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Posted: February 09, 2015 by Jesse Johnson LPC
It’s no mystery to most that holding onto anger for long enough can be as exhausting as it is painful for people in relationships. In couples and families, some people call this holding in a “cold war” style of conflict. Righteousness burns as loud as the fear that keeps us from speaking up and, if it doesn’t end up making us physically ill, resentment like this can be quite toxic to the organism of a relationship. With very few of us taught healthy and effective skills for conflict and emotional regulation in our early years, I believe there is a desperate cultural need for better ideas, skills, and modeling. With that spirit in mind, here are three ways to practice releasing resentment.
Use triggering moments to stop your patterned reaction (red light), and build awareness of what you really want (green light). Whenever something activates our emotions in relationships it almost always signifies an unmet need in us, either perceived or real. Instead of giving into the cultural conditioning to look outside yourself to assign purpose to your emotions (i.e. “You drive me crazy!” “I wouldn’t have said that if you didn’t…”) see if you can look inward and decide what need your emotion is tethered to. Maybe making dinner for your partner night after night without hearing a heart-felt “thank you” highlights your need for acknowledgement? Perhaps your reaction to his/her verbal silence amidst a serious talk signifies the importance of your being heard? Whatever is the case, you can minimize resentment by drawing your attention away from interpreting your partner’s behavior and into the tracking of your own needs. If you get that far, try taking a breath and naming your need – if not out loud, at least to yourself.
When you feel solid enough with each other, try designating a time to give and receive feedback. Establishing the intention behind this as “cleansing” to the relational system can often help people come to these feedback meetings with a bit more compassion and receptivity, as well as a trust to share truth. Just like in number one above, do your best to speak from your own feelings and needs and stay out of victim/blaming mode as, even if your perspective is accurate, it likely won’t clear the air as much as create fog between you two. Generally, when people can become accepting of the reality that so-called “negative emotions” are welcome in the relationship, clearing the air can help keep resentment to a minimum.
Sometimes, especially when the lines of communication are challenging, it’s helpful to be physically active! Being emotionally triggered causes stress and fear responses in the body that encourage us to be vigilant and ready to take flight or fight back. Sometimes, when resolution isn’t possible in the moment, the most effective outlet is to go for a run, lift weights, or do some yoga. Activities like these can guide us back to our more grounded parasympathetic nervous system.