How To Work Through Resentment
By: Alan Tsang, MA, LPC, NCC
Have you ever been left thinking about why you were being treated a certain way? Or, have you thought about why this sense of anger is so strong from something seemingly so insignificant?
Let’s take an example of an individual being left by her significant other on a Chicago Red Line stop because of an argument. Diving deeper into this story gives context that this is the first time this has ever happened. In fact, this was one of their first disagreements. To be mistreated by one’s significant other, let alone in public, might distort one’s perception of the relationship with difficult emotions.
The anger and sadness in the example presented ideally would be there because of being left alone. When these emotions stay however, a deeper emotion known as resentment can manifest. Defined as a strong sense of anger commonly brought on by unfair treatment (“Resentment”, 2019), one can imagine the emotional turmoil experienced with this feeling.
Resentment can be a powerful experience. Enright (2017) suggested the philosophical perspective of resentment placed a focus on high morals and respect. While the psychological perspective focused on continued developments of anger, frustration, and compromise from the feeling of being continually wronged by others; whether through words, actions, or both (Enright, 2017; “Resentment”, 2019). Many have often connected feeling resentment to a being treated unjustly; which can lead to a desire to gain justice and level out the playing field (Enright, 2017; Ortland, 2012).
With the sense of injustice and the need to get even commonly associated, many have also wondered if their feelings of resentment were valid or deserved (Enright, 2017; Ortland, 2012; Stosny, 2019). Given that some of the common instigators for resentment focus on themes like conflict avoidance and expectations (Taibbi, 2019), it has been argued that experiencing resentment is valid (Stosny, 2019). Because of how you have been treated, it can be difficult to not feel a certain way based on personal expectations of the world. It has also been suggested that continued focus on resentment-based thoughts can lead to issues such as difficulty in relationships, depression, and anxiety (Stosny, 2019).
Referring back to our initial example of the partner being left on the train, the victim would be assumed to feel anger and resentment because of the experienced isolation and mistreatment. At the same time, the experience might also distort ideas about the relationship too; placing contradicting thoughts about the significant other because of the negative emotions experienced by both.
Because trust and intimacy have both been shattered as a result (Stosny, 2019) and expectations get muddled (Taibbi, 2019), it would be difficult to reconcile with what was. This is not to disregard acknowledgement of red flags in a relationship; but rather placing focus on how anger and resentment can alter the perspective of a situation and draw more people or experiences in than originally expected (Stosny, 2019).
The important thing to acknowledge is that resentment is a valid experience. Taibbi (2019) wrote that resentment can be a reminder that something is not wrong. Whether that something is focused on a personal or relational issue is important to make note of as either one can help you define what it is that is bothering you. Additionally, Enright (2017) has also suggested the act of forgiveness being a strong motivator for overcoming resentment and allowing for personal relief. The decision to forgive and show compassion, particularly if the resentment is focused on a relationship, would suggest to those involved that no one is perfect and that there is a sense of willingness to recognize the impact resentment has placed on them (“Resentment”, 2019).
Going back again to our example, what was the resentment telling the individual who was left behind? Was it focused on the experience with the relationship? Or was there a personal issue involved? We might not know right away, but addressing it, putting it on the table, can allow for power over it rather than the other way around. It can also provide opportunities to explore different ways of communicating and addressing certain issues.
If you are having experiences related to resentment, I would encourage you to reach out to us. No one person should have to hold onto these experiences, let alone let them encompass your everyday life.
Continuing to sweep resentment under the rug can lead to many detriments in both your physical and mental health; not to mention your relationships too (Stosny, 2019). Being able to hone in on what the underlying issue is can help you regain control over your resentments.
Our therapists can help you unpack your experiences so you can understand them. We can be reached via our contact form, or by our client referral line at 773.528.1777.
Enright, R. (2017). Why resentment lasts – and how to defeat it. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-forgiving-life/201703/why-resentment-lasts-and-how-defeat-it
Ortland, D. (2012). The psychology of resentment. The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-psychology-of-resentment/
Resentment. (2019). Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/resentment
Stosny, S. (2019). The resentful life. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201906/the-resentful-life
Taibbi, R. (2019). Anatomy of resentment: Why and how to manage it. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fixing-families/201910/anatomy-resentment-why-and-how-manage-it