The biggest challenge in living with a resentful or angry person is to avoid becoming one of them. The high contagiousness and reactivity of resentment and anger are likely to make him someone he is not.
The second biggest challenge, if you decide to stay in a relationship with a resentful or angry person, is getting them to change. Four main thorns are likely to obstruct the transformation:
o Identity of the victim
or conditioned guilt
or temporary narcissism
o Negative attributions
The identity of the victim generates the right
Resentful and angry people see themselves simply as a reaction to an unfair world. They are often offended by what they perceive as a general insensitivity to their “needs.” As a result, they are likely to feel attacked by any attempt to point out ways in which they are being unfair, let alone the effects of their behavior or that of others.
Driven by high standards of what they should get and what other people should do for them, the angry and resentful often feel disappointed and offended, which, in turn, leads to more rights. It seems only fair, from their perspective, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations. Special consideration seems so little to ask! Here is the logic:
“It’s so hard being me, I shouldn’t have to do the dishes too!”
“I’m the exploited man, you have to cook me dinner!”
“I am the oppressed woman, you have to support me!”
conditioned to blame
Most anger issues are driven by the habit of blaming others for uncomfortable emotional states. The resentful or angry have conditioned themselves to blame someone else for the cause of their emotional states, and thus become powerless over self-regulation. Instead, they use the adrenaline-fueled shot of energy and confidence that accompanies resentment and anger, in the same way that many of us are conditioned to make a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.
This is an easy habit to form, as resentment and anger have amphetamine and pain-relieving effects: they provide an immediate surge of energy and numb the pain. Confidence and a sense of power are increased, which feel much better than the helplessness and vulnerability of any insult or injury that stimulated the conditioned response of guilt.
If you experience any amphetamines, including anger or resentment, you will soon subside from the surge of vigor and confidence in self-doubt and decreased energy. And that’s just the physiological response to amphetamine; it does not include the added depressive effects of doing something while resentful or angry that you are later ashamed of, such as hurting people you love.
The law of blame is that it eventually goes to the closest person. Your resentful or angry partner is likely to blame you for problems in the relationship, if not life in general, and therefore he won’t be very motivated to change.
I have had hundreds of clients who were misdiagnosed by their couples’ therapists or self-help books as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While it’s unethical and foolhardy for professionals to diagnose someone they haven’t tested, it’s an easy mistake to make with those who are chronically resentful or angry. In fact, everyone is a narcissist when they are angry or resentful. In the adrenaline rush of anger, even low-grade, everyone feels entitled and more important than those who have fueled their anger. Everyone has a false sense of confidence (if not arrogance), is motivated to manipulate, and is incapable of empathy, while angry or resentful.
States of anger and resentment present narrow and rigid thinking that amplifies and magnifies only the negative aspects of a behavior or situation. The tendency of the angry and resentful to attribute malevolence, incompetence, or inadequacy to those who disagree with them makes negotiation extremely difficult. We are all prone to devaluing those who incur our resentment or anger. Even if we do it mentally, without acting it out, the negativity will almost certainly be communicated in a close relationship.
The healing emotion
You can easily get caught in a Pain Pendulum living with a resentful or angry person. This leads to a tragic Catch-22: “When my partner heals any hurts that seem to cause resentment and anger, then they will be more compassionate.” The truth is that your partner will not heal without becoming more compassionate.
Compassion breaks the grip of victim identity, habitual guilt, temporary narcissism, and negative attributions by putting us in touch with our basic humanity.
Your compassion will heal you but not your partner.
In demanding a change from your partner, your emotional behavior, which is more important than the words you use, must stem from the deep conviction that he or she will not recover without learning compassion. You must be convinced that you and your family deserve a better life and be determined to achieve it. It’s important to see your partner not as the enemy or an opponent, but as someone who is betraying their deepest values by mistreating you. Approach your partner compassionately and say something like the following, in your own words:
“Neither of us is being the partner we want to be. I know I’m not, and I’m pretty sure in your heart you don’t like the way we react to each other. If we keep this up, we’re going to start hating each other.” (It’s hurting our kids as much as it is hurting us.) We have to become more understanding, understanding, and valuable to each other, for the good of all.”
Because your partner cannot recover without developing greater compassion, the most compassionate thing you can do is insist that he or she treats you with the value and respect you deserve if you want to stay in the relationship. You are most human when you model compassion and insist that your partner do the same.