September 18, 2020

“Should” is Resentment in Disguise.


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“If we don’t say yes authentically, we say yes resentfully, and that leads to far more problems than if we’d said no in the first place.”

I recently reposted this quote from Natalie Lue in my Instagram feed. In less than 24 hours, it had almost 600 likes—as opposed to my usual 50 or so. I believe it would be safe to say that she hit a nerve.

I reposted it because she succinctly identifies the source of much of my life’s troubles: the “resentful yes.”

For a long time, I chalked my resentfulness up to my inherently introverted nature. While I have mostly mastered the artful execution of outbound energy, it is an often exhausting inverse state of being for me. In the twisted way that we do, I blamed my feelings of resentfulness on my introverted “weakness.” This unsavory trait was yet another thing about myself that I needed to work on and “fix.”

I finally blew the lid off this can of self-blaming bullsh*t when I detonated my marriage six years ago. Standing in the clear center of the blast radius, I was able to identify the real enemy of my life. It wasn’t my introversion, it wasn’t my ex-husband, it wasn’t my bad employers, it wasn’t my bad luck. The villain of my story was should.

Should is resentment in disguise.

Should is the seed of the inauthentic, harmful, resentful yes.

Should keeps the answer of “no” locked away in the prison of our low self-worth.

This is all the trouble should has caused in my life:

You’re 25 now. You should get focused and get a real job with serious growth potential.

Result of my resentful yes: I attended a semester of law school, accrued an unreasonable amount of debt, and then because I hated it with every fiber of my being, I left having no more sense of direction than when I started and some more “failure” to add to my bag.

You’re 27 now. You should probably get married to this really great guy you are dating because he’s lovely and stable and hardworking.

Result of my resentful yes: we got married and then divorced six months later because, inside the container of marriage, I could no longer ignore how I had abdicated my authentic beliefs about love, sex, and connection. Because he is an excellent human being, we were ultimately able to remain friends, but I will regret sacrificing him on the altar of should forever.

You’re 33 now. You have the baby you wanted. You should be really happy and fulfilled.

Result of my resentful yes: I spent the first year of motherhood miserable, overwhelmed, and stripped of my sense of self. I wasn’t resentful because I had the baby; I was resentful because “Yes, I’m okay, I love this” is all that was allowed to be heard from me.

You’re 41 now. You have two healthy children, a creative job, a lovely house, a good husband. You should feel successful and satisfied.

Result of my resentful yes: the passage of 10 years building a version of life that met everyone else’s needs and expectations except for mine.

A marriage that I didn’t demand more from because I should be thankful it was as good as it was.

Work that I should have been grateful for but in reality was not worthy of what I had to offer.

Playdates and neighborhood get-togethers with people who weren’t my tribe but were the kind of people I should want in my tribe.

Yes, we’d love to come over Friday night after a long week, and of course, we’ll bring dessert.

Yes, we plan to invite all the children in the preschool class to the birthday party even though my kid doesn’t even know everyone’s name.

Yes, I’d love to help with your fundraiser and talk to strangers for two hours on my Sunday afternoon.

Yes, I can have that to you tomorrow even though you only gave me the assignment today.

Yes, I agree; he does help around the house more than many husbands.

If only all those resentful yeses had actually been that satisfyingly snarky…

(Is it any wonder we feel so f*cking angry and resentful all the time? Did you know that resentment is the number one libido crusher for women?)

The problem is that resentment is inherently accretive; it builds slowly by the gradual accumulation of additional layers. It perpetually collects itself unto itself building mass and gravity along the way. In space, this is the way entire planets are formed.

“If we don’t say yes authentically, we say yes resentfully, and that leads to far more problems than if we’d said no in the first place.”

In 2014, I finally started saying no.

No more good-enough marriage.

No more toxic friends.

No more half-hearted volunteering for things.

No more underpaid freelance work.

It sounds easy when I list it out here six years later, but at the time, it felt like I had detonated a grenade. It was not without collateral damage and is not the approach I would recommend.

What I can recommend is the intense scrutiny of our use of the word “should.”

Any time we have to qualify a decision with “because I should,” that is our code red alert that we are not in full alignment with ourselves. We are devaluing our knowing and our self-worth in that moment. We are saying to ourselves that the Others, They, the Experts, know better than we do. We are priming ourselves for a “resentful yes.”

Unfortunately, this increased level of scrutiny and recognition does not automatically translate into being able to do exactly as we please. This isn’t how personal or professional relationships work. However, tuning into this alert system does make room for other, more self-aligned possibilities. This buffer of awareness allows us to expand our repertoire to include answers like “Yes, but [with these conditions]…” or, if you dare to imagine it, “No.”

With intention, we can transform “should” into a divining rod for personal growth. By disrupting the default, automated should/yes pattern, we can significantly decrease the feelings of resentment in our lives. Doing so requires intention, attention, and practice, but it is a muscle that can be built. And it is one of life’s rare upward spirals.

The practice reinforces itself because the result is more than just the absence of resentment; it is the cultivation of personal alignment. And the more we are able to embody our authentic selves, the more powerful we become in effecting ever-increasing positive changes in our lives and in the lives of those we love.


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