Resentments & Assumptions
Use Them for GoodBy Chuck S.
Resentments are good tools. In the Big Book, they are popularly known as the “number one offender” against recovery, but I seem them differently. Negative emotions can be helpful when it comes to dealing with the past or present. A resentment is no different. It can give a clue where to tackle a problem.
Assumptions are also important tools which can help when dealing with resentments. Still, our culture views assumptions negatively. There’s a popular saying that when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” The reality is assumptions are a tool your brain uses for efficiency, and when mastered, they can aid in preparedness for success.
In the rooms, I’ve often heard resentments and assumptions lumped together as two things people would like to “get rid of.” I’d like to share a positive perspective on them, especially when they are encountered together.
- Reflecting for Meaning -
Part of recovery is straightening out the past. We spend a lot of time addressing it, but some things are harder to approach than others. Some negative past issues can really stand out and are hard to address because the mere thought of them is truly uncomfortable.
If there is something, past or present, that makes you wince or cringe when thinking about it, that situation is giving you anxiety. The clinching of your fist or the grinding of your teeth is your brain’s frustration, and it bothers you just thinking about it. There is a reason for that.
When thoughts of the past make you uncomfortable, your mind is telling you is that should you encounter the situation again, you are not ready to handle it.
What can you do? Many things, but I propose you start by looking inward. With any failure, it is important to review it step by step to prevent future failures. Consider how the issue was not handled well, or possibly not handled at all. Then, consider how you could have handled it better. There could have been more than one way to do it, but typically there is one solution that would have worked. If you list the possibilities of solutions and review them, with time and reflection it becomes apparent which one is the best for you.
With that solution, you can decide how you will conduct yourself next time, even if the situation doesn’t match exactly like before. It also is good to be able to identify the signs that the problem is approaching again. This will help you to be ready to respond instead of to react.
Like other processes I’ve talked about before, putting a pen to paper will truly help you focus. Writing thoughts down also helps when you need to review your thoughts later down the road. I’ll come back to solving the problem further down, but I’d like to share thoughts about resentments and assumptions before discussing it further.
- Resentments – The Focus of the Blame -
Resentments take high discomfort a step further than simple regrets about mishandled situations: someone else is involved. To you, unhappiness came from the actions of another person. To you, you see them as the reason to blame. They didn’t do something they said they would, or they did something they said they wouldn’t. They may be doing it still today. Basically, they did, or are doing, something that isn’t to your design. The root cause of this most likely comes from assumptions.
- Assumptions – Often the Cause -
When not handled properly, assumptions can make life miserable, hence why assumptions are identified as “bad” in both recovery and everyday life. However, when seeing assumptions for what they are, they are quite helpful. Assumptions are key to both planning and problem solving, not just with resentments and other negative aspects, but for all angles of life. I’d like to share what I’ve learned on why we assume.
The brain makes assumptions naturally. It has to. There is not enough time and energy to figure every detail it encounters. It’s a very natural feature for it to take shortcuts for efficiency. However, there is a price to this. The shortcuts based on the limited info… and with that, the brain can be wrong. An example of this is what happens when you see something out of the corner of your eye that startles you, only to find out that when you stop and focus on it, it’s completely different and not a bother at all.
When possible, one should identify assumptions for a very important reason: you must consider if the assumption is wrong and if so, what to do about it. When you identify what and where the assumption is, you need to stop and think about possible outcomes based on if what you assume is true or if it is actually different than what you assumed.
That’s where you create a branch in the road if things don’t go as planned, or if something you assumed was incorrect, you can exit the road you’re on to another route. This helps manage the future. If the assumption is true, you turn one way. If false, you turn the other. The location of the assumption in the timeline can be thought of as a “decision point.” It’s where you decide which road of the fork you will take.
- The Merger of The Two -
Where resentments and assumptions meet is where someone expects something from another person, whether it is clear to that person or not, and that person “lets them down” by failing to act accordingly. Quite often in a resentment from the past, we thought someone will do something for us… and that doesn’t happen. They don’t show up, perform actions, or say things that we were counting on.
Now, you’ve got an unmet expectation from someone, whether they did it on purpose or not. Chances are you’re not happy because of them. Your plan contained an assumption about the person you now have a resentment towards. When you come to that point in the road that’s assumed, it is wrong, and there is no way to change (no branch). You are destined for failure. That’s the problem.
- How to Handle It -
When people project anger towards someone who let them down, or worse, when someone has taken advantage of their position to control them, they really should reflect inward for allowing themselves to be vulnerable to another. They placed their trust outside of their control, which we all must do from time to time. The problem is they did not consider what would happen if others were going to let them down. They never created a branch to move around the problem. They did not hedge their bet on the other person’s unpredicted actions.
To address this, one must do two things: 1) confront the person, and 2) prevent future failure.
First, the key to solving any resentment is confronting the person. Tell them why you are not happy. Listen to what they have to say, and then tell them how you see it. Hopefully the dialogue is simply enough to clarify expectations so the disappointment doesn’t happen again. If conversation doesn’t improve the situation, you may need to explore a way to move away from them to avoid future disappointments. Finally, to an even higher degree, if they remain steadfast in their position and it could harm you again, it may be time to accept they will not change and move on.
It is very important is to consider something: you may have been the person who created the problem. If you were fired or the other person ended an important relationship with you, chances are pretty good they did not make that choice lightly. Those actions are not easy to do. They may have even made assumptions about you. Through this conversation, if you realize the other person was not to blame, that solves a significant part of the resentment, though you still have work to do.
Second, the next step is to ensure you find a way to avoid making the same mistake twice. This can be useful beyond resentments as well. It’s simply reviewing the past actions closely and building a new plan for if it happens again.
You prepare for this by considering what you’ll do; even rehearse how you will handle it the next time it happens. You don’t need to act it out loud in front of a mirror. Just review it in your head (or write down your plan) and consider the different ways it could happen, keeping in mind the different branches you have for alternative outcomes. Keep working the scenario through until you can clearly see yourself succeeding the next time you encounter the situation with each of its uncertainties.
When the discomfort of a thought from a failed portion of your past is gone, you know you’ve addressed the problem sufficiently.
You no longer wince or cringe at the thought of the failure, and you’re ready if the situation happens again by identifying assumptions and communicating with others directly affected. You are now better prepared for life as you move forward.
- Ready for the Future -
Whether it be the assumption of what someone else will do, or the assumption that something may be true or false, I need to be ready to handle it either way to remove the chances of having further resentments down the road. While it would be impractical to write a method for handling all challenges of this nature, the important part is that one takes action and makes preparation for future challenges they face. The readiness I obtain from reflection and preparation will be the key to approaching the future calmly and confidently.