I gave myself the best gift I could this holiday season: I let go of the resentment I’d been carrying around since my husband died.
My loneliness after he died was calcifying into bitterness. Why me? My mom died when I was 10; why had I lost the person I loved most not once, but twice, in my life?
Resentment feeds on itself.
I begrudged the women in my yoga classes who hadn’t lost their husbands. I took it personally when my house needed repairs. I felt bitter toward the lawyers at the firm I used to work for who weren’t helping me find employment. I was even peeved at the other drivers in the parking lot who pulled out before me.
Then I realized I was choking myself. There had been only change, cruel, random change, but nothing to harbor resentment against, no one to focus my enmity on. In feeling rancorous towards the universe, and people in it, I was only hurting myself.
I had to frame the problem differently, from why were people wronging me, to why did I feel so bad. I asked myself:
1. How do you feel? I’m wounded and angry much of the time.
2. Why do you feel that way? My landscape without my husband is so terribly bleak. Being alone in my loss makes me mad.
3. Who do you resent for causing these wounds? I wanted to blame everyone who wasn’t doing enough for me, but really I resented myself for being so lost. All that enmity toward others was actually because I was mad at myself.
And once I realized that, things were different. When I stopped feeling alienated from my yoga classmates and started talking to them, I made friends. I saw that my former lawyer colleagues were going out of their way to be helpful. And after a visit to my old firm, I realized that I didn’t want to be a lawyer again or even work in an office.
I stopped talking about my own situation and started asking people questions about themselves. I gave myself an “A” for reaching out to people and for trying new things, like paddle board yoga. I gave myself a pass from having to do things that made me feel worse, like online dating.
Best of all, I let go of the grudge I carried against my late husband’s parents. I could love them and we could be family, instead of split apart without my husband to keep us together. I started to appreciate my own family for what they could do, instead of feeling hurt by what they couldn’t. Nothing changed, but I felt supported instead of abandoned.
I’ve decided that I don’t need to take medication for anxiety. Resentment caused my constant fear that something bad was going to happen, if not now then soon, because fate was out to get me. But it never was.
It isn’t easy to let go of years of pent-up resentment.
That anger was my companion. And my excuse.
When you know that fate has done you wrong, it isn’t worth trying to do much. If you fail at something, you can blame someone else for it. Resentment is pleasantly exhausting, consuming your energy so you don’t have to do other things. You can stew, and it’s tiring keeping all those dark thoughts in mind.
But that’s no way to live.
I once dated a wealthy, talented artist whose conversation was a litany of the wrongs committed against him. Eventually, he came to resent me too. I didn’t do enough for him or pay him enough attention. When I find myself slipping into blaming others for my sadness, I think of him, having so much, but poisoning it all with his grudges. Maybe I was meant to know him to see what could happen if I didn’t let go of my own grievances.
Two women reached out to me who’d suffered bad divorces, leading to financial loss. They’d had serious health problems. But they were so upbeat. Pursuing happiness on their own, not blaming their exes or anybody else, finding joy where I found none. I was probably meant to meet them too. Thank goodness I didn’t complain so much that I scared them away.
And now I feel much lighter. But also more responsible because there’s no one to blame, no excuses borne of my loss.
The circumstances that lead someone to harbor resentment are so personal, and there are genuine wrongs. But as we look at what resolutions to make for the New Year, the simplest may be to let go of old resentments. And then other things will change as well.
Author: Debbie Weiss
Editor: Molly Murphy