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January 17, 2016 10:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I settle feelings of resentment towards someone I can't just boot out of my life?

I'm in a temporary roommate situation that is somewhat outside my control, with someone I really don't get along with. I don't so much need help along the lines of "move out!" or "evict them!" or the like, but how to put up with this individual for a few months without murdering her.

My problem right now isn't particular grievances and how to solve them. For most of the issues, it's beyond solving, or the solution is that she's moving out in a few months. What I want in the meantime is how to swallow my resentment and live with her day to day. My general dislike of her/disapproval of some things that she's done has led me to catastrophize her all out of proportion, to the point that I now think really mean and unfair thoughts about her all the time. I really want to chill out about some of this stuff, or at least not let it get to the point where I lash out at her.

Example -

A thing she actually did wrong: She doesn't pay rent or bills on time.

A thing I think terrible thoughts about: She's a bad mother because she lets her kid (who does not live with us full-time) watch TV, eat junk food, make messes, and act like a gigantic brat all day.

I know it's not fair for me to judge her about the latter thing, not my problem to solve, not ever going to change in the few months she's living here, and has no bearing on the actual problems in our living situation. So how do I tamp down the judgmental thoughts and resentment that have grown up around the very real problems in our living situation? Are there exercises or meditations for this sort of thing? Things to remind myself every time I fly into a rage about something she can't control and I shouldn't judge? Healthy ways to let out these feelings without making my living situation worse? I would also like to use these same coping mechanisms for similar situations elsewhere in my life, like a family member or coworker I don't get along with. (I've noticed that I tend to resent and pile on when I don't like someone in general.)
posted by Sara C. to Human Relations (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." As you know, resenting other people you can't change ( which is pretty much all of them) is a waste of time and often a distraction, for some of us, from taking care of ourselves in other ways. I say the serenity prayer a lot when I'm obsessing over someone else's behavior, and try to pull my attention back to my own problems and how I can put that energy into making life better for myself. Also, jumping jacks or other physical activity in a short burst sometimes helps. Also walks, upbeat playlists, funny videos and reminding myself that it won't matter in a year so why stress over it now?
posted by Bella Donna at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

For the things that she actually does wrong - that's worth getting upset about.
For the things that you think about her: Maybe she is dealing with all sorts of stuff that you don't know about. You being angry at her doesn't make her life any easier. You spending your precious energy on her doesn't make any difference and just drags you down.
posted by k8t at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try some of these tactics for helping you deal with a bitch eating crackers situation.
posted by asperity at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I used to have loud public arguments with coworkers who were less competent than me but really arrogant about it, a combination I hate. This made everyone else think I was hilarious and righteous, but made me feel out of control and mean, and aware that no one gets to the C suite acting that way.

I started using a verbal trick when working with people like this - I'd use words that were outside my regular vocabulary when talking to people like this - think "zounds" or "what a canard" or something, all while maintaining an even, friendly tone. It was like a verbal reminder to myself that I was frustrated or annoyed, but didn't let on to the other person. Just being able to express out loud to myself that I was in a frustrating situation with someone I didn't like was enough, I didn't need to extend that frustration to other people, including the source of the frustration. Also, it helped break the cycle of negative thoughts in my head.

Also, set a timer, hate on this situation for 15 minutes, then go do something else, ideally something not on a computer screen that involves a lot of steps, like folding and putting away laundry.

I have gotten amazing things like "unflappable" and "calm in any situation" on performance reviews since implementing strategies like this by the way.
posted by sweetkid at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2016 [33 favorites]

I have the same problem. I've managed to improve some by thinking "everyone's doing their best" and "everyone has their own wheelbarrow of shit to push around." That roommate of yours - would you want to switch places with her? And be someone who's not good at parenting, who's overwhelmed by it and by her own kid? No, right? Her wheelbarrow is her own, be glad it's not yours, and remember she's not trying to make you miserable.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:51 AM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: When my brain starts down an unproductive rabbit hole, I have found that it helps to say something like, "I've got a choice. I can keep thinking this and it's going to make me feel terrible and isn't going to improve my life. Or I can just stop and think about something else." Sometimes I do decide to keep thinking whatever is going to make me feel terrible ("I'm going to die alone under a bridge, cold and wet, but probably not cold because of climate change but probably wet because of rising sea levels but then all the bridges will be under water so I won't even have a bridge to die under...") but usually I'm able to stop the thoughts and go on to something else. Sometimes I have to revisit the decision a few times before I've distracted myself enough to move on.

So maybe just give yourself the choice to pick something else to think about?
posted by mcduff at 10:56 AM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've often found that when I'm incredibly irritated by a person for things like this that I often identify closely with whatever it is that bothers me. For example, I have co-dependent tendencies. I have worked hard to not have them and I'm no longer a codependent person. But in the last few months of a friendship with someone who really had (probably still has) a codependency problem, when I was finally recognizing my own problem with codependency, man, I hated her. And everything she did was grating and annoying even if it had no effect on me or my life.

So: what is it about your roommate that is bothering you? Does that have any potential to teach you anything about yourself? Maybe not, but it can't hurt to think on it.

Also, take care, and a good mantra for me was "it's almost over."
posted by sockermom at 11:18 AM on January 17, 2016

To bring some levity to the situation, let's see what Bill Murray has to say about this.

"It just doesn't matter!"
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:24 AM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

I remind myself that no matter how angry I get, there is nothing I can do about this situation. I don't have the power to get the person to listen to me or change, and I can't leave, so I just have to put up with it. Right now, putting up with her is the price you are paying to have a home. Getting angry makes you feel like you can DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, and you're not always in a position to do something about it--or you could, but screaming at her isn't going to make anything better, so I try to resign myself to things, and try not to get angry if possible because the anger isn't going to solve this, it only makes it worse.
I do a lot of phony smiling.
I remind myself to not be a dick just because someone else is doing it.
I'd try not to be home much if I were you.

And unfortunately, you may need to start looking into ways to compensate for her not paying anything on time, if that's possible. At the very least, count on her being late (if she pays at all) and rearrange your life to cope with that if you can. I know it sucks to pay all of the rent and bills and then who the hell knows if she's doing it, plus maybe you can't afford to, but...again, I don't think you sound like you're in a position to be able to do anything about her doing that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:45 AM on January 17, 2016

Best answer: Here are some things I did when I was in a similar "I unreasonably judge and dislike my housemate" situation:

1. As for meditation-like exercises in the moment, I tell myself "This is water" (in reference to David Foster Wallace's speech) to remind me of the part about choosing to think with compassion rather than self-centeredness. I still re-read the speech every once in a while: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf

2. Speak my frustrations out loud to someone who is totally outside the situation. Just saying it helps me hear how unfair I'm being. It also calms me down for future annoyances because I've gotten it out of my system. Find someone who will listen and be on your side, but won't join in and reinforce your unfair judging.

3. Imagine the single problem that's in front of me, but with someone I like causing the problem instead of this person. This is to help prevent the mental "piling on" and to keep me at least acting kind outwardly even if I'm still seething inwardly. Obviously, paying the rent late is bad even from a good friend, but I wouldn't assume they are a bad person, so how would I deal with it? What would I say to them and how?
posted by alligatorpear at 11:56 AM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I promise you her inner life is a shitstorm of fear and anxiety and pain.

Practice kindness. It's only for a few months :))
posted by jbenben at 12:12 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have this thing I tell myself, when I am dealing with a really unpleasant person or situation, and it's going to take some time before it's over: this will eventually be the past. And then, some time after that, it'll be the distant past. It's going to end. I'm not going to be dealing with this shit forever. Really, this is just the part before it becomes the past. It will only exist in my memory, and I can then choose to not think about it, or make a joke of it, or whatever. But it WILL end.

It sounds kind of stupid, but it really has worked for me. In your case, she'll be gone in a few months. And then she'll be in your past! And you can forget about her, or snark about her with your friends, or whatever, but in a few months, she's history for you, and you have that to look forward to, in just a few more months.
posted by skybluepink at 12:28 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I find it helpful to make a list of actual options and make a real choice about the matter. If that real choice is "put up with it", I find it easier to make my peace with that if I have genuinely considered my options and decided this crappy situation is the least worst choice.

So, brain storm:

1) You could flip your lid and move the fuck out TODAY. That likely has seriously painful costs that make putting up with stuff that routinely inspires you to give the middle of her back a death glare look laughably minor.
2) You could attempt to promptly evict her. Presumably, that also is more pain than waiting it out.
3) You could murder her. Yeah, jail time and so on. Not worth it.

It is possible that brainstorming will get you some actually helpful ideas that do not involve just putting up with it. It is not unusual that if I brainstorm with folks I can trust, there actually are other options that can help me improve the situation. But even if I can do nothing choose to do nothing, I have made an actual choice and I feel more in control of the situation. Knowing that, yeah, I could flip my lid and do something outrageous but I honestly do not want to pay the price of handling it that way just feels way better to me than framing it as "I have no choice." I have a choice. I just find this annoying choice less aggravating than, like, jail time or whatever.
posted by Michele in California at 12:59 PM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I've had a frustrating situation in my home, it's helped me to do more stuff away from home - if I'm not around seeing/experience the frustrating behavior, I can't be frustrated by it.

Maybe dinner/coffee with friends, museum trips, volunteering, knitting circle - fun stuff, definitely not stuff that will cause you to think "Argh, if it wasn't for frustrating roommate I wouldn't have to do this!"
posted by bunderful at 1:16 PM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have some of the same tendencies you do, and about 10 years ago I was interested to learn from this Carol Tavris book that apparently all our metaphors about anger (about "bottling it up," "venting," "blowing off steam") are inapt --- that expressing anger, or talking about it, actually amplifies it rather than the reverse. Since you can't change your situation but just need to get through it, that suggests that you're right that your solution lies in distracting or calming yourself.

I try to do that by cultivating empathy. I am not naturally super-compassionate, but I've found that 'fake it until you make it' actually works pretty well, and I've developed a list of things I can use to flip myself into empathy/perspective mode. One is the DFW water essay linked above, for sure. I also like the Vonnegut goddamnit babies, you've got to be kind quote from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, just about anything from Annie Lamott, and Louis CK's line about only looking in your neighbour's bowl to see if they have enough.

I tend to experience unambiguous positivity as saccharine, and so it helps me that those people all also have a caustic/funny/dark side :)
posted by Susan PG at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.

Just mentally framing her as "bitch eating crackers"/recognizing that this internet meme that I've seen before is EXACTLY what's going on with me is a huge help. When these thoughts come up, I can remind myself "ugh this is a bitch eating crackers situation," and then hopefully re-channel my thoughts.

I also love the advice to think about the situation as if it were being caused by someone I really like. Because it's axiomatic that she's an awful person (some real bad, potentially criminal, shit has gone down that does not in any way deserve even the level of generosity I have already extended), it can be easy for me to get into bitch-eating-crackers headspace. Thinking, "But what if my favorite person let their kid act like that/didn't know how to do dishes properly/let the cat out/didn't pay the cable bill/whatever" might help me divorce the everyday annoyances from the larger problems that are actually my business but which will all be solved when I don't have to live with her anymore.

Brainstorming is also a fantastic solution, because it allows me to do something with my anger even if I know that none of the ideas I'm going to brainstorm need to lead anywhere in particular. It's just way better than spinning my wheels on "thatbitchthatbitchthatbitch" constantly.
posted by Sara C. at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Whenever I find myself getting irrationally mad at someone, I visualize myself spraying them down with a water hose. It expels at least some of my dumb anger and is a little goofy so it puts a smile on my face as well.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:49 AM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mother told me when I was very young something that has stayed with me forever:
"Everyone is trying their best with what they have"
That can mean: with their upbringing, with their education level, with their resources. etc. No one wants to have a child run wild and acting bratty. No one wants other people to resent them for being late with the rent...

...so by keeping that in mind: they are just doing the best with what they have... it's just easier to be compassionate. If given your resources, upbringing, intellect etc.: they might be more like you!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:36 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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