“As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff is bad for you.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
Much as I hate to admit, I hold grudges. In fact, I hold grudges a lot—much more often than I acknowledge even to myself. I have even been known to cling to my grudges at all costs.
I realized this yet again today while sitting in a meeting with someone who did something recently that deeply wounded me. I know that her lashing out at me was a symptom of frustration at things that go beyond the interaction that prompted it, but I am still hurt and angry that she spoke to me as she did. I also know that my feelings about this happening are overly sensitive because the interaction occurred in a setting that is extremely stressful for me anyway. And yet as I sat across the table from her today in a meeting, I recognized the weight of that grudge weighing on me. I want her to know that she hurt me, and I want her to acknowledge that the way she spoke to me that day was out of line. And I am still holding on to that anger waiting for her to do so. Logically, I know it’s a lost cause. We are not particularly close, so I doubt she really cares all that much if I was hurt or that I am angry. In all likelihood, she’s probably forgotten the interaction altogether. And yet, I’m still stewing in it. It’s making me miserable without having any impact whatsoever on her.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ~Carrie Fisher
This is not a tendency I am proud of, and I know it’s not at all good for me. I was raised in a family where it was considered entirely inappropriate for a woman to directly express her displeasure about something because it was believed that it was a woman’s job to be submissive. Therefore, all anger was expressed in passive-aggressive ways—through resentment, grudges, snide or catty remarks that were labeled “jokes,” and other subtle digs. I have watched as this tendency has warped relationships and aged my female relatives faster than usual. I know it’s unhealthy. I know my load would be so much lighter if I would let these grudges go. I know that holding these grudges is punishing only me and not the person who originally injured me, so that I am just continuing to victimize myself over time.
I know all these things. I also don’t know any other way to act. Even when I recognize that I’m falling into my usual rut of holding a grudge, I genuinely don’t know what else to choose. The only examples I have routinely seen from women involve suppressed anger either coming out as passive-aggression or as over-the-top rage when the inner dam breaks and all the stored anger is let loose at once. Neither option seems particularly healthy for me or for the people around me. Given this confusion, the following quote really caught my attention.
“Resentment is often a woman’s inner signal that she has been ignoring an important God-given responsibility—that of making choices.” ~Brenda Waggoner
What if this is true? What if my resentment stems from not making choices that are my responsibility to make? I know I have a tendency to expect others to save me—and that’s a bad habit I’m working on breaking. It seems quite reasonable that part of this expectation that others should save me would include me not taking responsibility for choices I should be making. As I think back to my family of origin, I can see how that would have been the case for other women in my family as well, so their resentment may well have come from the same source. It makes logical sense, but how do I use this understanding to stop collecting grudges (not to mention, start laying down those I’m already carrying)?
In the situation that I mentioned above, it’s not immediately clear to me what choice I did not take responsibility for—unless it could be the choice not to take her actions personally in the first place. I suppose I could also have made the choice to exit the situation when I felt mistreated rather than staying and enduring it. I doubt that would have been a wise choice job-wise, but it may still have been the healthiest choice I could have made for me. At a deeper level yet, I guess there is the choice about whether to stay in an environment that causes both me and others the level of stress that would generate that kind of lashing out and the oversensitivity to it. That is choice that I’m already working on taking the responsibility for changing, but perhaps the feeling (at the time this occurred) that I had no choice in the situation or the environment led me to resentment rather than a healthier expression of my anger.
This doesn’t necessarily help me in laying down these grudges I am carrying; there is still a part of me that wants these people who have hurt me to pay for it in some way (at least by having to acknowledge that they hurt me if nothing else). It’s going to take more work and more pondering to learn how to lay those grudges down so I don’t have to carry them any longer.
However, I wonder if I can learn to use those moments when I notice a grudge forming to redirect my attention to where I am not taking responsibility for a choice I need to make. Perhaps using these moments as a spur to taking responsibility will enable me to short-circuit the resentment before it gets started. It certainly can’t hurt!