Is resentment bad for your health?
A couple of weeks ago I met with a group of professionals who were talking about their office. Listening to their discussion, I noted that several of them harbored resentment towards some of their co-workers. “I can’t stand how Joe doesn’t help out, even when it’s obvious that we need him”, Jim quipped. Bill was continually annoyed at a colleague who always had an opinion about everything that Bill did. These feelings just sat in their gut, like a heavy meal they couldn’t digest.
How often do we stuff angry feelings towards co-workers, family members, friends, or relatives? Our Northwest culture highly values politeness. How often do adults express what they really feel? I grew up in New York City, which has a far more outspoken culture than the Puget Sound. Don’t worry—your neighbor will let you know if you did something that annoyed them!
So isn’t politeness a good thing? What’s wrong with civility? Nothing! But we suffer when we are filled with anger that doesn’t go anywhere but inside. Resentment is bad for your body, mind, and spirit. Indeed, half of the professionals in the group couldn’t sleep because they were so irritated with their co-workers! Resentment can keep you up at night—making it hard to fall asleep or waking you up in the middle of the night with angry thoughts. Anger that sits in your gut can give you a stomachache, a headache, or a pain in the neck. Our bodies are not designed to hold onto negative emotions. They register these emotions in our minds and in our muscles.
These negative emotions can make you anxious too. They just go round and round in your head like a merry-go-round. It can be hard to focus on anything else.
So what should we do?
- It’s important to take care of yourself. What does that mean? It means that when we are upset with someone we have to find a way of expressing our feelings and concerns. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be kind and considerate. It might mean waiting until we cool down enough to be civil. And then, we need to communicate what we are thinking and feeling—hopefully in a way that the other person can hear and understand. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, especially when it comes to letting go of resentment. It’s no one else’s responsibility.
- You have no control over other people. You can’t “make” others behave differently. But you can choose how you want to act, what you want to say, and how you want to say it. How they respond to your message is up to them, not you.
- Ask for what you want—be specific. Human beings are crummy mind readers. Most folks don’t want to offend you, but they may not be aware of what you want and how their behavior impacts you.
- Venting to others doesn’t always help. Our natural impulse is to “vent” to our friends about someone else. We feel better—temporarily. But nothing has changed. So our feelings of irritation and anger still remain. And, venting may reduce our need to talk to the other party, which, in the long run, undermines our ability to take better care of ourselves.
- Make it a point not to go to sleep angry. In the 42 years that my wife and I have been together, we rarely ever went to bed mad (I didn’t say never..). Sometimes we stayed up to 3 a.m. until we resolved our hurt feelings. At the end of the day, go to bed with a clean slate—without holding on to any negative feelings.
Trust me, you will sleep much better.