Are you angry and resentful at your parents for how they raised you as a child?

Jason Brien.

     Resentment is a powerful, negative emotional response to actual or perceived mistreatment, injustice or wrongdoing. Resentment can arise if a child is physically or emotionally neglected, abused, excessively controlled, restricted, invalidated, criticised, scapegoated or simply not given adequate attention, love, care, support and reassurance. The emotional scarring in childhood continues into adulthood and interferes with adult attachments and relationships. People can find themselves self-sabotaging because they don’t believe they deserve anything. They can self-medicate or self-harm. They might even find themselves parenting their children in the same toxic and abusive way.

     When people become aware of the true extent to which they have suffered as a result of being raised in toxic, invalidating and abusive environments, they become acutely aware of the unfairness of it all. They become acutely aware of what could have been had they been raised properly. They become acutely aware of how developmentally and socially stunted they have become. This awareness provokes within them very strong feelings of resentment, hurt, anger, shame and disappointment and they wish that their life had turned out differently. They struggle to understand why they were mistreated and abused by those who were meant to love, care and protect them.

     I am a firm believer that a lack of understanding breeds resentment. I am also a firm believer that resentment clouds judgement. It is so easy to get wrapped up and absorbed in the feelings of resentment shame, hurt, anger, etc that it becomes difficult to expand beyond ourselves. What I mean is, when we are emotionally overwhelmed it can be hard for us to consider things from different perspectives. It can be difficult for us to exercise our empathy. Empathy within this context is the ability to understand our parents’ perspective. Understand what factors lead them to raise us in the way that they did.

     It could be a case that they were abused by their parents. Maybe they had deep seated mental health problems which were never addressed. Their way of parenting might have just been a product of the societal, religious or cultural expectations of their generation. This doesn’t excuse their abuse in any way but it does provide greater understanding and context. Resentment in some regards is a result of having rigid and unrealistic expectations of others. To rigidly believe that others should be ‘perfect’ or ‘good’ simply because society ascribes them with some sort of authority or expertise (such as the case with parents). The reality is, parenting doesn’t come with a handbook nor does it require specialised education, training, certification or accreditation.

     So yes, resentment can be problematic but it can also be advantageous. It can teach us quite a lot of useful things. The fact that you have become aware of your childhood abuses, injustices, mistreatments, etc, means that you have become aware of the fact that you are an individual who has rights, needs and self-worth. This is a big step forward. Resentment also forces us to recognise and accept that we have an obligation and responsibility to protect our rights, meet our needs and develop and enhance our self-worth. This can be a bitter pill to swallow because we suddenly realise that we have to nurture and protect what our parents couldn’t.

     This realisation can make it easy to fall into the trap off “well if my parents couldn’t protect my rights, meet my needs or provide me with self-worth, what chance do I have? They didn’t teach me anything of value”. This is where excessively blaming our parents comes in. When we feel ill-equipped to deal with something, we have a couple of choices. We can accept our vulnerability and imperfections and so educate ourselves or we can deny our vulnerability and imperfections by blaming others. Blaming others is no different to procrastination. It fuels inaction. Blaming others encourages an external locus of control and discourages the internal locus of control necessary for change.  

     What I mean by excessively blaming is that our parents need to be held accountable for their destructive actions to a point. As parents, guardians and caregivers they absolutely had an obligation to protect you from harm, nurture your needs and value your existence. Come adulthood though, the burden is on your shoulders. If you are responsible enough to drink, vote and drive a car, you are responsible enough to start paying attention to protecting your rights and fulfilling your needs. Some people don’t like to hear this as it is easier to blame than it is to confront. Confronting responsibility requires enormous courage. The courage to accept responsibility if you ‘fail’ falls squarely on your shoulders and some people are  simply too afraid to take this risk.

Resentment also teaches us the power of acceptance and forgiveness. Neither of these two concepts are easy to accomplish though. They both require hard work, commitment and immense maturity and empathy. As some might say “the power to enact change comes only after the pain of suffering becomes too much”. Resentment really doesn’t accomplish anything at all other than making our own lives more stressful. Resentment simply continues the abuse and toxicity cycle of which we are wanting to escape. Acceptance and forgiveness however can help us to break the cycle. Both can provide us with inner peace and harmony and make our lives that much more enjoyable.