Understanding Resentment (and Why It’s a Common Aftereffect of Betrayal)
One of the most common factors that breeds resentment is betrayal. When the agreement between two people is violated, it’s natural for the person who was harmed and mistreated to feel aggrieved. As a betrayed spouse you are experiencing emotional pain and hurt so intense that you may have developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS). Some of the common symptoms of PTS caused by betrayal trauma include difficulty trusting yourself and others, shock and disbelief and emotional arousal and reactivity. The combined effect of the deep hurt, distrust and emotional arousal can lead to deep-seated resentment in relationships.
“Betrayal trauma is the act of being unfaithful to a spouse or significant other when there has been a commitment to exclusive fidelity.” Dr. Sheri Keffer
Resentment toward the perpetrator of deception, manipulation, and emotional abuse is normal. Furthermore, resentment is interpersonal. We all tend to judge how others treat us. This is not a flaw but rather part of the human experience. The challenge, I tell my mentees, is when we carry the resentment in such a way that we feel consumed by it, like we're drowning in it. It’s a heavy burden that we cannot shake.
Emotions are normal. Yes, that includes Grief, Anger, and Even Rage
For many of us we've gone through most of our life without routinely considering our emotions because we have been preoccupied with the emotions of others. When we are faced with relational trauma, our psychosomatic system goes into shock and as a result, it is even more difficult to identify our emotions. It’s for this reason I encourage my mentees to utilize a Feelings Table. This practice gives a person the vocabulary needed to identify their emotions.
By design, emotions are the body’s signaling system that effectively provides us with data about our experiences and present reality. When a person is traumatized, the body naturally responds by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. If your body’s response is to fight, it is often expressed through grief, anger, or rage. Grief and anger are the primary emotions behind resentment.
When a person experiences deep betrayal, there is tremendous loss in such areas as personal, marriage, family, financial and friend relationships. As painful as it is to process, it's critical to do a deep dive into loss because often, resentment is unacknowledged grief in disguise.
Grieving Early Loss
Many times, people grieve both for things they lost and for things they never had. What heightens that grief is when a person has not acknowledged the ways in which they had been wronged, disrespected, or overlooked throughout their childhood years and adult life. Resentment can exist deep inside the mind and body when trauma occurs throughout multiple stages of life. Complex PTSD occurs when
1. early on a person was denied people or affection or resources, and
2. the adults in the child’s life did not acknowledge the denial
Relational betrayal trauma is so painful in its own right that sometimes when I ask a mentee, “What has happened to you?”, it takes time before she is emotionally ready and able to process pain from deep inside the body. This is an aspect of client care I take very seriously and carefully.
Grief lies at the bottom of resentment and must be considered when healing resentment. My mentees are advised to resist people who are trying to talk them out of their grievances as well as those who want them to hurry up with their grief and get over it.
“Well, we have a nervous system that's designed to be shaped by our experiences, especially if they're bad, negative experiences. Especially, especially negative experiences when we're younger. And especially, especially, especially negative experiences when we're young that involve other people. We are primed to absolutely internalize that. We're designed to do that. So, of course, we're not over it. Of course, we're still affected by it. So, the honoring of the grieving is really important.” Rick Hanson, PhD
Have you ever noticed how energizing anger can be? Anger is a natural emotion; a bioenergy that can be used to create change. I suspect it's because of the energy contained in anger that people describe it as empowering and feeling a whole lot better than helplessness. In fact, we need anger to signal to us places of danger or people that may be dangerous.
Emotions are adaptive, even anger. This means anger adapts to the situation we're in and acts as a protective mechanism. When we are overwhelmed with anger, we are protecting ourselves from feeling the deep hurt and pain associated with betrayal. It's a great relief. When asked about her anger, a mentee said, "I don't feel vulnerable when I’m angry. I don't feel insecure. I don't feel hurt. I'm angry." This is the adaptive nature of anger. As a betrayed spouse, it’s natural to feel rejected and the hurt and fear is immobilizing. Anger can give us the energy we need to function during the day, even if it is for a short time. Therefore, anger feels good, and that’s why it works so well as a defense.
Do not let anyone tell you to just “get rid of your anger” or that it is “not justified for your current reality”.
Research shows there might even be a steep cost when we DON’T allow ourselves to feel or acknowledge anger. This is why I encourage my mentees to acknowledge their anger. When it isn’t fully acknowledged, it can show up in all sorts of displaced ways, such as passive-aggressive behaviors. It can also come out in anxiety, when we become anxious because it is threatening to come into our awareness, and we can't bear it very well. Unacknowledged anger can also be misplaced onto someone or something else. For example, anger may come out at your neighbor because you weren't able to acknowledge your anger toward your husband.
In the body, there's a constant sense of tension when anger isn't acknowledged. Interestingly it’s possible to not express anger outwardly at a person but it can be processed through meditation. If you sit silently, not moving, and allowing it to flow through you, waves of anger flow through and afterwards there's a sense of release. The body releases and there's a sense of calm presence that comes from this practice. Give it a try and tell me what you think! Contact us
Something to think about…When people are stuck in resentment, maybe it's not that they're holding on too tightly to anger. Maybe it's that they haven't really connected fully to the anger, so it's stuck partway in their body. Conversely, when chronic anger goes unacknowledged it can keep clients stuck in very specific patterns that just make resentment worse. The thing is, it’s a fine balance. If you’d like to meet with me to understand both the upsides and the downsides of anger, and how to work through it, schedule FREE 1-hour Consultation today!
From a mind and body perspective, rage has very intense effects. Your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate goes up and you're awash in adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones.
For most, rage is not sustainable, nor is it healthy over a long period of time. And when that rage begins to cool, the result can sometimes be just as detrimental. Emotionally as the rage subsides depression can set in and a misidentification as a hopeless victim can follow. And that can be extremely dangerous to the health of the person who was traumatized. Physiologically as the cortisol levels drop a person can have an increase in things like autoimmune disease, inflammation, and other long term health deficits.
When anger and rage take hold in someone’s life, relationally it can lead to chronic and recurring resentments, hostility, sometimes even hatred. Left unchecked, resentment’s roots can sink so deep and stretch so long that many people find themselves in such a deep place it is virtually impossible to dig themselves out of it without help.
How Resentment Forms in a Marriage where Betrayal Trauma is Present
By now, you know resentment is rooted in grief and anger. If you think of your own emotions since discovery or disclosure, do you positively identify anger and grief as primary motions? It is painful to feel these emotions and as a result, resentment can serve as a protective purpose for some partners. Furthermore, if a betrayed spouse has been hurt by rejection earlier in life, the current resentment may be protecting her from feeling the earlier, unprocessed pain.
Okay. What I’m feeling is normal. Now what should I do?
There are many effective strategies and techniques to follow when trying to overcome resentment. A few ideas are described here.
Key Questions to Consider
When I work with mentees on processing resentment, I begin by exploring questions such as
1. What have you done with:
that initial anger
that sense of betrayal
that emotional and relational injury you are experiencing
2. What has happened to that over time?
3. Is my resentment becoming toxic and eating me up inside?
You must understand your feelings are valid. Then the next area to examine is, what are its costs? Resentment and the heavy emotions related to it do you have a cost. It is like setting yourself on fire. Letting it go takes hard work and time, but you can do it!
Tell Me Your “Resentment Story”
Next, I ask my mentees to tell me their resentment story. Doing this can be surprisingly helpful and healing. This is an extremely effective step toward transitioning out of resentment.
And of course…Journaling is part of the Solution!
My mentees will laugh when they read this because I'm always encouraging them to write! Writing exercises can be hugely powerful tools for healing resentment brought on by trauma. Getting things out of your mind and body gives insights that help a person hold whatever it is they are writing about in an expanded, more spacious way. Writing is a way of being heard. Sometimes we simply need to hear ourselves.
To tailor this writing exercise more toward treating resentment, a “letting go” ritual which involves burning, burying, tearing up or flushing down the pages. For my mentees with childhood trauma in addition to the betrayal trauma, this act of letting go can be especially healing. Writing helps to get in touch with those painful experiences of the past. Beyond that, writing can help my client discover the ways she may have thrived despite the trauma she has experienced.
So again, I invite you. If you are dealing with resentment and just can’t seem to shake it, what’s stopping you now from clicking here?
Let’s work together to move you from Resentful to Hopeful to Free!