Do you know any people who are resentful about things that have happened to them? Do you know anyone who struggles with low self-esteem? Have you ever considered that resentments and self-esteem might be connected?
In previous articles that touched on self-esteem, we explored ways that self-esteem might be connected to humility, as well as to self-confidence. Self-esteem is so central to the quality of our lives that we all need more awareness of its various roots and connections!
Self-Esteem and Self-Expectations
Harvard Professor and philosopher William James published a groundbreaking book entitled Principles of Psychology in 1890. Among many other insights, he suggested that self-esteem can be calculated as a mathematical formula (or ratio). His idea was that self-esteem is essentially determined by our accomplishments as compared to our self-expectations.
William James offered an example related to athletics. He observed that the second-best heavyweight boxer on the planet may have low self-esteem and a high level of frustration if there is one person on the planet that he has not defeated. Yet, someone who has no aspirations to be a boxer may not even care about who is the reigning heavyweight champion. And this non-boxer could very well have remarkably high self-esteem!
James pointed out that the essential value of the formula is that we can increase our self-esteem either by accomplishing more things OR by lowering our expectations and aspirations. Thus, letting go of certain self-expectations can sometimes do wonders for our happiness and self-esteem. And letting go is usually easier than continuously striving for goals that may be out of reach.
The late musician Bob Marley may also have been on to something when he said, “The day you stop racing is the day you win the race.”
Resentments and Expectations of Others
Most of us know people who express resentments about things that happened to them. Sometimes the resentments relate to recent events. But often the events in question happened years ago.
With resentments, it is our expectations of others, not ourselves, that can trip us up. We can resent others when their behavior fails to live up to our expectations. Here’s a definition of resentment that I like:
Resentment is the gap between how we think others
should behave and how they actually behave.
When other people do not behave the way we think they should behave, it can lower our opinion of them. And if their behavior results in direct (or perceived) harm to us, a full-blown resentment can develop.
When full-blown resentment develops, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the other person intended to harm us. It is the fact that that we feel that they really did “harm” us that causes the resentment, regardless of actual “intent.” And each time we notice behavior that confirms our negative belief about another person, our resentment can grow stronger.
Resentments, Relationships and Well-Being
If both self-esteem and resentments are tied to our expectations, is there any evidence that holding resentments (or grudges) would tend to bolster or lower our general well-being?
A 2015 article in Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland explores the way that holding grudges can negatively impact our intimate relationships. The author also explains that high cortisol levels are connected to negative stress responses. These negative stress responses then threaten our well-being. In contrast, high levels of oxytocin tend to lower our stress and improve our social connections and well-being.
If left unregulated, holding a grudge can create loneliness, isolation, and pent-up anger that creates an uptick in cortisol and lowers oxytocin. Recent studies have found that the attachment processes between two individuals in an intimate relationship dramatically affect physical and psychological health. Christopher Bergland
A Predisposition Toward Resentments
Interestingly, some of us might be more naturally predisposed toward resentments than others. This is partly due to our oxytocin level. A research study at the University of Virginia found that oxytocin is self-produced at different levels in different people. This, in turn, plays a role in regulating social behavior.
The study found that people with higher oxytocin levels showed greater recruitment of brain regions that support social cognition. It suggests that these people are naturally attending to the more social aspects of the interactions. On the other hand, people with low levels of oxytocin showed less activity in ‘social brain’ areas.
This study may help us understand people who have a tendency to hold grudges more often than others do. Specifically, they may be less inclined to conciliatory gestures, seeking forgiveness, or making amends. The importance of these behaviors is well-documented in the field of conflict resolution. Each of these behaviors tends to be identified as “constructive” in terms of helping to resolve conflicts or grudges.
Our feeling is that further research of this type might help show that resolving conflicts and ending resentments would serve to improve self-esteem and well-being!
Holding Grudges Against Yourself
Forgiving ourselves can often be more difficult than forgiving someone else.
Do you beat yourself up for past transgressions and the times that you’ve said or done something that you regret? If so, you may need to forgive yourself and let it go!
Holding a grudge against yourself and feeling shame can trigger the same increase in cortisol and decrease in oxytocin as holding a grudge against someone else. Self-forgiveness is as important as forgiving others. Christopher Bergland
We’ll go one step further. We believe that holding on to self-resentment and shame is not only unhealthy, but that it adversely affects one’s self-esteem.
Know Your Conflict Dynamics Profile
If you, or others that you know, are prone to resentments or grudges, we encourage you to take the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP-I) to help understand how to deal with conflict. The CDP-I includes scores on:
- 7 Constructive Responses
- 8 Destructive Responses
- 9 Hot Buttons (that tend to trigger Destructive Responses)
Our firm specializes in conflict coaching. We can help you better understand your typical ways of dealing with conflict. We can also help to mediate conflicts that might require a third party’s perspective and expertise. Please contact us for a free consultation on how conflict coaching may be able to help you or your organization!