As a betrayed partner, there is no way to avoid the very human feeling of resentment.
The dictionary definition of resentment is:
“bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly”
It is certainly unfair to be the victim of chronic sexual betrayal through no fault of your own.
The definition of resentment I prefer is “victim anger“—a phrase coined by Pia Mellody.
Resentment is best thought of as victim anger because when you’re struggling to let go of resentment, or you’re keeping resentment alive by remembering all the wrongs done to you, the ways others have hurt you, or all the bad and awful things that have happened in your life, you will feel like a victim—long after the original injury.
Don’t get me wrong, most betrayed partners have been victimized by their unfaithful spouse. Partners are victims of deception, sexual betrayal, gaslighting, and sometimes overt sexual abuse.
The key to avoiding getting stuck in a victim mindset—resentment—is to understand that although you may have been victimized in the past, you are no longer a victim today. Once you have the information and knowledge of how you were victimized, the next step is to take care of and protect yourself from being victimized in the future.
Here are 5 steps to release and let go of resentment:
Since progress always starts with telling the truth, the first step in releasing resentment is to acknowledge that you feel resentful. You may even be consumed and controlled by it. Rather than deny, minimize, or rationalize it—simply admit “I have a resentment.”
The power of acknowledging and naming resentments is the reason Step 4 of the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves“) is one of the most meaningful—and transformative—steps in the 12-step process.
Identify Where You Have Power
The second step in releasing resentment has two parts: The first is to understand where you may have a role in the resentment you’re holding, and the second part is to know where you have power—in the present—to protect yourself and/or heal.
And when I say “where you may have a role” I’m in no way suggesting that you are responsible for what your unfaithful spouse did or didn’t do, or for his acting out behaviors.
We are all 100% responsible for our actions.
Here I’m referring to times when, for example, you may not have spoken up when someone hurt your feelings. Or you realize that the reason you’re bitter toward an old friend is not because of what that friend did, but because of a story you’ve told yourself that may—or may not—be true. Each of these are examples of situations where you have the power to release the resentment by either speaking up, or acknowledging and correcting distorted thinking.
Take Action Where You Have Power
In the situation above where something happened in the past that was hurtful or even abusive—and you didn’t speak up for yourself—you have the freedom and power to choose what you would like to do about it today.
Do you need to journal? Write a letter to the other person? Ask to meet with them to talk about it? There is no one right answer. The key is to ask yourself, “What can I do that would help me release this resentment?” And do it.
Release Anything Over Which You Don’t Have Power
Sometimes we’re resentful about situations or events in the past and there is nothing we can do about it in the present.
Many years ago, someone ran into my car on the freeway, lied about having insurance, and I was stuck paying for the repair myself. I wasn’t willing to spend the energy, time, and money required to file a lawsuit. The only thing left to do was to let go.
Keep in mind that just because you can’t change something from the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience healing around it in the present. For example, you can’t change your spouse’s past behaviors or acting out activities. But you can make requests for repair and trust-building actions in the present.
Releasing what you’re powerless over is often one of the most difficult things to do, and the process can take time. But the alternative is far worse—not only for us, but for everyone we’re in relationship with. Bitter, angry, and resentful people are at best challenging, and at worst, toxic.
Make Gratitude a Daily Habit
Gratitude is one of the most powerful medicines for resentment. It’s simply not possible to feel resentment and gratitude at the same time. If you struggle with feeling bitter and resentful, keep a gratitude list for the next 3 weeks—writing down at least 5 things you’re grateful for.
Nothing is too simple, mundane, or silly to earn its place on a gratitude list. The sunshine, your cat, a cup of tea, or having a roof over your head, are all worthy of being on your list.
Gratitude—when practiced consistently—can become a life-affirming, joyful habit that keeps resentment and victim thinking at bay.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ”
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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