "grounding" our resentment. Our resentment stems from assessments that we are making of the other person. For example, we might feel that they always ignore our concerns when making decisions that impact on us. Grounding, or validating, these assessments can often start us down the track to acceptance and open up possible conversations that we can have, which will address some of our concerns.

The steps to grounding assessments involve asking ourselves these questions:

For the sake of what future action or relationship do I hold this assessment? It can often been said that we feel resentful about someone with whom we no longer have any relationship, yet our mood of resentment still lingers.

In what area of life is this assessment based? We will often find that our relationships cross many boundaries in relation to the domains of our life. For example, many people work and have personal friendships with others. We may find that resentment in one domain of our life bleeds into other areas where the same assessments need not apply.

What and whose standards are being applied? Very often we find that our resentment stems from a difference in standards. A recognition of this can lead us to conversations about what standards need to apply and why, and so provide a common framework for a future relationship.

What facts about recurrent actions do I know? If we take the example of a person ignoring our concerns, we may well find significant evidence to support our assessment, but then again we may not.

Can I ground the opposite assessment? This is always a tougher question to address for we are often find that, in resentment, we become blind to other actions of the person to whom we feel resentful. However, by addressing this question, we can sometimes reduce our feelings of resentment and begin to build a better relationship.

Another approach is to declare the past complete. We do this in recognition that we still feel wronged but that we no longer wish to live with resentment and are ready to move on. Such a public declaration can be a powerful way of creating a context for future and, when supported by requests to others to keep us on track, can provide a valuable means of moving out of a mood of resentment.

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© 2000 Chris Chittenden