Last month we hosted 8 global dinners on the topic of RESENTMENT. Women across the world gathered to share and listen to our stories on this heavy and dense emotion.
At first, many of us felt apprehension –some of us didn’t even think we carried any resentment– but as the night evolved, and we started to unpack this topic, we realized that feeling resentment is part of the human experience and that talking about it in a compassionate space is part of the journey towards releasing it.
Here are our key takeaways
Resentment lives in the shadows
Resentment is one of our most intimidating emotions. It feels heavy and dense in our bodies, stewing from experiences of abandonment, disconnection, humiliation, abuse, feeling misunderstood, or believing we are not “good enough.” Culturally, “resentful people” are often seen as bitter and unappreciative, so it can be hard to see the resentment we hold inside ourselves with empathy and compassion.
For many of us, resentment originates in our childhood. Growing up in homes where we didn’t feel completely safe or understood — sometimes despite our parents and/or caregivers having the best intentions.
Keeping our resentment in the shadows protects us from facing painful and challenging emotions, but if we are able to shine light onto it, we may be able to experience a deeper sense of peace and connection — with ourselves and other people.
Resentment = “to feel again”
The etymology of the word “resentment” (resentir in Spanish, risentimento in Italian) means “to feel again.” When we are not able to process our emotions at the moment, they are stored deeply in our body and come back up when they are “triggered” — that “trigger” (e.g., an email from our boss, a “small” argument with our partner, a family visit) brings back that same emotion, yet this time the feeling is “out of place,” or disproportionate to the situation at hand.
We may come across as “overreacting” in a disagreement with our sibling or feel excessive anger when our partner is late for family dinner; because the truth is that we are not just feeling the feelings of the present moment, we are also feeling the repressed emotions from the past. It’s like we are tapping into an old wound that hasn’t completely healed.
Sometimes it’s simply not possible for us to process our emotions on the spot, so we have to do “the work” later on. For instance, children are not equipped to process the intense feelings of abandonment or abusive homes, so burying them is a matter of survival. Other times, we don’t have the ability or luxury to “pause and feel” — we are too distracted, e.g., technology, productivity culture, or too busy trying to make ends meet.
Unmet expectations lead to resentment
Resentment breeds when our expectations are not met. For instance, we may have conscious and unconscious expectations around being a parent, our marriage, work, etc. And, when that doesn’t happen, many of us struggle to deal with that disappointment in a productive way — we lash out or suppress our feelings, so resentment starts to build up inside ourselves and potentially in the other person too.
How can we share our expectations and honor what we want while also being really honest with ourselves? How can we become more fully present with our reality — no matter how uncomfortable this may be — so we can clearly see what our actual next steps can be?
By constantly checking in with ourselves and our circumstances, we can notice more easily what is or isn’t working in our lives. Then, we can take action, e.g., speak up for the change we want to see, preventing resentment from bubbling up.
The “seductive” power of resentment
For some of us, resentment can feel like a source of “power.” A strong shield that protects us from seeing and feeling the actual pain that’s underneath.
Our resentment allows us to fantasize about our revenge and vengeance, providing temporary satisfaction as we imagine the failure of someone who hurt us or leaving a job we hate.
Resentment also protects us from vulnerability and “feeling weak.” It can push us to take on more (at home and at work) instead of asking for what we genuinely need, e.g., help.
If we remember that our resentment wants to protect us from our pain, how would we view this emotion? How can we appreciate our resentment for trying to keep us safe AND do the work to release it at the same time?
The 3 kinds of resentment
Across our dinners, we uncovered 3 kinds of sources for our resentment:
Systemic: All systems that keep groups of people oppressed. Supremacy culture, patriarchal capitalism, power over dynamics, autocratic regimes. For women, there’s resentment towards the emotional labor most of us carry. We are expected to be the ones caring for the wellbeing of others (at home and at work), often without acknowledgment.
Relational: The resentment we feel towards our friends, partners, colleagues, family, and even our children. From the little moments, e.g., our friend didn’t return our call or come to our wedding, to the significant and hurtful experiences, e.g., parental neglect or abuse. This resentment can slowly erode our relationships and prevent us from feeling the love that, in many cases, is also present.
Self: When we cannot express our boundaries and our frustration breeds inside instead of speaking up. Or when the expectations for our life are not met, we can enter the ongoing draining loop of self-shame/pain.
Healing our resentment through connection and communication
Across our dinners, we identified three approaches that could help us heal and release our resentment.
Open communication: Being able to have the sometimes hard yet important conversations with ourselves and others. This is a life-long practice that invites us to ask for what we need and express our emotions (anger, regret, pain, etc.) in a truly productive way. Cultivating our sense of curiosity, interrogating our assumptions, checking our expectations, and letting go of our need to be right. How can we listen to the resentment within ourselves with openness and empathy (remember, it’s there to protect us)? How can we go all the way to its roots and be compassionate towards whatever may come up? When people feel heard and seen in their relationships, we can understand each other more and break the cycle of resentment.
Connecting with our bodies: Many of us have disconnected from our bodies as coping mechanisms, because feeling our pain can be too overwhelming (especially for those of us with severe trauma). Reconnecting with our bodies can help us build our resilience and compassion. The more attuned we are, the more we can connect with all of our emotions, notice when our bodies tense (because a boundary has been crossed) or listen to the whispers that indicate that something is not right.
Personal work: The journey towards reconnecting with our body and processing our unresolved feelings often requires the support of therapists, healers, somatic practitioners, and compassionate communities. What support system do you need to build to support your healing?
Healing our collective resentment
For many folks in marginalized groups processing their resentment through therapy, better communication, etc., is simply not possible — most of us don’t have the privilege of time and space. This collective resentment is palpable, especially in nations where large groups of people have been completely neglected. What work do we need to embrace as a society to take care of this collectively?
We hope that these dinners, and this article, will serve as an invitation to continue exploring and navigating this emotion, peeling the layers, and healing it individually and in community. So together we can have the courageous conversations (and follow through with actions) that can start repairing the damaged systems, so we can create initiatives that support the healing and liberation of all beings.
Reflect: What’s the resentment that you may have inherited? Think about your ancestors and family of origin, what bitterness have they may have experienced and passed on to you? How are you caring for that resentment in your life today?
Allow yourself to feel the resentment in your body, give it permission to be fully expressed, listen to what it has to say, ask it what it needs from you, try not to judge it, but listen with compassion. What do you hear? What’s the message?
Written by Veronica in Miami and Alana in Lisbon, in collaboration with Julie in Rome and Roxanne in Edinburgh with contributions from Dinner Confidential hosts Uditi in Stockholm, Alessandra in Zurich, Esther and Antonella in Caracas, Caroline in Nairobi, Laura in Perth and Leslie in Jersey City.