Feelings of resentment are extremely common in relationships. If left unchecked, they can be destructive and can slowly erode away the foundations of healthy relationships.
In romantic partnerships, resentment creates emotional distance and withdrawal of empathy between partners. It can fuel the fire for destructive communication patterns such as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Additionally, partners stop turning toward each other for support and stop sharing their inner world so they inevitably drift apart.
What causes resentment in relationships?
Feelings of resentment are often rooted in past disappointments, feelings of betrayal, unresolved conflict, external interferences, and an imbalance in the relationship when it comes to sharing the load of responsibility.
How can Meditation and Mindfulness help?
Before we discuss how meditation and mindfulness can help work through feelings of resentment, we must first understand what it is. Meditation is a broad category of practices and techniques that, through focusing on the present moment, promotes a state of increased awareness and well-being. Developing a meditation or mindfulness practice has many potential benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety, decreased physical pain, and can be helpful in processing difficult emotions such as resentment.
Here are some of the ways that mindfulness and meditation practice can help you work through feelings of resentment:
1. Helps you to be in the present moment
Because resentment is rooted in the past, meditation and mindfulness can help by bringing you into the present moment and help to understand how fixating on things that have happened in the past is impacting you in the present.
The present moment is all we really have, so it is the most important place for us to rest our attention. The past only exists in our memory and the future only in our imagination. Being aware of this can help us form a more healthy and balanced relationship with the past.
Resentment is a build-up of past hurts we feel have been caused by others. We don’t have to forget the past, a better strategy is to notice how much of our thinking revolves around past events and ask ourselves is this helpful? How is this focus on the past impacting me right now, in the present moment?
A helpful strategy to diffuse painful memories is to name them. As you notice your thoughts drifting to the past, simply naming them ‘remembering’ or ‘memory’ calls them out for what they are. If those memories raise difficult emotions, you can then turn to a technique like the RAIN practice, or alternatively, turn your attention to an anchor such as your breath or do a body scan to help you become more embodied in the present moment.
2. Increases self-awareness
Increased self-awareness will allow us to gain deeper insight into what we are holding onto from our past experiences. As mentioned earlier, developing a more balanced relationship with the past will reduce the negative feelings associated with re-living the memories associated with the feeling of resentment we hold onto.
So how can we improve our self-awareness? Lyn Moseley – Melbourne psychologist explains how mindfulness can help:
“We can become more self-aware by learning how to focus our attention and resist the pull to live our lives on autopilot. This means learning how to slow things down in the present moment and create space for more conscious self-understanding. This process is referred to as being mindful. By learning how to disengage from the chatter of our thoughts and the intensity of our emotions through mindful awareness, we can attend to our needs with more self-compassion and make more conscious decisions about the way we want to live our lives.”
3. Helps us to develop healthier thought patterns
A myth about meditation and mindfulness is that the aim of it is to stop thoughts from happening. The reality is, that is not actually possible. Thought is the job of the mind, so thinking is entirely natural and doesn’t need to be turned off. The aim of mindfulness and meditation is to train ourselves to observe our thoughts with kind attention. This allows us to develop increased self-awareness and a calmer more spacious mind.
Often when we are remembering painful past memories, we can get hyper-focused on what someone else said, or did, how that made us feel and what we think that means. Meditation and mindfulness help us to learn that while these thoughts are real (they are happening in our minds), they aren’t necessarily true.
Mindfulness and meditation help us to learn that what we feel is often impacted by our thoughts, which are often impacted by our core beliefs. For instance, you are upset because a close friend forgot your birthday. Observe what beliefs are underpinning your reaction to it. Beliefs such as ‘I’m not important’ or ‘I’m not lovable’ or even more specifically, ‘people who love you should remember your birthday’ will trigger an internal response in us that is charged by those beliefs.
Understanding that our reality is created by what we believe to be true helps us to identify those beliefs to gain a deeper understanding of how we respond to life. This in turn gives us the tools to respond to disappointments or things that cause us pain within. From there we can take more informed action to address arising concerns in relationships with others or seek further help if necessary.
4. Help us to move on and move forward
If we are holding onto resentment, we have to ask ourselves, is this something that I’m willing to carry with me into my future, or do I need to find a way to set it down?
Notice how you feel when feelings of resentment arise. It is most likely an unpleasant feeling and your thoughts will likely be based on the behaviour of others. The art of meditation and mindfulness is not to make these feelings go away, but to allow them, and with kind attention, to develop deeper insight into them. Asking yourself, ‘what am I believing?’ or ‘what is this story about?’ can be a good prompt to delve deeper into lingering feelings of resentment.
From this place of deeper awareness and insight, you will be in a better position to move forward and take the steps necessary to address the root cause of the resentment if that’s appropriate, or just decide that it’s time to let it go.
5. Help us to respond rather than react
We can’t change other people’s behaviour, but we can change how we respond to it.
One of the most powerful things about deep meditation and mindfulness practice is that it creates a spaciousness in our experience that allows us to observe the ever-changing nature of our thoughts, feelings and sensations without becoming too enmeshed with them. A lot of what we experience is impacted by the content of our mind, and that impacts how we respond to the arising conditions in our lives,
When we are holding onto resentment, feelings around past hurts or disappointments will impact how we respond to future experiences in a relationship. It is not necessary to remove all feelings of resentment but to notice them without becoming overpowered by them. This will help us to be less reactive and may also help us to express our feelings with less emotional charge which will improve our ability to communicate and build intimacy in relationships.