Last night I participated in the first session of a workshop called Pursuit of Excellence.
One of the Aha moments I had was an insight into guilt and resentment. They are two sides of the same coin, which is a difference between expectation and reality. Guilt is the cognitive dissonance one experiences when one's performance differs from one's expectation of oneself. Resentment is the cognitive dissonance one experiences when someone else's performance differs from one's expectation of him or her.
That sounds straightforward enough. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand it. But sometimes a drawing illustrates a concept more clearly than words, and the understanding penetrates to a deeper level. That's what happened with me. The instructor drew two overlapping circles on the flip chart. She then drew a little frill around the left hand circle. The "pretty" circle represented our expectation, and the plain circle represented reality.
The parts of the circles that overlapped represented the aspects of our expectation and reality that were consistent with each other. The parts of the circles that did not overlap represented the differences between expectation and reality.
When our own performance differs from our expectation, we have to decide what to do. If I think of myself as someone who always makes my bed, and I don't do it, I have a choice. Either I make my bed and bring my reality back in alignment with my expectation, or I leave my bed unmade and I get over it. Feeling guilty doesn't accomplish anything.
When someone else's behaviour is inconsistent with our expectation, we have to decide what to do about it. The instructor said that what we resented was not the person's behaviour but rather the choice we faced in light of their behaviour. Would we silently stew, would we tell them we didn't like what they were doing, would we suspend contact with them? Often that process of choosing our response and then implementing it is what we don't like.
That was a big insight for me. It also helped to make it more objective for me. I could frame it in terms of the choice that lay before me rather than making it about the other person.