Resentment is often described as anger stemming from something “unfair”. With resentment often come other emotions such as annoyance or shame. Holding onto that resentment and pushing it down over a long period of time is what some mental health professionals refer to as bitterness. And they believe it to be one of the most toxic and destructive of human emotions. Holding onto feelings of prolonged hostility is bad for not just our mental but also physical and spiritual health. Friedrich Nietzsche once noted, “nothing consumes a man more quickly than the emotion of resentment.” So, it should be no surprise that a number of mental disorders stem from these emotions of anger, resentment, hostility, and bitterness.
But What is Resentment Really?
Now, feelings of resentment are not linked to any particular mental conditions. However, they may actually result from the inadequate expression of emotion after a painful (unjust) experience. This could range from anything like constructive criticism from your boss or a misinterpreted comment made by a friend. Resentment can also be applied to large groups of people – examples like racism and religious persecution come to mind.
Most importantly, a person experiencing resentment may feel personally victimized and insecure about something. However, they may be too angry or ashamed to discuss the resulting emotions. Instead of communicating effectively, they instead allow the grudge to fester and be expressed in the form of anger.
Signs of Resentment
Resentment, bitterness, and hostility come in many different varieties. Here are some signs that could help you identify if you are:
- Recurring feelings of strong emotion (i.e. 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
The tricky thing about resentment is that it can be fleeting. Unless you are paying attention, you may not realize it is happening. It is important to let go of these negative feelings and quit revisiting the trigger event. This kind of spiral can truly affect a person’s mental health.
Signs of Resentment in Relationships and Friendships
Close relationships can sometimes foster resentment. There are a number of reasons it could be growing, but some instances include:
- Competitive Nature and Keeping Score: If one person feels they are doing more work in the relationship – housework, child/pet care, primary earner, etc.
- Unbalanced Power Dynamic: If one partner feels insignificant in the relationship – overpowered, unheard, steamrolled, etc.
- Health or Medical Issue: If one partner is diagnosed with a chronic medical or mental issue, the other partner is forced to take on the role of caregiver, which can lead to resentment if the caregiver feels as though their own needs are not met.
- Hurtful Words: The longer a relationship or the more you spend time together, the more opportunity for something to be misunderstood as hurtful. Without effective communication skills, resentment is sure to follow as the victimized partner holds onto those negative emotions.
Link to Mental Health
Now, there are times when these emotions are called for and can be experienced in healthy ways. It is normal to get annoyed and irritated and frustrated. But problems arise when we cannot get past these events. Learning to forgive and let go is crucial to keeping a positive mental state. Do your best to acknowledge the emotions underneath the resentment. And do your best to face them one at a time. For some, the feelings equate to an intoxicating high of a false sense of power. And even if they feel “good”, when left unchecked, can grow to feelings of hatred.
Letting Go of Resentment
As we mentioned, one way of letting go of resentment is learning to forgive. This can be more of conceptual thought of making peace and moving on. For others, it involves an actual conversation with the person they have resentful feelings towards. It may also help to:
- Consider Why It’s Difficult: What feelings come up when you consider moving on? Letting go can sometimes trigger fears of losing your identity. Or could make you see things in a completely new light that change your relationship with yourself or others.
- Self-Compassion is Key: Sometimes chronic resentment and the emotions involved can provide a sense of security. Self-compassion may allow these individuals to recognize that while this coping mechanism may make them feel better short-term, it will wear them down over time.
- Explore Empathy: Learn to consider the experiences of others. Sometimes, a person or action that caused resentment was based around a misunderstanding. Or a person may not realize they are doing something hurtful and do not understand what they’ve done. Trying to see things from their perspective may help reduce resentment.
- Practice 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.
Let Us Help You!
Resentment can be hard to deal with on your own. But with a little guidance and help, you can learn to let go of all the things weighing you down. Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson Township. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you learn DBT skills to fight depression and anxiety!
Amber Kottner – LPC
Amber Kottner is a Licensed Professional Counselor and earned my Master of Arts degree in counseling from Waynesburg University. She has over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. She enjoys working with families, children, and adults. Amber strives to make the therapeutic process as easy as possible by creating an open and supportive environment.
Amber enjoys helping others and strives to assist you in your journey. She believes that each individual is authentic and deserves an approach that best fits them. Therefore, she enjoys working from eclectic approaches, including an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral techniques, person-centered therapy, and solution-focused goals.
Therapy is a special partnership. Amber is here to help make an improvement in your life. You decide what you want to work on, and together, we will work to get you there in the best and most fitting way possible.