The one question I had to answer that allowed me to let go of nine years of resentment
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die” — Malachy McCourt.
The first time I read this quote, I thought “yeah right, that sounds like some hippie love mumbo jumbo”.
I didn’t get it. Correction, I did not want to get it.
Because that’s what happens when your resentment runs deep. You start thinking of it like a scar of war, almost proud of it. It’s a victim-like mindset; you’d rather not have it but you have decided it is your cross to bear.
By all accounts I had been drinking this poison for about 9 years before I even acknowledged that it was in fact resentment and that even though it was sometimes turning me into a hulk-like person, it was actually making me physically ill.
It started with a few “strange” comments that at the time seemed out of place. “Oh are you afraid your thighs will look huge in the picture?”. “Pardon?”, I thought she might be joking. An awkward laugh followed.
From there on every comment seemed to be a dig at my looks, my weight, my food and exercise choices. “Are you sure you want to eat that?”… she mentioned as she gleefully ate her 50 calorie salad.
And presumably in answer to her own question (because I don’t remember asking one at the time) she suddenly boasted, “Oh I simply live by what Kate Moss said… nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” … “mmh Ok”, I thought as I tried to swallow a spoonful of the delicious chocolate ice cream I had in my hands, which was by now accompanied by a big sprinkling of guilt.
Clearly neither her nor Kate Moss had ever eaten at a michelin starred restaurant.
Through circumstance, this woman was now in my life and even though I would usually immediately disassociate myself of such people, this time it was not possible.
At least for the immediate future, I had to face her. Contact was inevitable.
She, of course, had a statuesque body… I did not, not even close. But I knew that.
I didn’t need someone else to point it out, I made sure I pointed it out to myself. Every day, at every opportunity, in the harshest and most horrible possible ways.
Silently I talked to myself in ways, I would never dare to do out loud to another person, least of all someone I cared about. Yet I did it to myself, repeatedly.
Inevitably I started to resent her, to begrudge her presence. It didn’t happen immediately, it took at least a few months but eventually over time my body physically hurt whenever I knew I had to see her.
It was like my body was punishing me for having agreed to see her.
I felt like I hated her. It was an active prolonged hate, which is probably the definition of resentment. It felt so strong and the feelings of nausea at the pit of my stomach were so persistent that my heart rhythm accelerated in advance of a meeting, as if preparing to fight or fly. I was sure it was hate… except it had been going on for years.
And I was entitled to feel this way right? She was the one insulting me, she was “bullying” me, it was surely not my fault. Even though there were moments of “pleasure” in moaning about it to my friends, talking about how awful she was to me, surely I was still the victim.
Except, I wasn’t. However, ill-placed her comments were, I was the one that took them to heart (where they hurt), because a part of me (however small or big) actually felt that way.
If I didn’t have my own issues with weight and self-worth her comments would have simply passed me by. Easily dismissed or ignored because they didn’t matter.
Of course I didn’t want to accept this, because doing it would mean accepting that I actually hated myself… or at least my physical appearance, which at times seemed to be more important than anything else I could achieve. That the resentment was actually against myself. It was far easier to project that hatred into someone else.
I had been in therapy for about year when I finally said out loud, “I’m tired of feeling this way, its exhausting…I know she won’t change, but how do I stop hating her?”
I didn’t like the answer that came back. That the first step was to understand her.
Not to forgive, not to accept or “take it on the chin”, but to attempt to understand how OUR relationship had developed.
This took me a while. Mostly because I thought that by allowing myself to understand her perspective meant that she had somehow “won”, that I had given in.
Yet this was just my ego, still trying to hold on to that resentment, to the familiarity that it represented and mostly to avoid any work that I had to do on myself and any recognition that I may have been in the wrong.
Placing blame on someone else is easy. Acknowledging that you played a part in how you felt, means being accountable for how badly you had made yourself feel and that means having to make changes, having to do the work.
I knew that there was animosity in the relationship from the beginning, but I had never quite understood why.
In my mind she had a perfect body, she was the typical contemporary beautiful girl that appears in all magazines and movies. Not an ounce of fat, beautiful white skin and blue eyes. I thought that merely on account of body perfection, that her entire life must have always been perfect.
How many times had I thought all my problems would be solved and I would be happy if I just looked a certain way?
Yet I had something she didn’t have. And it sounded so cliché that I couldn’t really believe it. But the reality was that I had a relationship, a family. I had it “despite” my lack of standard beauty, I had something she did not have.
All her ‘other’ comments suddenly came back to my mind… “oh but you have someone waiting at home, oh but it’s easier to fall asleep with someone else warming the bed”.
And it finally hit me… that animosity that had been there hovering above us, invisible yet always present, it was mutual. She very probably resented me, as much as I resented her for her very own (and in her mind valid) reasons.
We had been in each other’s lives like a constant mirror of what the other wanted and lacked.
No wonder the energy changed when we were in a room together.
When this clicked in my brain, I could feel that knot in my stomach slowly starting to dissolve.
It was self- acceptance and self worth that I had to work on to “stop hating her”. Because it was not her who I hated, it was confronting the mirror she represented that made me so very physically uncomfortable.
I’m not saying that after my lightbulb moment the inappropriate comments stopped. She still has her own journey to complete, her own lightbulb moment to perceive.
And even though it may sound politically incorrect to say, I don’t care about her journey . What I care about is that those comments no longer hurt me and that I’m no longer in physical pain at the thought of seeing her.
I would love to say that throughout these years I have completely overcome my feelings of unworthiness. That I now have either the statuesque body I so craved or that I have come to fully accept the body I’m in… but that would be a lie.
I am still a work in progress and even though I may not love my body, I no longer hate it or berate it. The mirror I hold against myself is no longer devastating or disappointing, there is now potential and that, at least to me, is already a triumph.