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Q&A: Free Yourself From Resentment

Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW

We’re delighted to once again have clinical social worker, blogger and author Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW. She has a wealth of experience as a psychotherapist and has done a great deal of work with nurses who struggle with challenges in the hospital setting. Her blog, StopGivingItAway.com, is an excellent resource for women (and really, for men, too), who want to feel better about themselves and seek emotional balance. Today, Veland delves into a common emotion that many caretakers find themselves experiencing at one time or another: resentment. Yes, nurses are caregivers at heart, but along with that, resentment can fester and spiral in self-destructive thought patterns that get in the way of the joys that a nurse can experience when taking care of others. Read on to learn more about resentment and how you can overcome it to lead a happier, healthier life.

Resentment and the Caregiver

Q. How do you define resentment?

A. Resentment is when angry or distressing feelings are present, usually due to the perception that someone hasn’t been treated fairly. For women, often it is associated with feeling unappreciated or used. Usually, a caretaker role is one that may have been assigned early on. For instance,  often nurses come from families where addiction was present, where care-taking skills were learned early on. Whatever your reasons, taking some time to explore the whys and hows of your caretaking tendencies will shed light on how to set up a more balanced way of giving and living.

Q. How common is it for individuals with care-taking personalities to harbor resentment? For nurses?

A. It is more common than not for people who have caretaking personalities to harbor resentment. I often tell my clients, there are givers and takers in the world. The takers love to get from the givers. And the givers eventually get exhausted or annoyed if it goes too far. People who are carers have a hard time knowing when giving to others is too much. Resentment is a red flag that you’re off the rails. Time to retreat a little and step back.

Q. Can you give a few examples? What might this look like in a real-life situation?

  •  With a coworker: Say you have been covering for a co-worker that isn’t doing their job up to par. So, you do a little extra for them or you cover their shifts because they have other plans. As you continue to help, you might start to feel resentful. When this happens, immediately scale back a little. Don’t be the one to say “I got it!” if the two of you are at the nurses station and a request is made. Start giving her a chance to take it on. Or say no when asked if you can cover a shift for her. Giving a reason isn’t necessary. You can say no kindly.  But you must trust that that resentment is telling you something.
  • With administration: It’s easy to feel resentful toward administration for not helping with enough coverage or giving you enough support. Try to empower yourself in ways that decrease your resentment. Advocate for yourself in respectful ways with the support of other nurses.
  • With patients: When feeling resentful toward patients, make self-care a priority. Take 10 second breaks where you can hide in a corner and breathe, bring healthy snacks to work. The more you engage in little bits of self-care, the more you can take the edge off of some of the resentment that starts to build. With the really difficult patients, part of your resentment could be coming from you wanting some sort of appreciation. Stay aware of that tendency because that may be an unrealistic expectation on your part. Some people just don’t appreciate good things. That’s their loss, not yours. Make sure it doesn’t harm you.

Q. What are some methods for letting go of resentment?

  •  Take better care of yourself.
  • Detach a little from working too hard. When I say that, I don’t mean blow off your responsibilities, just take a break one day and decide that you aren’t going to put in 300% that day, maybe today it is just 100%. Walk a little slower, take time for a joke or two. Ease back on the throttle. You may be pushing yourself too hard! Caretakers tend to go go go and do do do. Easy does it. This will help.
  • Look at the resentment as an opportunity for you to realign your boundaries. Resentment is a sign that you’re overextended.

Q. What if you’ve been resentful for a long time? Is it possible to ever feel differently?

A. Yes! It won’t happen overnight, but it is possible. Resentment can become  a way of life. Caretakers can often find themselves in a triangle of resentment, hurt, and care taking. They feel stuck in this constant cycle. Getting out of this triangle is a process, but it can be done.

Q. Can you give an example of someone you’ve worked with that succeeded in freeing themselves from resentment?

A. I had a client named Debra. She was a sweet, trusting young nurse who dedicated herself to the profession. The problem was, she was wayyyyy too sweet and trusting. She let her mother-in-law push her around, she let certain “tougher” nurses bully her, and she was too passive in her relationships. After working with her for a short time, we discovered that she had always played the complacent role in her family and that she believed that by being “good” and “helpful,” her parent’s wouldn’t fight and her mom wouldn’t drink. Of course this never worked. We worked on boundaries, and limits. She learned how to say no while still feeling she was being kind. That helped her feel as though she wasn’t giving up important parts of herself.  She really bloomed. And I am sure she’s still a wonderful nurse.