My life in transition #2 – from resentment to conviction

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul”
from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley

I am not by nature an angry person. When anger swept over me in the weeks after my husband left me it was a foreign feeling which I hated. I went to great lengths to conquer those feelings of anger so they did not convert into angry actions. I did not want to become an angry person. I chanelled the anger-energy into spring-cleaning, writing and making a conviction to live by my core values. The poem Invictus became my saving grace and I read it every day. I swore to be the ‘captain of my soul’.

I squashed anger before it took hold. Resentment crept up on me.

Resentment is disguised anger; with subtle differences. Anger is a feeling triggered by a single event; whereas resentment is an underlying attitude and sense of unfairness. Whereas anger is an aggressive retaliation against something received (pain); resentment is a defensive response to something missed out on (care, trust).

Before, my underlying attitude was positivity and calmness. Fleeting annoyances, such as being kept waiting for an appointment or someone behaving rudely, washed over me. Of late, I found myself irritated by such things. How did this come about? How did an act of betrayal by my spouse two years ago, allow me to become disturbed today by a passing remark by a stranger in the supermarket?

After I conquered the anger of the initial insult, I began to wonder how my marriage collapsed without me seeing it coming. I looked for signs. I found some. At the time I had ignored them because I trusted him. The seeds of resentment were planted.

Then I thought of parts of his personality, such as being gregarious. I began to see that as a sign which should have made me wary. Resentment sprouted.

Unrelated yet annoying behaviours of his, that as a trusting caring spouse I overlooked, I now began to see as things I should have objected to. Resentment grew.

Meanwhile, I was alone with my financial security in tatters, still trudging through marital mud, unable to move on. Resentment flourished.

Initial angry feelings directed at him gradually evolved into an attitude of resentment at the unfairness of my changed situation and thinking of myself as stupid for not seeing signs, trusting too much, needlessly putting up with things and being “too nice”.

Struggling with this sense of unfairness, self-blame and mistrust, the classic misguided protection-from-further-hurt thought “I won’t let that happen again” set in. This is the defensive response of resentment. I am not an angry person so I will not lash out in anger, but I will defend myself against further pain and loss The trouble is, it was false protection. I was indeed hurting, in need of security and warmth of others yet I began mistrusting everyone. Instead of empathy at people’s behaviour and acting with warmth and care, my defense armour went up. Being too “nice” got me into trouble before. Trust let me down. I was becoming socially isolated and wary and, in doing so, hurting myself.

Conviction to Core Values

The way out of resentment is the same way out of anger – by a conviction to live by core values. However, it is actually a lot harder to tame resentment as it is an underlying attitude that needs changing, rather than a fleeting feeling.

The simplest way I have found is to re-frame how I see things.
Resentment is against things, against unfairness, against my mistreatment.
On the other hand, a conviction to core values is for things, for fairness, for my well-being. This is a subtle yet profound difference.

Let me see how this re-framing may work for things in my current situation-

‘I was too trusting, too nice, too blinded.’
‘It’s not fair I am still trudging through mud’.
‘I should have moved away to a new life’
‘I cannot trust anyone’

Seeing through the eyes of resentment against things breads anger, blame and envy.

Conviction to core values:
‘I have always been a caring person. I will continue to be so.’
‘I am the person best placed to ensure our settlement is fair and reasonable’
‘I am able to choose if, why and when I shall move’.
‘I can trust myself to be the best person that I can be’

Seeing through the eyes of conviction creates enthusiasm, contentment or joy.

Gone is self-doubt, self-blame, unfairness and mistrust. Now within my focus lies self-compassion and self-forgiveness as a stimulus to create a healthy self-identity to regain my positiveness and act on my core values of courage, kindness, and fairness.


You may want to read Living and Loving after Betrayal. Steven Stosny


45 thoughts on “My life in transition #2 – from resentment to conviction

  1. I too, work hard not to act on anger. Reading this post makes me wonder if that is a good idea. What about righteous anger? I mean, are we not allowed to be angry, are we not allowed at the time, to hit back in defense? I’m not saying this is the right thing to do, I’m just thinking out loud. If anger is a momentary feeling, can’t I let it out and then move on? I have trust issues too Elizabeth. I’ve never connected them to an attitude of resentment though. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Wish we could discuss it over coffee (you can have tea if you like 🙂 )
    Diana xo

    • I think the ‘acting out’ is different than ‘letting it out’, although I think you are correct that perhaps we should do one or the other not bottle it in either.
      We can let it out in non-harmful ways (eg venting to a close friend) or act it out in productive ways (my house gets a great spring-clean when I am angry) but not harmful ways (vengeful acts on supposed perpetrator). I am guilty of bottling things up too much and it does spill over into feeling stressed at times.
      I have read that Martin Luther King went to great lengths to tame his anger and modeled his actions on Mahatma Ghandi. Here is a quote from him “‘You must not harbor anger,’ I admonished myself. ‘You must be willing to suffer the anger of the opponent, and yet not return anger. You must not become bitter. No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm.'” Martin Luther King autobiography.

      I have been thinking on the trust issue since I wrote my post and I now think that it is different. I think that resentment or feeling of unfairness may be disguised anger. But i think being hyper-vigilant to not get hurt again, and that spilling over to mistrust is different. It can begin from the same incident so that is why it got wrapped together in my post. You have got me thinking and I now see them as being different. Louise wrote a post (what if forgiveness is a path to love) in which she described mistrusting the calm between her father’s anger outbursts and since reading that I can see the difference. I will think about it some more and write another post when I get it sorted in my head.
      I think you wrote a post on the fortress once. Is that correct?

      Ah-yes… that coffee. My son is now getting married later this year and coming to Australia, so my next Canadian trip has been put off until 2015. However, I plan to come for a month so I will definitely slip across to Calgary…. Time goes fast and it is not that far away.

  2. I’ve always kind of thought that suppressing any emotion can lead to trouble. Most would never dream of suppressing love or compassion (although you do find people (usually men) unbending in those areas (often due to “men don’t show emotion” foolishness)). People seem more prone to suppress anger because it’s a “negative” emotion or because they think it’s “not nice.”

    But as Diana suggests, what if the anger is fully appropriate? The Civil Rights movement in the USA was, in part, fueled by righteous anger. Many social movements are. Personal betrayal, the breaking of trust, certainly seems like reasonable thing to be angry about. I’ve carried a kind of rage with me all my adult life, and I’ve come to realize it’s not a core attribute, but due to my perception of the massive injustices in the world and the utter foolishness that goes on.

    The trick would seem to be to channel it effectively, reasonably, productively. It’s a form of energy, a call to action. Trying to push down and ignore that energy… well, it’s just bound to pop out somewhere else. That’s why I’ve always believed that a good rant to blow off steam can be valuable (to me — harder on bystanders); it gets me past the emotional stage and into the rational, “what can I do about this” stage.

    • I didn’t actually mean that one should suppress the emotion, but rather should try and channel the energy that accompanies the emotion into a worthwhile positive activity (like cleaning your house or solving world peace) rather than a negative one (like slashing tyres or sending hate mail). However, you probably have seen through me, because I am one who tends to bottle things up and I agree it is not a good thing.

      I have been reading about Martin Luther King and apparently he battled with his anger for a long time before he began modelling himself on Ghandi and then he started to tame his anger outwardly. Inwardly he channelled the emotion into an intense drive for the Civil Rights movement that he then led.
      Then the classic of course is Nelson Mandela who went into prison an angry young man and came out with an attitude of forgiveness and non-violence “Take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea.'”
      (Although he did have 27 years to reflect and come to that position).

      • Yeah, your first two paragraphs make it pretty clear you are (or at least were) a bottler. And it’s extremely common to view anger as a horrible, awful thing that we should never be. I get the feeling we’re on the same page that it’s not the feeling that’s wrong, but that how you manage it can be. Above you mention “acting out” being different from “letting it out,” and I agree totally. The former is the act of a child; there are ways to be adult about the latter.

        There was a time in the late 60s and 70s and 80s when it looked like the world might be on the brink of growing up. Civil rights movements, feminism, the end of the Cold War… it was a hopeful time. But much of that seems to be eroding away now. We speak reverently of people like King and Gandhi, but where are the current powerful voices? What voice are people listening to now?

        The ultimate voice for peace would be Jesus Christ (and even He has at least one documented temper tantrum), but His message hasn’t really done that well in 2000 years. Gandhi supposedly pointed out how “un-Christ-like” many self-proclaimed Christians were. Currently, in the USA, both civil rights and feminist principles are being attacked in subtle (and kind of scary) ways.

        Human nature seems to have both Yin and Yang. Many authors have explored the necessity of both, and I agree. It keeps coming back to the need to integrate our natures in intelligent and productive ways.

      • So true about the Yin and Yang, though I had never thought of that in terms of anger / calm in that maybe we need a bit of both. I have always aimed for calm and maybe it does not work like that in real life.
        That gives me quite a bit to think about.

        Totally agree about the erosion of the civil rights and feminist principles of the last century. that gives me much thought for future posts.

      • Writers who’ve explored the idea of utopia are pretty unanimous in the opinion that it would actually be really boring and stagnant.

        I do believe both sides of the coin are necessary. Without ugly, beauty has no meaning. Without pain, joy is meaningless. People sometimes ask why God allowed the world to be so awful, but the thing is, He also allowed it to be so incredibly wonderful. The capacity for greatness has to be possible in both directions if it is to meaning anything. We have the power to do terrible things or beautiful things.

      • I have to jump in here and agree with your Elizabeth. Emotions are like water. They can be powerful when let go in full force, but when channelled can serve a purpose. Like upholding core beliefs!

  3. Wow, you’ve got me thinking. Most of my life, I have been afraid to express anger on my own behalf. I’ve no problem expressing it on behalf of people I love. I have not loved myself nearly enough. I am trying to change some of my old habits for expressing anger. What I’ve always done in the past is be very still and quiet, almost not breathing. Inevitably, tears of rage leak out. It is likely to take years to change this, but I would like to verbalize anger in the moment. Leaving my marriage gives me opportunities to express more of myself and learn to be a better advocate for myself.

    I think it was wise and productive of you to articulate, for yourself, your core values. The bigger tragedy would be to lose to betrayal the basic goodness in yourself.

    • Now you have got me thinking. I too am better able to express anger and stand up for the people that I love. I never before thought that not sticking up for my own self was because of a lack of love for myself. That gives me something to work on. It is so important.
      Yes working on core values is the best place to start, but now I see that the next steps must be more self-respect and self-compassion. Thanks.

  4. For most of my life as a young person, I was usually the one with a saucy retort, or I became immediately defensive, and I hardly ever bit my tongue. I realize now that it was my insecurity running the show. Thankfully I have moved past most of that, realizing hurts can so easily turn inward and create the resentment you wrote about, festering into something larger. If someone or something bothers me these days, I am more inclined to shrug it off and move on. Thank God for maturity.

    I know how hard it can be to do that sometimes, but I like what you said about your convictions. Even if you can’t trust everyone that you meet, you can always trust in yourself and your values of courage and fairness.

    Such a thought-provoking post, Elizabeth!

    • Writing this post (and the comments that followed) made me see the difference between anger at a single incident (which can be justified) as opposed to anger (or its cousin resentment) within oneself . There is a difference yet recognising that difference can be difficult. So there are two issues (for me); recognising that “the incident” was something that I did have a right to get angry about (and probably didn’t); and to stop excusing that single “incident” for my growing resentment which is an attitude issue that only I can change.
      Thanks for your discussion on this topic, It has really helped clarify those subtle differences for me.

    • Yes, I can see that now; to stop excusing that single “incident” (catastrophic as it was) for my growing resentment which is an attitude issue that only I can change. Thanks for your support.

      • Jumping in again into this great thread! I see resentment as coming from grievance. When we hold onto a grievance it’s like a simmering anger that eats away at how we see the world. It becomes the filter that we see things through. It disempowers while making us feel we are right. We become victims.

  5. When my girls were little I told them that it was okay to get angry — we all have things that grate against. Feeling angry does not give you the right to be cruel.

    Finding safe, respectful and aligned with my core principle ways to express my anger has been a challenge for me — I had this conversation going on in my head that said — your feelings don’t count, obviously if they did that it must be okay so you’ve got the issue. I also had some, “why bother” thinking too.

    The challenge is that letting it pass, and letting it go are not the same thing. Letting it pass builds resentment. Letting it go builds strength — because in the letting it go, I have to turn up, speak my truth and not script how they are going to respond. It requires me to keep the conversation to the facts, not the past.–

    Hmmm…. now you’ve got me thinking about it too Elizabeth —

    I love this post — and the conversation surrounding it. So much insight. And it speaks to how we all carry ‘stuff’ around the issue of anger!

    Love it — and I live in Calgary too btw. 🙂

    • I am amazed in this post which was on resentment (an attitude) brought all the comments from people about anger. It certainly means we all have an issue with it!
      I am thinking about your comment of letting it pass as compared to letting it go and the speaking your truth.
      I am inspired by that. Thanks

  6. Odd – Invictus is a poem that has meant much to me at various difficult times in life. You are right in how hard it is to retain your core sense of self and values when so much of what you knew and believed has been proven a lie or just taken away. I’ve had my own journey to contentment with life and it has not been easy and I am glad you have been able to look back and chart the feelings that have led you to this point in your life. Thank you for sharing. Jenni

    • Focussing on my core values was difficult at first due to exactly what you say … so much of what I thought I knew and believed has been proven a lie or just taken away…. nevertheless the values remain within me and have been my saving grace. Thank you for your kind comment.

  7. Elizabeth, I love the strength in your words and the courage in your heart! (Standing ovation shouting Bravo!!)
    When my marriage ended I started to really feel strong emotions. It scared me because I had always though one shouldn’t be angry. It was something bad and something to be controlled. Now I know different.
    I remember saying to a counselor friend that I felt like a bottle that had been uncorked. She responded – you are a fire hose that got turned on 🙂
    There are many emotions that I now feel strongly and it is wonderful. It was an awakening in me. I realized that I had contained myself in my marriage as well as my childhood.
    Learning how to embrace how I feel and then master my emotions has been so helpful. It was the thing that brought me to work with Emotional Intelligence and Non Violent Communication. Embracing the feelings, understanding the needs behind them and channelling them.
    It takes practice, support from others and a real acceptance of all aspects of ourselves.
    I love where you are and how you are traveling your path! Val x

    • Maybe a bad choice of words using ‘wash over’. By wash over I meant not letting little issues that do not matter even register as being problems at all, as compared to other bigger issues I may take on board but then decide to let them go .

  8. This created a great conversation, Elizabeth! Your post with the quote from Invictus, plus sharing your anger and resentment really hit a ‘home run!’ It helped you to vent, to make a plan to act and allowed others to feel like sharing! I love this post, my friend! I have no anger nor resentment, but I have had some losses that took a lot ‘out of me!’ Your explanation about ‘conviction’ was a good reminder of using our core values to move forward in a positive manner! Smiles, Robin

  9. Wow! So much food for thought (and written with such clarity–I’m impressed, Elizabeth!)

    I you’ve cut into the marrow of the whole thing here–what ought decent people DO in response to betrayal and injustice? We FEEL angry, of course, and rightfully. But then, what to do with that anger?

    Stuffing it, bottling it — that’s disastrous. But EXPRESSING it can be equally disastrous.

    I think the conversation is just beginning. It has certainly knocked at a door in the corner of my mind, in a place I didn’t know a door had been shut and locked.

    • t is comforting to know that the great masters battled with this issue too. Martin Luther King grappled with it for a long time before a vision came to him that he would be the voice for fighting for fairness, yet non-violence at the same time. Nelson Mandela had 27 years to reflect and learn ways to channel his anger.
      It is not an easy road. I try and strike a balance between grace (respect for others) and dignity (respect for myself) and fail miserably often.

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