Reconciling Resentment

Sometimes, we have to deal with people we just. don’t. like. It’s one of the unfortunate, necessary evils of being a member of a society. Maybe the person who sits next to you in biology makes you roll your eyes every day because she over-shares about her personal life with the whole class. Or, maybe your neighbor lets his dog roam around your yard, and the dog leaves little turd-shaped hidden treasures in your grass for your feet to find in the dark when you’ve got your arms full of groceries. Or, maybe your coworker is incompetent and makes you grind your teeth at how they just can’t grasp a simple task like cleaning up after their own mess. Ugh!!!!

If your blood is beginning to boil at just the thought of this, then hopefully the rest of this article will provide you with some relief. In my measly one year’s worth of restaurant management experience, I’ve encountered some employees who really feel like some Higher Power sent them along to test my character. Fortunately, though, I’ve learned some things, through life and through reading. And I want to share some of these things with you.

Preface–or Disclaimer

Despite that I’m writing this article, I have not mastered any of this. I, like most people, if not everyone, am a Work in Progress. Every time we think we’ve leveled up and achieved some wisdom that we take for granted, life will inevitably knock us down a peg and show us that we really don’t have it all figured out like we thought. And that’s the point! Life is about living, messing up, learning, and living more—in order to be happy, all we can do is try to fall in love with the struggle.

So, while I write about being patient and loving our neighbor, I am not the grand supreme example of loving-patience. I am doing my best to be better, but it takes practice. A lot of practice. And a lot of failure along the way.

Resentment

The first place to begin when it comes to calming our resentment is to understand what it is, and where it manifests from.

When we experience resentment, how does it feel? Usually, it feels like anger. Our heart races. Our thoughts quicken. We feel impatient. We feel critical and judgmental. Sometimes, we feel like we have been treated unfairly or wronged, scorned. Perhaps we feel compelled to lecture someone, to shout at someone. “You idiot! Shut up!” We yearn to put someone “in their place” so that they can see how incorrect they are or how not-special they are. We want to punish this person. We begin to “lose control” of ourselves.

Resentment is mostly a form of anger, and anger stems from pride, entitlement, and self-righteousness. (Some of this may be hard to hear, but as we break it down, it makes sense.) Why do we feel angry when someone contradicts what we said in front of a group of people? Because our pride is wounded. Why do we feel angry when someone in front of us is driving too slow? Because we think that going faster is the “right” way to drive, as decided by our subjective self-righteousness. Why do we feel angry when someone else gets their food at a restaurant before we do? Because we feel like we are being treated unfairly, because we are entitled to get our food first–not them!

When I first realized this, I didn’t want this to be true, but as I explored the medley of scenarios that stir my anger, I had to face it: a lot of times, we get angry because things don’t go how we think they should. And clearly, we, and we alone, are the star of the show and know everything there is to know. (That’s what our mom told us our whole life, isn’t it??)

We take our ego for granted. We really do–our instinct is to serve and preserve our own ego. And that causes us to expend a lot of energy in places where we really don’t need to, and that really don’t make sense.

Recognizing Resentment

Sometimes, we’re just going along, minding our own business, complaining about our stupid neighbor, when it kind of hits us: Dang, I really resent this person.

Resentment can kind of sneak up on us if we don’t pay attention. What starts out as a simple annoyance can compound over a day, a week, or months, until we’re suddenly quite biased against a person in ways we’re not biased against others. We’re much less likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt if we resent them, than if they were someone we like. Maybe when a friend brings up their name, we can’t help but scoff and say, “Oh, them.”

When it finally (or even immediately) dawns on us that we resent someone, we have a choice: dig into our resentment and fuel our anger, or try to solve the problem and change our attitude. Recognizing resentment is important because we can’t make any progress if we refuse to address what’s really going on.

Why Not Resentment?

Listen, I understand that there are a lot of people in this world, and we’re all quite human to a fault, so it’s not realistic for us to like every single person. That’s not quite what I’m saying with this article.

When we resent someone, we use up a lot of energy making up stories about them, channeling negativity in their direction, and preserving our biased opinion by constant justifications about why they’re wrong. So actually, by grappling with our resentment and minimizing our anger towards them, we’re actually doing ourselves a favor, more than anyone.

There are many people I know who I don’t necessarily like but I’ve unsubscribed from actively disliking them. No, I don’t want to be friends, but I have no ill will. Which is much more productive than wasting my time resenting about them.

External Solutions

So, once we realize we really don’t like someone… What now?

If our resentment stems from this person’s clear wrongful behavior, then really, we just need to talk to this person, or, if it seems to be a better option, talk to a person who can mediate this situation.

Generally, I try to approach the person first. Let’s say my neighbor’s dog is pooping all over my yard… I will speak to my neighbor first, rather than my landlord. Many times, we don’t need to escalate situations beyond having a heart-to-heart, and then in the future, if our neighbor has a problem with us, they’re more likely to reach out to us than “tell on us” to our landlord.

These conversations can be awkward, I know, but once we get the hang of them, it feels more natural and less cringey. If I were to speak to my neighbor about this issue, I’d say something like, “Hi here, I noticed that there’s dog poop in several spots on my side of the yard, and I know you often tie your dog up on the front porch. Can you please be more diligent about tidying up after your dog?”

However, if the person we resent is rather intimidating and we have a history of clashing with them, bringing in the right person as a resource can be the best move. If it’s an issue at work, speak to your human resources representative, or if it’s a classmate, meet with your professor or advisor. Sometimes when we dislike someone, it’s over something as small as a misunderstanding. Communication, so long as it is conducted in a civil manner, is generally a great route to take. Both parties should be prepared to make a compromise for the sake of alleviating the issue.

People make mistakes, and sometimes their behavior is harmful. Perhaps the person we resent is quite problematic, and makes rude comments to others. With communicating, it allows both parties to see the other side’s perspective, and hopefully reach an agreement. It’s possible that the “offender” didn’t realize their comments were rude, or perhaps didn’t even intend them to be rude.

Internal Solutions

Usually, before I seek any external solutions, though, I meditate on my issues with the resented individual. If I can solve most of my issues by simply reframing how I perceive this person, then I will do this first.

This requires a lot of honesty with ourselves. Let’s say, I resent someone named Octopus. (Disclaimer: Octopus is not based on a real person named Octopus. This person is purely hypothetical.) Everything that Octopus does rubs me the wrong way. Everybody looooves Octopus. When Octopus succeeds, I roll my eyes and stew about it. When Octopus is praised, I feel slighted for not being praised myself and tell myself that Octopus “isn’t even really that great.” When Octopus does something wrong, I celebrate and laugh at their failure. I do not help Octopus, but if I do, I hold it over their head to prove to myself and others how I am superior to them.

If I were to meditate on my resentment for Octopus, I would probably realize that the root of my resentment is not that Octopus is an inherently dislikable and bad person—in fact, my feelings towards Octopus are not really about who they are, at all. I am jealous of Octopus. Octopus is a symbol in my mind, and I project my insecurities upon them in order to feel better or to perpetuate my self-conceived martyrdom. When they succeed and I interpret it as my failure, I am securing the image of myself that I’m a victim, that I’m being unfairly wronged, that I’m the underdog, and this bolsters my ego. I use my hatred of them to protect my pride.

There are other reasons why we may resent someone—they remind us of someone who previously hurt us, they or their principles/beliefs are different from us/ours, they are a troll for the sake of being a troll, etc. And while sometimes it seems like the other person is glaringly wrong in how they act and live their life, we have to remember that someone may think the same about us.

“What? But I’m living life the right way!” I know, but just like 90% of drivers think they’re above average at driving, most people think their way of life is the best, which can’t possibly be true, mathematically or otherwise. Part of coming to terms with our resentment towards others is just letting go of the fact that there’s any one “right” way to be, letting go of the idea that we know what’s best.

Of course there are rules; if an employee started cussing at a guest in my restaurant, I’d have to enact some serious repercussions. And if one of the cooks refused to wash their hands, I couldn’t let them work there anymore for food safety reasons. But these are rules to protect others’ liberty, and as long as someone is operating within these kind of rules, who am I to say that there’s only one right dialogue to have with a guest? “You must talk about the weather, and the weather only!”

So once I start unraveling why I can’t stand someone like Octopus, I gain clarity. I view Octopus as a threat. I want to be like Octopus because they look happy and I’m unhappy with what I have. I wish people liked me like they like Octopus. I don’t really know anything about Octopus other than what I see on the surface. Before Octopus, I resented Camel—someone just like Octopus, from my last job. This is a pattern for me.

This is when I start exploring, asking myself questions, challenging how I perceive this person, and on a larger scale, how I perceive my life.

  • Has Octopus ever acted maliciously towards me?
  • If I “had” what Octopus “had,” how would my life be different?
  • How did Octopus “achieve” what they have? Do I even know what struggles they’ve endured?
  • How do I act versus how Octopus acts? Am I actually sabotaging myself because of my negative fixation on Octopus?
  • Who is Octopus? Would I like them if I gave them a fair chance?
  • What do I have to be grateful for? What are all the things I take for granted?
  • What might other people be jealous of me about?
  • How would my life improve if I let go of this grudge?
  • Is my life better because I’m holding onto this grudge?
  • What is my goal in keeping this grudge?
  • Is this the person I want to be?

Other eye-opening questions we can ask ourselves about people we resent, on a broader scale, are:

  • Why do I think this person is so wrong?
  • Would I lose or gain anything if I simply didn’t let them get under my skin?
  • What does my resentment towards this person signal about my character?
  • Am I actually deriving enjoyment through my resentment? How does that feel to acknowledge?
  • How would I feel if I were the person I resent?
  • How do I feel when I am resented against?
  • Have I spoken to this person about any of the issues I may need to address, or have I simply let my resentment fester?
  • Have I given this person a fair chance?

As I’ve learned from the Buddhist writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the key to truly loving someone is through understanding them. We will always butt heads with someone if we refuse to learn about who they are and cling to our negative, habitual emotions. We catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and so if we want to stop clashing with someone, one amazing way is through simply getting to know them.

Here’s an example. Let’s say, there is an employee that I’m supposed to manage, who is quite bad at their job and frustrates me. If I criticize them and act coldly towards them, is that going to magically help them be amazing at their position? Most likely, not. However, if I open up my heart to them, get to know them, and communicate with them how to fulfill their job role better, I am infinitely more likely to create a better work environment and habilitate a better employee than the former method.

Practice isn’t Easy

I won’t lie—simply changing our attitude about someone can be very, very difficult. Once we form a habit, it’s hard to break; maybe we decide to stop letting our classmate get under our skin, and then the very next class period, we’re back to tweeting about their latest annoying stunt.

That’s why I usually try to form small goals that work my way towards non-resentment. Goals like:

  • No outright complaining about Resented Person
  • No unprompted comments/muttered remarks about Resented Person
  • Ask Resented Person personal questions to get to know them better
  • Teach or help Resented Person when I notice them struggle
  • Observe one good thing about Resented Person with each interaction
  • Say, “The Buddha in me sees the Buddha in you”

This last one is a personal one for me. In Buddhism, we believe that there is a Buddha in everyone. There is nowhere we have to “go” or “do” to achieve nirvana; it is inherent within us. We may not be perfect or ideal in our human form, but the Buddha lives with us. When I encounter people whom I instinctually dislike, it reminds me that I cannot pick and choose who I want to see the Buddha in—I must see the Buddha in everyone, even the hard-to-like people.

I will now leave you with one more sentiment from Buddhist monk Pema Chodron:

We often complain about other people’s fundamentalism. But whenever we harden our hearts, what is going on with us? There’s an uneasiness and then a tightening, a shutting down, and then the next thing we know, the chain reaction begins and we become very righteous about our right to kill the mosquito or yell at the person in the car or whatever it might be. We ourselves become fundamentalists, which is to say that we become very self-righteous about our personal point of view.

If you could have a bird’s-eye perspective on the Earth and could look down at all the conflicts that are happening, all you’d see are two sides of a story where both sides think they’re right. So the solutions have to come from a change of heart, from softening what is rigid in our hearts and minds.

Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on our resentments and biases is not usually very fun or flattering for us. However, if we are able to be honest with ourselves and evaluate our feelings, there is much freedom to be had—freedom from anger, freedom from jealousy, freedom from pride.

It is a long journey, but it is never too late to begin, and the effort is all that matters. Thanks for reading.

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