Resentment is like a dark cloud hanging over us. It can sap the joy from things we once found pleasurable and can leave us feeling frustrated and angry much of the time. Resentment is the feeling that we experience when we say yes to something that we really don’t want to do. When we feel like the people in our lives are not taking us into consideration or acknowledging our needs. Resentment typically arises when we are overworked and over-committed. When we’re busy taking care of responsibilities, handling things, making stuff happen, and we remember that we agreed to that choir rehearsal, to make a dish for a potluck, to host a gathering because we felt guilty about saying no. When we spend most of our time thinking about the needs and wants of people in our lives and don’t feel anyone is considering us. Knowing that we are sacrificing our peace and free time for the sake of someone else and feeling taken advantage of.
I believe resentment is something many Black women struggle with. Feeling like we have to pick up the slack for the people around us, feeling like our lives are filled with obligations, and struggling to say no to commitments can leave us resentful. As Black women we are often in the position of doing the work to make things happen. Whether at church, schools, or our workplaces, Black women are the people working late, picking people up, dropping people off, cooking, cleaning, setting up, organizing, coordinating, etc. Often, the expectation is that we do this thankless work with limited recognition or appreciation. We are taken for granted in our families, our places of worship, and our jobs. All of this leads to resentment. Getting annoyed when someone asks us to do something because we feel we can’t say no is a sign of resentment. Feeling frustrated and judgmental of people who establish boundaries and say no to things is another sign that we are struggling with resentment.
We also play a role in contributing to our resentment. It can feel good to have a lot of people and things depending on us. We can make ourselves into martyrs always volunteering to take on more work, secretly feeling proud that we are able to get so much done on our own. Relishing the fact that things might not go as well without us. Many of us also struggle to say no and to set boundaries around our time. We have seen Black women before us constantly giving their time and energy to the people in their lives and we follow in their footsteps. As women, we are socialized to feel selfish when we prioritize our time and mental and emotional well-being over the needs of others. This leaves us giving, and giving, and giving, and running ourselves into the ground in the process. There are negative consequences to prioritizing everything over ourselves: Black women have higher incidents of breast cancer and heart disease, among other serious illnesses, than White women and we also are more likely to die from these illnesses than our White counterparts. I believe that failing to care for ourselves and holding on to resentment negatively impacts our health.
Carrying around resentment and the anger that often accompanies it leads to feelings of misery in life. Resentment leaves us feeling trapped. We may feel unhappy with a way things are and unsure of how to do things differently as we continue to follow the implicit rules of saying yes to everything and putting ourselves last. If you feel like you are stuck in resentment the following are my suggestions for ways to release the resentment in your life.
Recognize the choices that you have
The first important step to remedying resentment is to recognize the choices that we have. It is so easy to feel obligated to do things. To feel like we have to attend a volunteer meeting or make something from scratch for the bake sale, when the reality is that these are choices. It can take some work to increase our awareness of the things that we are doing that we can choose not to do. One fear we may have is that if we choose not to continue with an obligation things will fall apart without us. However, I have found that stepping back often allows other people to step up and carry their weight. When we do more than our share of work we enable other people to slack off. When we disengage from this pattern we give other people the opportunity to step up and do their part. I encourage you to reflect on your commitments and how you spend your time and identify the things that you can choose not to do.
Identifying and clearly establishing your boundaries is another important part of preventing resentment. In order to recognize which things you want to do and what you want to say no to, is important to have a sense of what your boundaries are. In order to identify your boundaries, pay attention to what makes you feel resentful for clues about things that you should set boundaries around in the future. Think about how you want to spend your time and the things in your life that you want to protect (e.g. time to work out, time with friends, sleep, time with your children and family members). Once you’ve identified what you want your boundaries to be the next task is to set those boundaries. Setting boundaries might start with blocking time off in your calendar to do what is important for you and it will likely involve saying no to requests and letting people know that you will no longer be doing as much as you did before.
Learn to say no
Learning to say no is an important aspect of setting boundaries and getting rid of resentment. Saying yes to things that you don’t want to do is the hallmark of resentment. The challenge is that when we are asked to commit to something it almost always feels better in the moment to say yes. However, when we do say yes to something that violates our boundaries we end up feeling frustrated and resentful when it comes time to follow through on the committment. In contrast, saying no at the moment of a request often makes us feel badly. We feel guilty about declining to do something that we can do even if doing it would push us beyond our boundaries and healthy capacity. Many of us have an attitude that if we can do something we should do it. One strategy to help you to begin to say no is to delay your responses to requests. If someone asks you to do something tell them that you will think about it and get back to them later. Then you can let them know that you’ve spent time thinking about their request in the context of your current commitments and are unfortunately unable to take on anything else. Another important aspect of learning to say no is being willing to experience some of the guilt and anxiety that will arise when you say no. Sometimes saying no involves withstanding other people’s frustration and guilt tripping in response to you setting a boundary. It may take a while for people to get used to the fact that you are no longer taking everything on and are beginning to prioritize yourself. Try to be patient with yourself and the people who ask things of you, everyone will acclimate eventually.
Ask for what you need
Not asking for what we want and need is another thing that can lead to resentment. As women, we often hope that people will read our minds. We anticipate the needs of our children, family members and friends, and we are frustrated when other people don’t do the same for us. We believe that we should not have to tell people what we need, they should just know. The reality is that the people in our lives are not mind-readers and if we don’t communicate our needs they will likely be overlooked. As Black women, many of us have become skilled at overworking and looking good in the process. We inadvertently communicate that we are fine without any help. We may also want to avoid the vulnerability of expressing a need and asking for help. I encourage you to begin asking for what you need. Tell people when you need a break, when you need help with something, when you need their time. This can be very challenging and it is essential to living a full life free of resentment. Communicating to your loved ones what you need builds intimacy and connection in those relationships. If someone in your life responds negatively when you ask for what you need this may reflect a core issue in the relationship that should be addressed. In order to begin asking for what you need it is important for you to acknowledge your own needs. To do this, I encourage you to slow down and reflect on how you are doing and what you are experiencing. Are you tired? Irritable? Happy? Energized? Do you need time alone? Time with friends? A break from your kids? More sleep? Answering questions like these will help you to articulate what you need from yourself and other people.