“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