Pain in my back pocket: exploring the wilderness of resentment

Periodically, the Universe drops a Big Fat Lesson on me. I got one of those Lessons this week.

Nearly everybody knows or at least has heard that carrying around resentment against others doesn’t harm the object of that resentment; it hurts the person who does the carrying. I knew this. I tried to let go, but the resentments just simmered inside me. I could not seem to find the emotional resources to release the resentments. I have a few of these types of relationships: people have harmed me, whether intentionally or not, and I walk around with the pain of that harm still accessible. I have not processed it and released it. Instead, I’ve fondled it; packed it away; then pulled it back out to fondle again in the right moment. I’ve tried prayer. I’ve tried writing (endless, endless writing). I’ve tried ritual. Nothing has worked to help me truly release it.

I ran into one of those people recently. He’s someone I felt harmed me and others, and while I walk around being pleasant to him, I feel this bristling each time I see him. I can’t believe he could be so blind about the way he treats others and hurts them. It’s an on-going situation. We’ve had extensive conversations about it, and the communication we were able to have did not resolve anything. He couldn’t see my point. I could see his, but I didn’t agree. 

When I saw him, I thought to myself, “I am really tired of walking around like this, feeling this tension every time I see him or the other people like him in my life. I don’t want to feel this. What’s going on here, and how do I move on?”

I tried on a thought like a new jacket, to see how it fit, what that life might look like from a new vantage: I considered that I could take each person, each time I see them, at face value. Hmm, what would that be like? And why has that not been possible so far? 

The answer came: the resentments I carry serve the purpose of reminding me of danger. They are self-protective: they are like the signposts on the road that remind me of dangerous curves ahead; landslides imminent; icy conditions. My resentments’ role is to keep me alert to danger.

The key to releasing them, I suddenly, clearly saw, was to trust. I would have to trust in myself: that I have the ability to assess, in the moment, who stood before me and the situation we were in and to determine at that point what to do. I would have to trust that I could say “No,” when I needed to. Or I might have to say, “Yes, but….” or, “Maybe. Give me a little time to think it over.”

I saw that my distrust of others stemmed from a much deeper distrust of myself. I have spent most of my life trying to please others, doing the things they wanted me to do or the things I thought they wanted me to do, and so I could not trust myself to take good care of myself. I could not trust myself to carefully assess a situation before walking into it. I could not trust myself to speak my mind, to ask for or simply state what I needed and wanted. And so those resentments formed the barrier that I could not previously trust myself to maintain: a healthy sense of myself and my role in any given situation. 

I could see it – suddenly, clearly see it – because this has shifted. I can trust myself. I don’t need to hang onto a sense of misery in order to make good choices for myself. I am living in a way that is deeply present to myself and to others. I pause before I make decisions, and I know myself well enough and understand organizations and other people well enough to know what I need and to trust that I will be able to speak up if I need to. I pray, and I listen to the feedback the Universe gives me. 

The resentments are melting of their own accord. I no longer need to keep pain in my back pocket to keep me from falling back into step with unhealthy people and situations.

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We need our power to survive the wilderness, but…

I received a post-holiday newsflash to myself the other day. It came in the form of that Inner Voice that always speaks the Truth of what I’m thinking or feeling. It said, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.” I’m going to need to give you a little background to explain that.

I got married almost four years ago to a kind, intelligent, gentle and caring man. John has never been abusive or intentionally discounted my feelings.

I, on the other hand, have had a life-long habit of abusing myself and discounting my own feelings, and in the safe space of my marriage, I have come to recognize that and work on healing the pattern that eliminated my own needs and wants from the equation of what to do in a day.

It has not been entirely easy for either John or me. I was angry with him, mostly because I was making decisions about what to do about division of labor based on my assumptions about what he wanted me to do. It was not a fair situation, and it took a lot of fits and starts for me to wake up and smell the coffee I’d made. I had to stop blaming him, and I needed to learn 1) to identify what I needed and wanted and 2) express what I’d identified.

One small example: we had company this holiday season, and we were in the mad dash to complete preparations for the last wave of family to arrive. We knew some family were arriving sick, and we needed to finish making the beds in order for them to crash. However, there were multiple other agenda items, like food prep, and I needed to stay on task with those. So when John said, “Do you want me to help you make the bed?” I said, “No. I would like you and your dad to make the bed while I finish this.”

It might not sound like the most liberated statement, but for me it was. I was saying that I didn’t want or need to be making the bed. I needed to continue doing the task I was involved in that moment.

And a short time later, I had the thought, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.”

It was no coincidence.

In my household growing up, I learned young not to say what I wanted or needed because that was a direct path to being identified as a problem and being beaten back into the quiet and the shadows. My wants and needs were used as direct ammunition against me to demonstrate how selfish and ridiculous I was. I didn’t tell anyone what I wanted or needed for years: it was better to figure out what others wanted and to make that happen for them. It seemed safer.

It was a useful strategy for some years, but it has some obvious limitations for happiness and satisfaction in life, let alone emotional intimacy.

So I’ve dug my way out, with the help of some loving and supportive friends, family and my husband. I’m finding my power and exercising it.

But…the cellular memory of abuse is still there. It arose in that spontaneous thought that, “I am the kind of woman who gets beaten.” In my history, this kind of strength and visibility is exactly the kind of thing that makes me a target.

One day at a time, I’m moving forward and owning the power of my own voice. I’m also listening to the awareness that arises from my past that this kind of thing would have gotten me beaten in my childhood, and some women are beaten for less in their marriages or relationships. And I will observe that this is different. I will breathe in that I can be powerful. Today, I have the courage to feel the fear, and do it anyway.

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