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Welcome to A Carer’s Heart blog. This week is the second in a four-part series covering four of the most prominent emotions carers experience throughout their caring journey: guilt, resentment, grief and anger and today we are discussing with resentment.
This is a topic which is particularly close to my heart. When I decided to become a carer, those initial first few weeks and months were a whirlwind of practical things that needed to be dealt with, such selling my home, moving us half-way across the country and dealing with major repairs on the money pit of a house I had bought! So, in hindsight, I probably didn’t have time to focus on myself and how I was feeling about my new, challenging role.
However, once those distracting activities began to subside, I became focused, almost obsessed, with the huge restrictions I now had on my life, and this was long before the added restrictions COVID have brought. I began to intensely focus on my life’s goal, to return to living in Europe but because of my situation, this is not possible, so my dream was slipping away, out of my control. As the waves of guilt, frustration and sense of isolation began to intensify, I became more resentful of the life I now lead and focused, blamed my loved one for causing it and began to have feelings of resentment and anger towards them. This turned into a need to reward myself, by way of compensation for being so hard done by, and I developed an unhealthy relationship with ‘stuff’ that I had never been interested in before, such as highly sugary sweets and biscuits, particularly chocolate Hobnobs (OMG they are yummy, but other biscuits are available!).
In the last section, I will discuss how I eventually recognised my increasingly negative feelings of resentment and what actions I took to think differently about my situation and begin the process, and it is a process, of changing how I responded to the triggers using psychological flexibility.
Although a common emotion, resentment, is less spoken about and is less often discussed in forums and in blog posts related to caring. However, there is a natural progression from constant feelings of guilt and other emotions, such as frustration, loneliness and fear, that can lead to a strong sense of resentment, not only towards the situation you are in due to being a carer, but also towards the person who is at the centre of making that situation a reality, the cared-for-person. I mentioned above that resentment is often an emotion that follows on from guilt, which I explored in the first post in this series, if you would like to explore further, you can read the post here or listen to the podcast version here.
The impact of resentment will be discussed in more detail in the next section, however, as this is lesser known and discussed emotion, I will start by exploring the definitions and place it in the caring context.
Meaning of resentment:
According to the Cambridge Dictionary resentment is:
“a feeling of anger because you have been forced to accept something that you do not like”
As with most dictionary definitions, while it does describe what resentment means, it is not descriptive enough to help translate it into the caring situation. The second definition below is part of a more descriptive explanation from Alley Dog, which provides an opportunity to reflect, if and how you might recognise it in yourself:
“Resentment is a negative emotional state that combines annoyance, anger, dislike or hatred, and other negative feelings that interferes with a person’s ability to relate to another person or situation. This emotional state is often hidden or repressed to allow a person to continue to function as needed…”
The two parts of that definition that are in red are particularly pertinent to the caring situation.
The first, “…feelings that interferes with a person’s ability to relate to another person or situation.” probably best describes how resentment can manifest itself in the caring context. Possibly even without noticing that this feeling is growing and developing inside you, it begins to insidiously show up in your relationship with your loved one, such as developing a reluctance to carry out the activities that are required to keep them safe or even not wanting to be in their company at all.
The second, “…is often hidden or repressed “ can be very relevant to the caring situation,and if left to continue for long periods, can be the cause of emotional and psychological distress. In the last section of the blog, I will be exploring how you can recognise if you are developing feelings of resentment towards your caring situation or loved one and share practical examples of how I approached dealing it my feelings of resentment and other activities to start to manage and reduce its impact on your life.
So, let’s explore why it is important to quickly recognise and identify the negative emotion of resentment, and to start I will dive a little deeper into how it can start to develop, then take hold of your thoughts and feelings.
Taking on the responsibility of caring for another person, even if it is someone you love and care for deeply, is challenging and affects everyone differently. Even if it was a willing choice to take on that role and you start with the best of intentions, an open heart and belief that you can provide the care and attention they need; the fatigue, isolation, frustration and guilt, can quickly erode the emotional buffer that the love for them provides you.
Left unchecked and managed, the growth in negative thinking as a result of a sense of injustice and resentment, can seep into all areas of your life and psychological wellbeing, changing your mood and spreading to other relationships with friends and family. Chronic internalisation of resentment, along with the anger it can develop into, can leave you with heightened levels of anxiety and feelings of depression, which in themselves, can feed into the sense of resentment, like a vicious circle.
Another insidious aspect of resentment is that it sometimes turns into a need for revenge. Although this might not be reflected in having harmful thoughts about your loved one or acting out of anger, it can fester and perhaps might cause you to withhold care for a period of time or letting the person struggle with something that you know they need help with, to let them ‘have a taste of their own medicine’ (exploringyourmind.com). In his emphatically written book, The Selfish Pig’s Guide to Caring, Hugh Marriott, cleverly explores those difficult feelings that can develop as a result of a build-up of resentment and other emotions, particularly in Chapter 12, ‘Pushing them down the stairs’, which is covered in the book review I did in the last blog, which you can read here or listen to here and it worth a read.
Like all emotions, resentment is a complex, and physical harm is just as likely as emotional and psychological harm if it is allowed to continue unchecked. Heightened anxiety and stress can lead to increased risk of heart attacks stroke and problems sleeping, but most of these can be prevented or reversed by taking control of how you respond to trigger that activates resentment and learn how to unhook yourself from the effects it has on your life.
At the beginning of this blog I shared how resentment showed up in my life and I will now briefly share how I recognised that I had become so resentful towards my loved one and my situation and what I did to begin the process of reducing and managing those negative feelings. Then I will mention a couple of other evidence-based activities that can help with reducing and managing strong emotional feelings.
About a year into my caring role, as part of my continued professional development as a coach, I came across a course for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) but aimed at coaches. I was intrigued by the theory and methods behind it, so took the short course, which I found very interesting from a coaching perspective. But it also struck an immediate chord with me in highlighting how I was feeling and gave me hope that I could make positives changes to my life, which I pretty much hated by then. I then took a much longer and in-depth ACT course and continue to develop my skills and knowledge to utilise Acceptance and Commitment Coaching (ACC) in my coaching practice.
So, what did I do?
Firstly, I unreservedly accepted that I had made a conscious choice to give up my career, the home I loved and move away from friends, to become a full-time carer for my loved one. I accepted that it was a free choice, there is nothing physically or legally that requires me to do this; it is my choice and my choice alone.
Secondly, I acknowledged and accepted that as a consequence of this decision and the restrictions it placed on me, I had a choice to either hold onto the unrealistic dreams and plans I had had or to think differently about them and focus on the meaningfulness of my life and wonderful opportunity of caring for the most precious person in my life.
So, one day when I had had a decent nights sleep, I used The 7-11 Mindful Breathing Technique (link to the written and audio versions below) to clear my head from all the negative chatter, turned off my phone and closed down my computer, got a piece of paper and a pen (the old ways work best for me, but you can use digital methods to record your thoughts just as well) and I wrote down all the causes of why I wasn’t able to realise my dream of moving abroad again. This is an abridged version of two of those thoughts:
Resentment Focus Reality Who’s to blame? The reason I can’t travel and live aboard is because I have to care for my loved one. In reality, I wouldn’t leave the UK again to travel or live aboard, all the time my loved one is still alive, which they are, and I am grateful for that. So, the fact that I am caring for them has no direct impact on not being able to realise my dream. No one. I have a choice to stay in a caring role or not. It’s my choice to continue, my loved one has no control over the decisions I make. Therefore, no one is to blame, and I have no reason to feel resentful. I can’t earn enough money to be able to support myself in the way I had done when I was in my career. It’s their fault I now have to rely on benefits to survive, it’s humiliating. If I left the UK to live abroad, I would not have been able to continue with my career anyway and therefore, would not have a viable way of supporting myself and as a result probably even be granted a visa. No one. I made the choice to leave my career and to become a carer. I can now focus on using my previous skills, knowledge and experience to build an online business, so when the time comes when I can move aboard, if I still want to, I will be financially independent and be able to support myself in my new life. Therefore, no one is to blame, in fact this is an opportunity for me to prepare for that new life, so I have no reason to feel resentful.
Don’t get me wrong, if I could wave a magic wand and start my new life, taking my loved one with me, I would. But I can’t, so, I am focusing on what I could positively do now, finding meaning in that I am actively working towards achieving my dream in the future and helping to unhook myself from the resentment I have developed blaming my loved one for all the reasons I couldn’t start my new life now! It’s still a work in progress, however, I have seen a significant reduction in the intense negative emotional responses I have to triggers, which would previously have made me feel resentful. I have also taken steps to reduce or remove the physical negative impact of my emotional responses, by cutting out a majority of refined sugar products from my diet, except the odd Hobnob though, they are just SO delicious!
It is not possible to share all the theories and methods involved in ACC in this blog, however, I will be developing a series of short and more in-depth courses in the near future, so if you would like to be notified when these are released, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next action I took was to forgive myself for the negative and unpleasant thoughts I had experienced. Forgiveness means different things to different people, however, in this context, I mean that I made a conscious decision to let go of any hurtful thoughts and words and unhook myself from my previous thoughts of retribution or bitterness towards my loved one.
It isn’t easy to start with but like anything worth achieving, takes practice. However, the benefits of being released from dragging around the exhausting psychological baggage that goes along with holding on to these negative emotions can bring immense relief and improvement to emotional and physical wellbeing. It is also empowering to accept that you are not your negative thoughts and feelings and they do not define you.
In addition to developing and practising acceptance and forgiveness, there are several other really powerful practices to help you to reduce the intensity of the resentment and begin the process of healing. I have covered these before in several episodes, so won’t go through them again, however, I suggest that you read or listen to these practices and add them to your ‘box’ of self-care tools.
The 7-11 Mindful Breath Exercise –
Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Exercises –
All the resources and references in the notes below, so please have a look at those.
The next post, and third in the four-part series on emotions, grief, will be published on the 21st October and will be followed by the last in the series, anger, on the 4th November with Positive Anger expert Tanya Heasley.
Thank you so much for reading this post, I hope you found it useful. I hope you can join me next time and remember, for a special thing it is that you do.
References and Resources
The Selfish Pig’s Guide to Caring by Hugh Marriott (Amazon Affiliate link and in text)
Aggar, C., Ronaldson, S., & Cameron, I. D. (2011). Self-esteem in carers of frail older people: Resentment predicts anxiety and depression. Aging & Mental Health, 15(6), 671–678.
Sander, D. (n.d.). How to deal with feelings of resentment. Retrieved from http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/deal-feelings-resentment-14316.html
Murphy, J. G. (1982). Forgiveness and Resentment.
Schwartz, A. (2012, May 21). Understanding resentment. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=47219