What is Resentment?
Resentment is a feeling of anger or persistent ill will, often as a result of some type of injustice or having to accept something you don’t want to accept. Resentment can be experienced in many ways. Resentments can build among friends and partners, at work, in families, and across identity groups in cases of racism and discrimination. Symptoms of resentment include hyperfocusing on an event that triggers negative emotions, or ongoing feelings of inadequacy, heartbreak, anger or regret.¹
While we typically feel resentment about the past, we might not realize how much resentment is impacting our current relationships and interactions. In fact, psychologist Thema Bryant-Davis said that resentment can prevent connection because it causes people to ‘meet us in our wounds, not in who we truly are.’² Anything that prevents us from feeling connected can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can build even more resentment. It’s a vicious cycle that can be especially problematic when someone is trying to make significant changes in their life, like becoming alcohol-free.
What Causes Resentment in Recovery from Alcohol?
Resentment in early sobriety is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s important to recognize resentment so you can address the underlying issues that may be causing it in a healthy way. Engaging in alcohol therapy can be a major help in this process. Here are some of the most common sources of resentment in early sobriety and tips for managing them.
Not Feeling Supported
If a person doesn’t feel supported while they’re trying to stop drinking, they may feel like no one understands how difficult it is. This is especially true when someone experiences a relapse and feels alone and discouraged. If you notice you’re feeling unsupported, approaching your loved ones for help or seeking professional guidance like online alcohol treatment can help lessen feelings of resentment. Connecting with others in a sober community who understand how difficult it can also make a huge difference in combating feelings of isolation.
A side note about relapse: it’s important to remember that setbacks don’t erase your progress. We aren’t perfect, but we can keep going and feel proud of ourselves for trying again. Continuing to try after we make a mistake is what builds resilience.
Comparing Yourself To Others
As an addiction counselor and recovery coach, my clients often share that they resent people who are ‘normal drinkers’ or can ‘drink normally.’ My response is this: define ‘normal.’ It can mean very different things to different people. Have you ever been surprised when someone stopped drinking because you considered them a ‘normal drinker’? It goes to show there’s no way of knowing exactly what’s going on in someone else’s life. Everyone’s relationship with alcohol is unique, and we can only control how alcohol affects our own lives. Try to remind yourself of this the next time you compare your relationship with alcohol to those who seem to have ‘normal’ drinking habits.
Facing Alcohol-Related Consequences
When someone stops drinking, they often have to address the consequences of their past alcohol use. Alcohol may have harmed their relationships, professional life, financial health, and mental wellbeing. It can feel overwhelming and unfair to face these responsibilities while also working on other aspects of recovery. When you notice these feelings arise, that’s an indicator that you might benefit from some outside support. Leaning on your loved ones or getting professional guidance can help you take attainable steps toward healing and avoid overwhelm.
Reacting to Underlying Trauma
Many people engage in self-medicating with alcohol as a way of coping with past trauma. When alcohol is removed from the equation, the feelings surrounding the trauma can feel even more intense, triggering resentment. Feeling resentment toward past trauma is valid and common. Therapy is one of the best ways to process these emotions with a professional and pave the way for true healing and relief.
How Does Resentment Affect Sobriety?
Dealing with our resentments is an important part of sobriety, and healing in general. Letting our resentments take up too much space in our thoughts can cause extra stress and trigger us to slip back into old patterns that may include drinking. In addition, focusing on other people or situations that cause resentment means we aren’t focusing on ourselves; and we can only ever heal and control ourselves. Holding on to negativity towards others only inhibits our own growth and healing. Letting go of resentment is part of getting out of our own way. We may not be able to fix all of the ways we have been wronged, but we can acknowledge the pain and move through it. We have to if we are going to find our way to peace.
How to Deal with Resentment While Quitting Drinking
Being aware of resentment is the first step toward managing it. There are several ways to work through resentment so that you can fully address it and move forward.
Resentment and regret tend to be two sides of the same coin. Sometimes it helps to recognize the ways we wish things would’ve played out differently, how we could have shown up differently, and remember we have the knowledge to do so now.
Resentment is often a sign we’re overextending ourselves. It can take a lot of energy to combat alcohol cravings, build healthy habits, and work on other aspects of recovery. When we take care of ourselves, we can avoid feeling burnt out and resenting the recovery process. Setting very intentional self-care habits, like meditation, yoga, or reading, will have a ripple effect.
Resentment can also be a sign your boundaries have been compromised, and it’s time to clarify your needs to others. First, pause to validate whatever you’re feeling resentful over. Next, recognize the boundaries that could lead to a healthier relationship with the person or experience involved. This could look like establishing a time limit at family events, or keeping a weeknight free to practice self-care. Lastly, practice articulating these boundaries to your loved ones.
Express Anger in Healthy Ways
We all feel anger and resentment at some point in our lives, so finding healthy ways to deal with them is key. Some healthy coping strategies include:3
- Physical exercise: Whatever type of movement feels good for you – yoga, hiking, kickboxing, swimming, etc. – can provide relief from stress and anger.
- Spending time outside: Nature can be incredibly effective when it comes to transforming negative energy. Garden, walk around the block, sit under a tree – whatever is available to you!
- Journal: Journaling can be a therapeutic way to process feelings.
- Get Creative: If you are so inclined, draw, paint, knit, cook, or CREATE in whatever medium feels most natural to you.
- Talk to someone: Many people process their feelings by talking about it. Counselors and therapists are non-judgmental listeners and can offer objective insight.
Identify Your Role and Practice Forgiveness and Acceptance
You can only control your own actions, reactions, and thoughts. As much as we may wish we can control other people’s actions, we cannot. It’s a lifelong process to learn how to manage our emotions in healthy ways, and it’s ultimately up to us. Practicing forgiveness and acceptance is easier said than done, but it’s necessary to heal ourselves. We have to create peace within our own lives and part of that comes from accepting the things we can’t change. Reflecting on why someone acts the way they do can help us cultivate compassion and empathy; which ultimately helps us find some peace. Not only that, every time we stay in control of our own emotions and deal with our own pain and anger in healthy ways, we take control of our immediate situation. It’s empowering to feel in control of our emotions and behaviors; it just takes patience and practice.
- GoodTherapy.org “Resentment, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/resentment.” Accessed Dec 29, 2022.
- Psychology Today. “Eight questions for understanding and healing resentment, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pacific-heart/202208/eight-questions-understanding-and-healing-resentment.” Accessed Dec 29, 2022.
- Mental Health America. “10 Healthy Ways to Release Rage, https://mhanational.org/10-healthy-ways-release-rage.” Accessed Dec 29, 2022.