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The Power of Resentment » The Desire to Get Even

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We have all been there before. Something happens that you cannot control and negatively affects your big project; your boss responds with something unflattering about your leadership style and/or your ability to deliver; your whole team gets negative feedback from a senior leader about the missed deadline.

You are mad; this is not fair!

This is unjust; you say to yourself, we could not meet the deadline for obvious reasons.

The next time you see your boss, you get triggered again, and when he or she asks what you think about a new project, you are still fired up about the last project. You go over it and over it, you re-explain, re-defend, and maybe raise your voice a bit and start looking to lay blame. So your boss possibly takes a step back and stops engaging you about the new project. What is happening here? What is going on inside your head and body? You are experiencing the emotion of anger turned into Resentment. Let’s explore this.

At its core, it would seem that what is causing the emotion of Resentment in the previous example is that the boss questioned your leadership style and the senior leader gave negative feedback. Not it. The real cause is that you did not accept the fact that the boss said what he or she said about your leadership style, and the senior leader’s comments about your team. You could not let it go. You are continually triggered because you believe your boss and the team boss should have said something else. The fact is that they did not; they said what they said. This is where Resentment comes from: not accepting what is and letting go of anger to make a new decision about how to move forward. Our anger/resentment is triggered because we have assessments of what we think should be – not what is. And this non-acceptance shapes how we see the world. If our explanations and rehashing do not cause the bosses to change their minds and apologize, (good luck with that) then inevitably, the next stop is Resentment.

I invite you to become an ontological observer (ontology- the study of being human) and look at three areas where Resentment can manifest itself:

1. Language – When we are in the mood of Resentment we have an internal conversation that goes something like this, “X has happened, and it is not fair, it should be Y, I do not deserve to be treated this way.” When this conversation is happening our focus is on our hurt and anger, and this leads to the snarky remark about the boss, or the rejection of a good idea as a form of payback. We ask, “How can I get even with those who caused me to feel this way?” as opposed to asking, “What can I do to rectify the situation, or prevent it from happening again?”

2. The Body – Resentment creates tension as we fight what is happening. We are angry so our body reflects that with a cluster of reactions. It shows up as tightness in our muscles commensurate to the level of our Resentment. It shows up in our facial muscles, especially in our jaws, eye muscles, and forehead. We will also likely see tension in our neck, shoulders, upper and lower back and our arms and legs.

3. Behavioral Disposition – This is the behavior or actions we are likely going to take based on the emotion we are currently experiencing. The mood of Resentment pulls our focus and goals toward punishing the person we think has wronged us, bringing them down a bit. Over time, if this issue is not resolved our focus can become more and more intense, triggering us the moment that we interact with the person.

The challenge with Resentment is that it can grow from one incident and build to intense moods focused on the person or people who caused the perceived injustice in the beginning. As a leader it is critical that you become aware of this basic mood/emotion and the effect that it can have on you and your team. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get yourself and your team focused on the positive future you can create, as opposed to being held back by old grievances. In our next blog we will look at Acceptance, the antidote to Resentment.

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