Pick Your Poison: Guilt or Resentment

Martha and Harvey, Taylor’s parents, asked to stay at Taylor's apartment for the weekend. Taylor did not want their* parents to stay with them. They desperately needed downtime to relax and be alone after a hard week at work. Their parents had the financial means to stay at a hotel.


Clara‘s boss asked her to work late on Tuesdays. Clara did not want to quit night school to accommodate the request.

Fred wanted his wife Sarah to wear high heels when they went out because he found them sexy. Sarah loved and wanted to please him, but found them too uncomfortable to bear.


Bret’s neighbor asked him to walk his dog for a weekend when he had to be out of town. Bret was experiencing an episode of depression which made commitments difficult.


Situations that require us to choose between what we want and what others want are part of life. Nevertheless, these conflicts put us in challenging positions that increase anxiety. We must decide if we should "suck it up" and do the right thing for someone else, or give ourselves permission to choose what feels right for us.


Is there anything that can help navigate this conflict? Acknowledging and working with guilt and resentment helps bring some clarity to our conflicts.


If we decide in favor of ourselves, we must contend with guilt. And because guilt is so painful, it is tempting to avoid that feeling and agree to things we don't want or aren't able to do without suffering a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing.


But agreeing to do something we fundamentally don’t want to do breeds resentment.


Choosing between guilt and resentment is a tough choice.


“Pick your poison,” I tell my patients. “Whatever you choose, you’ll have to contend with some emotion. The choice between guilt and resentment is a tough one. But since we can't avoid experiencing one of them, let's at least think through what is best for you and your relationship in this particular situation.”


Of course, sometimes we can do things we don’t want to do without resentment. We are happy to help or we feel virtuous that we have the capacity to do things for the people we love.


Similarly, sometimes we can take care of ourselves without guilt rearing its torturous head. We believe we deserve to take care of ourselves and we trust that others we occasionally forsake will understand and still love us. We trust others can tolerate disappointments without retaliating or withdrawing from the relationship we have with them.


But for most of us the “guilt versus resentment choice” will rear its difficult head. When those times arise, here are some tips that might help.

Considering Guilt Versus Resentment