Coping With Identity Related Resentment

By: | April 3, 2016

It’s bound to happen. One day a bunch of “thems,” are going to show up in your life as team members, colleagues or community members. They could be older or younger people, foreigners, pretentious rich people, poor people, the less educated, women, non-Christians. As soon as it’s evident “they” are not going away soon you may begin to develop resentment. From your point of view, you’ve gone from a place of comfort and privilege to a place of uncertainty and threat.

Resentment is disgruntlement directed at others over perceived unfairness. Resentment can especially surface when we’re forced into situations with people we’re not ready to accept. For many, it seems unfair that their space is “overrun” by individuals and groups who do not fit in and who force us to change our familiar ways.

If you behave aggressively toward the “others” within your workplace, you’ll obviously risk losing your job. We still hear many stories about how identity-based resentment gets directed toward others by denying them a seat and service at a restaurant, hanging epithets in locker rooms, calling them by an offensive name or denying them a fair opportunity. But these stories almost always end badly for the organization or the resentful employee. Although you may be able to survive more subtle aggressions, like for instance forgetting to invite “them” to meetings, not recognizing “them” during meetings, sabotaging their efforts by giving “them” the least desirable shifts, you will usually, in the end, get caught for these actions as well.

So what do you do when you feel invaded and resentful? There are three pieces of advice that are consistent.

  1. While you want to avoid open and active aggression, don’t bury your resentment, or try to forget about it. Anger and resentment are strong feelings. Oftentimes, we can do more damage to ourselves by burying these feelings. There is a wise saying that goes something like this. “Resentments are like swallowing poison and expecting the other people to die.”
  2. Talk to a friend or trusted individual. Find people you can talk to and tell them what you’re feeling. Talking over your feelings with people you trust can help you to see the situation more objectively. One friend may have had the same feelings and worked through them in a positive way, another may be able to help you figure out productive coping strategies.
  3. Seek professional support. Holding on to anger and resentment can affect your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Professional support can also include spiritual counseling.

If you think you’ll never be resentful of someone in your life based on a dimension of their identity then consider yourself to be lucky or rare. If you believe the issue of resenting others never affects you, then challenge yourself to take an honest look in the mirror.

Finally, if you have the responsibility within your organization to create educational programs related to diversity, inclusion, and identity, be aware that you’re challenging people’s worldview and belief systems. Unless you know what you’re doing in this area, you can unknowingly increase the resentment that some of your colleagues are experiencing toward others and as a result make matters much worse.

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