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A grief practice for healing resentment

A grief practice for healing resentment

In a recent article about resentment in relationships I suggested that the purpose of anger is to make something change or to protect a boundary. These can both be appropriate and necessary functions of anger. But there’s a third way that anger is very commonly used, and it has terrible results.

Anger as avoidance

Anger is often used to avoid sadness or grief. This habitual and unconscious use of anger wreaks havoc on personal lives and relationships.

As I’ve claimed previously, resentment is anger that got stuck. One of the main reasons that anger gets stuck is because it never properly gives way to grief.

Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss can be anything: loss of a life, a relationship, a hope, an ideal, a personal identity, a love, a fantasy, etc. Anything and everything that we hold dear can be lost.

When we use anger to avoid feeling grief, the anger tends to get stuck because the necessary grieving never happens.

If you don’t know how to grieve, you will likely be plagued with resentment. Probably you developed a life strategy early on that displaced grieving and put anger (or maybe numbness) in grief’s proper place.

A brief story to illustrate –

Candace and Matthew were in their third or fourth telephone session with me. Married for over thirty years, Matthew’s early behaviours as a young man in the marriage (drinking, going out constantly, ignoring and neglecting Candace) became a source of resentment for Candace. Even though Matthew had “grown up” and changed his behaviour significantly for the past decade, Candace’s resentment persisted, and had come to largely define the relationship.

Matthew was tired of being resented. He readily admitted that his behaviour used to be awful, but ten years after the fact he thought he deserved some warmth and forgiveness. He had apologized and tried to make amends in every way he knew how. Frankly, he had done a pretty good job.

About half way through our session, while I facilitated an exercise between them, something emerged spontaneously for Candace; an insight. “Every time I make a request to Matthew, or a complaint, there’s a meanness. It’s like a poisonous barb that I attach to every interaction.”

We talked for a while about vulnerability and emotional intimacy, and Candace broke down. “I’m never vulnerable with Matthew. Or anyone. My anger is stuck in me. It’s that poisonous barb. I got hurt so badly. But I am seeing that I have never really showed Matthew my hurt. I could blame him for this, say he isn’t trustworthy, but I don’t think it’s really true. The truth is I don’t know how to express hurt feelings without attaching that, that… barb.”

The “angry barb” that Candace described had driven Matthew away, to the point of near despondency. Witnessing Candace as she felt her pain and confronted her inability to grieve was like healing balm for Matthew. For the first time, the thing that had come to define their marriage was being named, was being addressed.

Candace was sobbing. She was sobbing for all that she had lost, not just because of Matthew’s earlier behaviour, but for all that was lost through a lifetime of her disconnection to her own grief. The floodgates opened and I knew things would never be quite the same for her, or for the marriage.

In this example Candace was “ripe” for the insight she received. Her grief had been ripening beneath her anger for who knows how long, presumably for her entire life.

The move from anger to grief can’t be forced, but it can be encouraged, supported.

In service to helping you move past the resentment in your life and relationship, try this embodied grief practice.

  1. Start with feeling sensations in your body. Where do you feel resentment or anger? In your belly? Your chest? Your fists? Your face? Usually anger shows up as tightness or constriction, so let yourself feel the tightness. Stay with that sensation of tightness for a few moments. Then slowly, intentionally, soften the place in your body that is tight.
  2. Watch for any small sign of sadness. Usually a trace of it will appear. Notice how you manage the sadness, how you resist it. Maybe you tense up around it. Maybe there are words in your mind that try to manage it. Just notice.
  3. Do whatever you need to do to allow the sadness to exist. If you felt anger or resentment in your body, the sadness exists somewhere in relation to it. The sadness is beneath the anger, or above it, or within the anger, or beside. If the anger felt hot, the sadness might feel cool. Or maybe the sadness shows up as words or an image in your mind. Let it be there, follow it, nourish and encourage it. This will feel strange if you’re used to avoiding it.
  4. The sadness wants to move your body in some way. Maybe you bend forward or curl into a ball. Maybe you squish your face up and cry, or cradle yourself in some way. Notice how the sadness wants to move your body. Let it.

Work with this practice. Notice how your resentment or anger interacts with your sadness. Keep making room for your sadness; rather than repressing it, give it room to express itself. Over time your sadness may connect you to grief, to what you have lost. Let it.

At the grief level, sadness is like a rollercoaster, or like riding the rapids in a river raft. You let it take you. You are not in control of it. This loss of control is the main reason we develop an anger strategy in the first place. Part of a grief practice is submitting to being moved by feeling; this is something many people have spent their lives avoiding.

If you do this repeatedly, over time, old resentments (stuck anger) can turn to grief and move through you. If you want help, consider working with a therapist who understands this process. I’m happy to email you a client package by request.

Do you have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.

Struggling to reconcile resentment in your relationship? Check out my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples (download a free sample chapter here).

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Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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“How can I be free of the resentment I feel for my partner?”

"How can I be free of the resentment I feel for my partner?"

Resentment is anger that got stuck.

The purpose of anger is to make something change, to protect a boundary, or to bring something into alignment quickly.

Long-term resentment in relationships happens when anger didn’t get expressed or, for one reason or another, did not bring the desired result.

Moving through resentment means revisiting the anger that got stuck. Is it current? Does it want or need something now? Is there a change that still needs to happen? Is there a boundary that still needs protecting?

If there is change that still needs to happen, attend to it. If there is a boundary being breached, protect it.

If your resentment is old news, if it has no current needs, then it might be time to grieve whatever was lost. That’s an important part of moving past resentment; grieving. This is the part that so often gets missed, and one of the reasons that resentment persists.

If your old anger was ineffective at protecting your boundaries or making a needed change, you probably ended up losing something. Maybe it was a feeling of safety that was lost. Maybe it was dignity. Or feeling understood. Or maybe you lost a relationship, or an aspect of a relationship. Maybe you lost a part of yourself. Maybe you don’t even know exactly what was lost.

To recap, resentment lingers for two main reasons –

  1. The change or protection functions of anger did not accomplish their desired result.
  2. Consciously or unconsciously, we would rather remain angry at what remains undone than grieve what was lost.

This presents us with two possible paths –

  1. Attend to whatever your anger asked and is continuing to ask of you. Deal with what is current.
  2. Grieve.

Grieving is hard for many people, for so many reasons. It can also be completely unknown, a mystery. You might need to learn how to grieve. Consider this possibility, and in the meantime I’ll work on putting together a basic grief “practice” that you can try.

[Update – You can read the follow-up here.]

All my best,
Justice

PS – Make sure you have signed up for my email updates if you want to get the next part of this.

Do you have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.

Struggling to reconcile resentment in your relationship? Check out my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples (download a free sample chapter here).

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2
Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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From rage to grief in a relationship

From rage to grief in relationships

His rage was that of an abandoned child. At 55 years old, he was no longer that abandoned child, but the child consciousness lived on within him. Rage had flared throughout his life and was now threatening to end his marriage. His wife of thirty years had had enough; she would no longer bear witness (or brunt) to the rage of the man she had shared a life with. From this time onward, something would change. Either he found his way beyond rage, or he would proceed upon life’s journey without her company.

She was finally very clear about the line she had drawn. It was a boundary thirty years in the making. (This is how our most important boundaries often form, slowly, over time). It broke her heart, but nourished her soul.

He quickly recognized her clarity, and he believed what she told him. It infuriated him initially, but he also came to respect her for taking this position and standing up for her own well-being. If only he had been able to stand up for himself with such surety and self-respect. How many times had he resorted to rage-ful defiance instead of a mature integrity over the course of his own life? Reflecting upon his inability flooded him with shame, the feeling his rage had protected him from.

Rage becomes grief

I witnessed this man break, facing his loss, and no longer able to fend off the feelings of shame. His breaking continued over the course of weeks. He broke and broke and broke. His breaking became grief.

He grieved at his weakness. He grieved for his misdeeds, his lost opportunities, his unfulfilled potential. He grieved for his children and their experiences of him as a father. Finally he grieved for his own inner hurt child, an act he never could have imagined before.

In his grief a strange thing happened. The man softened. Grief had taken the place of rage in his heart. Was it better? It was different. Time would tell.

Rage is arrogance. Grief is humility.

Rage is arrogance; grief is humility. Rage can feel like power; grief is often fraught with shame. The two experiences appear (and feel) oppositional, and yet they are also linked. What is the thread that connects them?

This kind of grief takes time to ripen. It comes from and connects us to the depths. Not everyone is ready for this, and so rage finds an easy way in.

Any three year old can rage, and a three year old’s rage doesn’t look much different from a 55 year old’s. Grief is different. I don’t mean to diminish a child’s grief, but a long life somehow adds its own weight, and the longer one lives without feeling their grief, the more weighty it becomes.

Rage displaces grief

Rage covers over grief like anger covers over sadness, and by the time rage is all used up grief will be fully ripened. It hits like waves, breaking over us and breaking us in ways that rage never did.

Rage propped us, propelled us.
Grief sinks us.

Rage is surface – the skin flushes, fists clench.
Grief is deep – the heart breaks, gut aches.

Rage fills us.
Grief hollows us out.

Rage may persist as the primary force in a life until grief matures and steps up to take its place. Or maybe rage burns itself out, falls away, and reveals the grief underlying. Either way, the story of rage finally giving way to grief is a common story, a shared path, a sacred journey.

Not everyone takes the same path, but if you find yourself on this one I hope this piece of writing gives you some kind of orientation, some understanding, some company. (This story is about a man, but it is commonly a woman’s story too.)

To learn more about navigating relationship difficulties, read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples.

Do you have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2
Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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