Feeling resentful? You might be burned out. That what this article explores, so you can figure out what’s happening and what to do about it. But before we dive in, you might also want to know that burnout can happen for other reasons as well. In fact, I’ve narrowed it down to 7 main areas. Together, they spell “Burnout.” Here they are:
If you are someone who has a critical inner voice, you’re probably familiar with those “should statements.” You know, the ones that tell you what you “should” have done differently when you make a mistake, or that guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do.
There’s another voice in your head that focuses on what others should do as well. That’s the voice that’s annoyed when you come across situations that are seemingly unfair, or frustrated because people aren’t following the rules.
It’s that set of “shoulds” and the frustration and annoyance that go with it that bring on resentment. The trouble is, we don’t often know what to do once we feel resentful. Instead of just stewing in your resentment, let’s find out what you can do.
What Resentment Sounds Like
I recently interviewed Cait Donovan for the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Cait is herself a burnout recovery coach, but she focuses much of her work on resentment. There’s a reason for this. She’s been there herself.
In an effort to be helpful to others, Cait would constantly scan the environment for problems she could solve. Sometimes, these were situations that were minor in scale like picking up a woman’s scrunchy or holding the door open for a stranger. Other times, they were problems other people didn’t even know they had.
“What’s wrong with helping others?” you might wonder. Nothing. It’s what comes next that’s problematic. You see, Cait wasn’t just trying to be helpful. She wanted to feel valuable. Anytime we pursue something in our external world in an effort to feel something internally, we’re doing it wrong.
You cannot feel valuable based on other people’s perception of you. Yes, it’s nice to be appreciated by others. But that feeling is fleeting. What ended up happening more of the time was that Cait wasn’t recognized for her efforts, leaving her feeling resentful.
Her inner voice would say, “I’m following all the rules and I’m not getting the prizes I was promised. Why should I have to do this?” The truth was, she didn’t have to do any of it.
Cait wasn’t just helpful to strangers. She was in the service industry. She specifically studied acupuncture in an effort to provide her patients with solutions to their physical problems that modern medicine couldn’t solve. But that wasn’t enough. She bent over backwards in an attempt to meet her patients’ every need so they wouldn’t need anyone else to care for them.
While this was a very noble endeavor, it came with a bitter cost. Cait reached a point where resentment set in. She became aware of the resentment when those very patients she cared so much about asked her for something.
It was in those moments that she would hear in her head, “Don’t I give you enough?” or “What the hell else could you possibly want from me?” She describes how “any request felt like the straw that could break the camel’s back.” If nothing else, all of this overgiving of her resources was an energy drain. In fact, Cait describes it as “an act of self-abandonment and self-neglect for the perceived benefit of other people.”
Why Resentment Sets In
How do we go from having good intentions, trying to help others, and going above and beyond to being annoyed at the very people who want our help? To answer this question, we have to understand what underlies the desire to overgive.
The overgiving that leads to resentment comes from a compulsion to prove yourself. This is often the beginning of what leads to burnout because it’s a feeling that no matter what you do, it’s never enough.
You might find that you never have time for yourself, but somehow, you always make time for others. You willingly make that sacrifice, but you do it with anticipation that you’ll be thanked for your efforts. When that doesn’t happen, resentment sets in.
According to Miriam Webster dictionary, resentment is “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” In other words, your circumstances seem unfair and you feel bitter about it. You “should” get that raise. Strangers “should” say “thank you” when you hold the door for them. And people who you’ve helped should be grateful for what you’ve done and not ask for any more.
The truth is, you don’t really mean these things. It’s just that you’re burned out. You feel devalued and that seems unfair considering how much you’ve done.
Rethinking Your Decisions
When we are driven to act from a desire to be admired or appreciated, we aren’t being honest with ourselves or the people around us. There is only so much we can withstand before we are overcome with negativity. We need to be honest about what we really want and clear about whether taking this specific action is going to address our desire or need.
Sometimes we want so badly to help others, but find that we cannot solve their problems. This can lead to self-doubt, and in our brain, we develop an association between the person we want to help and our feeling of self-doubt. It is that association that leads us to then resent the person with the problem.
This, of course, isn’t rational, but it requires us to slow down, take a step back, and realize that others aren’t expecting an immediate response from us. They don’t expect us to solve all their problems. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves that gets us in trouble.
Some of us carry a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place. We worry that if we don’t take care of things, they won’t get done.
What to Do If You’re Feeling Resentful
Sometimes people get stuck in a state of resentment because they don’t recognize that what they are experiencing is resentment. Identifying that you’re resentful is the first step toward change.
The intervention to overcome resentment will depend on what got you there and what you have control over.
For the things over which you have control, create boundaries.
If, for instance, you feel resentful about doing a task, the change may be as simple as giving up that task. Consider what you’re currently doing that you feel resentful about. Before you say “yes” to someone’s request, first ask yourself whether you foresee being resentful about it in the future. If the answer is affirmative, decline the request.
Boundaries have to start in your own mind. You need to identify what you are and aren’t willing to do so you can communicate it clearly to others. But it’s also important to stick to your boundaries.
Many of my clients reported that they let go of their self-care when they got busy. This may seem reasonable, but if you constantly let other things take priority over your own needs, you aren’t holding a boundary. You need to be intentional about your time.
And then, of course, there are the situations that are out of our control. We cannot make others appreciate us or show their gratitude in a way that appeals to us. Rather than become bitter about not getting your needs met, consider how else you can feel valuable.
We often confound our actions with our worth. We equate being valuable with bringing value to the table. The truth is, each of us has inherent worth. We are worthy no matter what. We can be useful and helpful, but it’s best for us to focus on actions that are aligned with our values so that we gain enjoyment and satisfaction from our work.
If you’re resentful because someone’s overlooked you, hasn’t appreciated you enough, or treated you unfairly, remember – you always have a choice. You can work on shifting your perception of the situation or you can change your circumstances.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
Cait says, “The thing that I love most about resentment is the more you look at it, the more you admit to it, the more powerful it becomes, the better boundaries you create.”
So stop ruminating. Don’t let yourself be easily irritated. Forgive the past. Let go of what isn’t serving you, and take back your power. You can pull yourself out of this. And if you need help, there’s always coaching.
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