Resentment is often defined as anger and indignation experienced as a result of unfair treatment, and it’s a relatively common emotion.
Those who experience resentment may have feelings of annoyance and shame—they might also harbor a desire for revenge. A person may become resentful as a result of a slight injustice or a grave one, perhaps harboring the same bitterness and anger over a small matter as they would over a more serious issue.
What Is Resentment?
Feelings of resentment are not linked to any particular mental condition but may instead result from the inadequate expression of emotions after a painful experience. They may come from a true, imagined, or misunderstood injustice. A careless comment made by a friend could facilitate indignation and grudging feelings, as could criticism from a boss. Resentment can also be broad and applied to large groups of people, often with drastic consequences; for example, racism and religious persecution often develop from deep-seated resentment.
A person experiencing resentment may feel personally victimized but may be too angry or ashamed to discuss the resulting emotions, instead allowing the grudge to fester and be expressed in the form of anger.
Signs of Resentment
Resentment can appear in many different forms. Some signs you may be harboring resentment include:
- Continual or recurring feelings of a strong emotion, such as anger, when thinking about a specific interaction or experience
- Inability to stop thinking about the event that triggered the strong emotions
- Feelings of regret
- Fear or avoidance of conflict
- Tense relationships
- Feeling invisible, inadequate, or less-than
Though resentment can be fleeting, dissipating when someone realizes an event was misinterpreted or receives an apology from the person who committed the offense, it can also be a persistent emotion. An individual may hold on to negative feelings, revisiting the distressing event again and again and becoming unable to let go of anger or a desire for revenge. In this instance, resentment may come to affect an individual’s mental health.
Resentment and Mental Health
Because resentment is a common emotion, most people will experience a general feeling of anger or annoyance over unfair treatment at some point in life. But problems can arise when a person is unable to forgive—persistent resentment might stem from a serious matter. For example, a person might, understandably, resent a parent after years of abuse and become unable to look past any injustice. However, when a person begins to feel like the victim in every negative situation, they may develop an altered perception of reality and find it difficult to see any positive outcomes.
Developing an ability to move on or forgive is considered an important aspect in overcoming resentment, as is acknowledging the feelings underneath the resentment and facing them one at a time. Resentment can intoxicate a person, as feelings of anger and rage lend a false sense of power and do not always encourage a healthy form of expression. But this intoxication can become dangerous, as any intoxication can, when feelings of resentment grow unchecked and turn into hatred.
Resentment in Relationships
It’s not uncommon for resentment to build up in intimate relationships, especially long-term ones. Some common causes of resentment in relationships include:
- Keeping score. If one person in the relationship feels they are constantly doing all of the heavy lifting in the relationship—housework, childcare, being the primary breadwinner, or initiating emotional connection and intimacy, to name a few examples—they may begin feeling resentment towards their partner.
- Unbalanced power dynamics. If one partner in a relationship feels constantly overpowered, steamrolled over, or unheard, they may begin to harbor resentment.
- Health or medical issues. When one person in a relationship is diagnosed with a chronic mental or medical health issue, this may mean their partner will begin to take on the additional role of caregiver. Over time, being a partner’s caregiver can cause some to feel resentful, especially if their own needs are not being met.
- Hurtful words. The longer a couple spends time together, the more likely one of them may be to say something that’s perceived as hurtful to the other. Couples who don’t communicate openly when they feel hurt by their partner may have higher chances of feeling resentful.
If left to bubble under the surface, resentment can end relationships. Those who feel resentful towards their partner may find that talking about what’s bothering them, no matter how minor or petty the issue may seem, can reduce the resentment they feel and even deepen their connection.
Couples who find themselves unable to let go of resentment may learn how to communicate about their feelings in couples counseling.
How to Let Go of Resentment
In many cases, letting go of resentment means forgiving. Some individuals find that making peace with something that happened and moving on works better for them. Regardless of how someone chooses to get rid of resentment, it most likely means adjusting one’s frame of mind or emotional responses.
To let go of resentment, it may help to:
- Consider why letting go is difficult. What feelings come up when you consider moving on from the resentment? Letting go of resentment can trigger fears of losing one’s identity, especially when the resentment has been held in for a long time.
- Use self-compassion. Sometimes those who hold on to resentment for long periods of time find that the emotions associated with the resentment, such as anger or regret, also provide a sense of security or familiarity. Self-compassion may allow these individuals to recognize that while this coping mechanism may make them feel better the short-term, it will wear them down over time.
- Explore empathy. When the person or action that caused resentment was based around a misunderstanding, or the person who did something hurtful does not understand what they’ve done, trying to see things from their perspective may help reduce resentment.
- Cultivate gratitude. When feelings of resentment start to bubble up, try listing things you’re grateful for. Focusing on ways in which you are privileged or fortunate can make it more difficult for feelings of resentment, which often thrive on self-victimization, to take root.
If neglected, resentment may become overpowering and even toxic to the person who harbors it. In these cases, talking to a therapist can help individuals explore the issue that caused the resentment, what is making it difficult to let go of, and coping strategies that help people reduce their resentment.
Therapy for Resentment
Those who find it difficult to forgive others for any wrong, no matter how slight, may find some benefit in therapy. Those who wish to understand the reasons for their resentment of a particular individual or situation might wish to revisit the event, alone or with the help of a therapist. Because the source of a person’s resentment can differ, there is no one type of therapy used to treat these feelings.
Methods of personal actualization have been shown to be effective therapeutic techniques for treating resentment. Individuals who have self-actualized tend to accurately perceive reality, experience empathy and compassion for others, and are typically able to accept the self and others easily. Therefore, these individuals may be less likely to blame others for wrongs or hold on to resentful feelings.
- MacNeil, G., Kosberg, J. I., Durkin, D. W., Dooley, K., DeCoster, J., & Williamson, G. M. (2010). Caregiver mental health and potentially harmful caregiving behavior: The central role of caregiver anger. The Gerontologist, 50(1), 76-86. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnp099
- Sander, D. (n.d.). How to deal with feelings of resentment. Retrieved from http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/deal-feelings-resentment-14316.html
- Schwartz, A. (2012, May 21). Understanding resentment. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=47219
- Thorpe, J. R. (2016, May 24). 4 Psychological signs you resent your partner. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/162463-4-psychological-signs-you-resent-your-partner
Last Updated: 03-5-2019
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ANDRE FMarch 1st, 2017 at 1:39 PM
I have a question: Is there medication for resentment?
BrianFebruary 5th, 2018 at 8:55 PM
Is there any known therapy for dealing with resentment stemming from an event of altered reality? My friend suffered what would be considered a sychophrenic break that altered her perception of 4-5 days while on a trip away from home with people that we normally don’t associate with. I am now 4 months into facing resentment from her for perceived unimaginable violations that did not, nor could not have occurred with no prospective answer for how to deal with the negative impact it is having on our relationship, her distrust of me, and possible punishments from her that are cloaked and hidden in her subconscious.
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