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  • Writer's pictureDr. Taylor Phillips, Psy.D.

Five Signs You’re Harboring Resentment & What You Can Do About It

The term resentment gets thrown around in everyday language and while it is a common emotion many people experience at some point throughout their lives, I’ve found it helpful to unpack this emotion further with many of my clients when they mention it. To start with, resentment is a feeling of anger from being treated unfairly in some way, whether it be a slight injustice (e.g., a careless comment from a colleague) or serious mistreatment (e.g., societal, large-scale experiences of racism or religious persecution).

Resentment does not arise from any particular mental health condition and again, is a relatively common emotion, as most people have experienced some form of unfair treatment and become angry over it.

So is Resentment Basically Another Word for Anger?

Anger and resentment are closely related and while some people might write a whole article highlighting the subtle differences between the two, I feel there is one major difference that holds clinical utility for clients. Anger is a normal and natural reaction people experience in the present when life is not going the way one thinks it should; it’s a refusal to accept what is. It can also occur as a secondary emotion, or in reaction to feeling hurt, scared, or inadequate; however, the person feels too vulnerable experiencing such emotions and resorts to anger, instead.

Resentment, on the other hand, is a negative feeling towards someone or something that stems from the past. It’s about re-experiencing past wrongs and the associated feeling of anger; holding onto that anger and thinking about the event over and over again such that the past clouds your perception of the current.

Resentment often develops when a person does not adequately express their emotions following a painful experience. This might be because they felt too angry or ashamed to discuss their emotions at the time or perhaps a certain power differential made them feel they needed to just ignore it and move on.

Those who are codependent or non-confrontational may be especially prone to resenting others given their challenge in effectively communicating their emotions. The lesson here is that we can never fully suppress our feelings without expecting them to show up sooner or later, in one form or another. If a person’s anger towards a person or situation goes unchecked, a grudge develops over time, possibly leading to more severe feelings of hatred and a desire for revenge.

So What Are the Top Ways I Can Tell If I Am Holding onto Resentment?

While each person and situation are unique, here are some common signs of resentment:

  1. Passive aggressive comments or behaviors, including sarcastic remarks.

  2. Increased agitation towards the person that feels unexpected.

  3. Feeling like you want to escape the relationship or becoming emotionally withdrawn.

  4. Decreased intimacy if occurring within a romantic relationship.

  5. Frequently complaining to others about the person.

Some feelings of resentment are more fleeting and short-lived, particularly if a person realizes an event was misinterpreted in some way or they receive an apology. Other times, resentment can linger over time as the person continues to think about the event and experience the emotional distress associated with it. Holding onto resentment in this context can spread like a toxic gas, leading a person to start misinterpreting current events, in which they perceive themselves as a victim in every situation.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”- Nelson Mandela

So it Sounds Like Resentment is a Bad Thing and I Need to Stop Feeling This Way Quickly?

Like I tell all my clients, emotions are neither good nor bad. Oftentimes, they develop for a reason and are alerting us to something we need to pay attention to. It is when we ignore them or try to push them away that they become stronger and disguise themselves to find an alternative route in.

I recently had a client ask if resentment can be a good thing and besides providing my spiel about approaching emotions in a more neutral manner (i.e., neither good nor bad) with curiosity, I was left to think about this further after our session concluded. By definition, resentment is a form of anger or upset in response to a perceived injustice so resentment can be a way of identifying maltreatment that you may have skipped over for whatever reason. As such, resentment can be an advocate for safety, self-worth, and emotional healing if processed appropriately, as well as relationship repair.

How to Work Through Feeling of Resentment

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to processing feelings of resentment and a treatment approach should only be developed after a qualified clinician obtains necessary background information. However, such work often targets the following areas:

  • Identify and explore the context of the resentment.

    • Who is it in relation to?

    • What was the event (or events) that sparked feelings of anger?

    • What made it difficult to express your anger at that moment? Is this a recurring pattern for you?

    • Is it possible you had a role in the feeling of resentment? Sometimes resentment stems from how you perceive a situation and time is needed to examine that situation from multiple angles.

  • Consider why letting go is difficult.

    • Letting go can trigger fears of losing one’s identity if the resentment has been held for a long time. The feeling becomes so familiar and provides a sense of security. Who would you be or what would your life look like if it was not dominated by feelings of resentment?

  • Explore empathy.

    • Try seeing a situation from another perspective when the event that caused the resentment was based on a misunderstanding or the person does not feel they did anything wrong.

  • Practice gratitude.

    • Focusing on the ways in which you are fortunate can help with feelings of resentment, which often thrive on a self-victimization mentality.

  • Address issues as they occur.

    • Learn effective communication skills, the art of compromise, and how to decide if it is best to move on from a potentially toxic relationship.

If you feel you are experiencing difficulty managing feelings of resentment and would like to learn ways of processing such feelings so they have less of an impact on your emotional health and relationships, contact us at 954-391-5305 to schedule a session with Dr. Taylor Phillips.

Dr. Taylor Phillips is a Licensed Psychologist located at our beautiful Coral Springs office who also provides online therapy across the state of Florida.

Give us a call today to schedule your complimentary consultation to see how Dr. Phillips can help you experience more fulfilling relationships!


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