Note: This is the second of a three-part series.
Think of a time when your intimate partner was resentful or angry at you and s/he was actually right—you did do something wrong. Even though s/he was right, you may have felt s/he was making too much of it, or overlooking crucial details, or reducing you to that one mistake, as if all the good things you’ve ever done in your life didn’t count. Your partner and children react to your resentment and anger in that same way. Most human beings subjected to resentment get resentful, contentious or sulky in return—just like you do.
Resentment and anger also cause you to focus only on your own perspective to the exclusion of everyone else’s. You can’t see your partner’s perspective, and s/he can’t see yours. That’s because anger and resentment are for dominating, not for negotiating. If you’re resentful or angry when discussing family finances, for instance, you don’t just want your partner to agree with you, you want him/her to feel stupid for not agreeing with you. Resentment and anger exist exclusively to devalue, reject, warn, threaten, intimidate or attack—in your head or in reality, behind his/her back or in his/her face. You may feel as if you are doing these things defensively, but you are nevertheless rejecting, warning, threatening, intimidating or attacking.
Anger and aggression are reactions to hurt. They also protect you against the possibility of hurt. To feel resentment, anger or an aggressive impulse, you have to be hurt or fear that you will be hurt. Thankfully, they go away abruptly when you feel a deeper emotion such as compassion, love, sorrow or grief.
Core hurts are vulnerabilities to the sense of self. They are the difference between feeling bad, sad, disappointed, lonely, anxious—and feeling bad about yourself. Vulnerabilities are higherarchial—the hurt gets worse as you go down this list. Our core hurts are: feeling (or suspecting that you might feel) disregarded, unimportant, accused, guilty, devalued, rejected, inadequate or unlovable. If anyone gets near these core hurts, s/he gets zapped with anger, resentment, blame, manipulation, control or withdrawal. And who gets closer to your vulnerabilities than you intimate partner?
Connecting your core hurts to resentment and anger is all too easy for us to do. Core hurts hurt. Anger and resentment are built in pain relievers and energizers. They temporarily and superficially numb pain and replenish energy. No core hurt, no resentment.
The only way to heal yourself and save your relationship is to connect your core hurts to your core value. Core value is present in all of us at birth. It is the drive to value others—to experience a sense of safety, security and emotional connection to others. Core value becomes the source of personal security, well-being, self esteem, competence and personal power. What we value in life grows out of our core values.
While you can never lose core value, you can lose touch with it. The impulse to criticize, control, devalue or harm your intimate partner tells you that your current state of core value is too low. To understand your core value, consider this question: “What is the most important thing about you as a person?” There are a lot of important things about you, but I want you to identify the most important.
I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.
Source: You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore by Steven Stosny (Free Press).