Resentment is a bitter emotion that people feel towards someone who’s perceived to have committed an offence and got away with it.
The damage that resentment can create to people’s lives is usually underestimated. When used to drive a wedge between relationships, resentment can be a divisive tool that third parties play on to manipulate those who feel resentful. Resentment is also highly associated with envy, stress and depressive thoughts. People entrap themselves with resentment without knowing the seriously damaging affects that occur.
Perceptions create emotions. If the perceptions are accurate or inaccurate representations of reality is beside the point. If people believe a perception, they feel the associated emotion.1
Perceptions of deliberate and malicious injustice are proven to cause anger.2 Resentment is anger regarding a past offence where the resented person is perceived to have got away with the offence. A method for reducing both anger and resentment is to reconsider whether people deliberately caused offence.3 If after reconsidering their position a decision is made that there was no deliberate will to offend, a situation that could have led to great negativity could be defused as the anger subsides.
Unlike anger that can be a pre-emptive strike to prevent a possible offence from happening, resentment is always a reaction to a perceived offence that has already occurred. This includes injury to pride. If people are taken advantage of or not credited for the things that they’ve done, they will be in prime resentment territory. This perception of injustice can make the resentment difficult to let go of, for it leaves people stuck in a negative experience because it somehow feels “just and right” to continue, and a betrayal of themselves to quit.
This can lead to a cascade of complex negative emotions being experienced, yet they can be unexpressed as they simmer below an apparently calm exterior. The situation gets more complicated when the perceived mistreatment originates from people who are intimately trusted. The feelings of resentment are intensified and mingled with a sense of treachery. The already difficult situation is amplified with deeply unjust feelings that are far more difficult to shake. People commonly feel intensely resentful towards someone who is significant to them, perceiving a friend as a traitor where others would receive only moderate resentment.
Negative emotions cause thinking to become slow and ruminate on the subject of displeasure.4 This is an evolutionary strategy to aid problem solving automatically, yet it’s not best suited to resentment. When people think around a specific emotion, they have a tendency to bring to mind memories with similar emotional content for comparison purposes (a process termed mood-congruence).5 If people have trouble dispelling similar, yet unrelated, thoughts from their mind, it can seriously increase their negativity. In turn this makes them ruminate on those thoughts more. Ever deepening spirals of ruminating are possible. The resentfulness causes a powerful bias towards negative thought cycles that people can feel helpless to control.6
The more intensely people feel resentment the more helpless they will be to break out of the negative thought cycles. This happens for one major reason. Emotions progressively assume control over behaviour the higher their intensity becomes.7 Interacting with psychological processing, this automatic control of behaviour is on a neuro-biological level, and if continuous, it results in serious stresses being placed on an array of bodily systems.8
The biological effects associated with loss, failure, anger, betrayal, fear, contempt, disgust, jealousy, envy, and more, are often entwined with resentment. Many other emotions can be indirectly fuelled by resentment. Emotions can intermingle into one experience which has resentment at its core. The cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones associated with each emotion, along with the physiological states they induce, can be disguised by the resentment that binds them together. Stress can accumulate, and it’s not simply a psychological outlook, but a biologically depressive experience that reduces people’s ability to function across the emotional, psychological and biological spectrum, encompassing the immune system too.9
Perceptions from the frontal lobes are relayed to the amygdala, limbic system, hypothalamus and brainstem. These brain regions have control of many of the autonomic nervous system’s functions. As the metabolism (chemical processes that support life) begins to adjust breathing, blood pressure and hormones to best suit the perceived situation, changes begin to alter inner organ functioning.10 If a defensive disposition (anger or fear related) is called for, people’s inner constitutions change accordingly: increased heart rate; increased lung capacity; suppressed digestion; suppressed kidney functioning; muscle firming; natural (endogenous) painkiller release. A different variation of these changes is used for defeat, and yet another for anxiety. If these changes are prolonged, they seriously disturb metabolic efforts to support life and suppression of the immune system begins.11
The perceptions that cause these autonomic changes do not have to be accurate or appropriate to a situation. Perceptions only have to be believed for their associated emotions to be felt. The more intensely perceptions are believed, the more rapidly neuro-biological responses begin. Urgent perceptions assume control of bodily resources. When these responses are short and appropriate to a situation, the body responds for the necessitated duration then it returns to normal healthy low-stressed functioning. This “maintaining balance through change” is referred to as allostasis, and it’s completely normal.
Nevertheless, if these system stresses are prolonged, the systems involved are put under a heightened risk of complication. Other systems whose duties have been neglected are also put at risk. As such loads accumulate over decades, people are especially prone to serious health complications due to accumulated system stresses (see Stress).12 This is referred to as allostatic-load.
Physical exercise can aid metabolic activity (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, lowering glucose levels), and in effect refreshes many body systems, so physical health is seen as a serious factor in preventing allostatic-load from accumulating.13
Resentment is created when people perceive they are treated unfairly and the mistreatment has gone unpunished. Often because they do not express their anger or feel they cannot express their anger. The perception of unpunished, unfair treatment creates a slow burning anger that often becomes expressed in an indirect, passive-aggressive manner. Feeling resentment towards someone continuously, especially when unexpressed, may lead to suppressed feelings of hatred manifesting over time.
Resentment is highly associated with envy. When these two emotions are coupled together, and acted upon, the situations that result can create many other detrimental emotions. Malicious actions are often motivated by resentment. People use the resentment as justification for actions they would not normally condone. Detrimental emotions motivate detrimental behaviours which create detrimental scenarios for the resented person, but also the resentful person and everyone else caught in between. The resentful can attack someone, use humiliation, or try to mar reputations by inciting outside parties to resent the individual too. This sort of malicious envy is often motivated by resentment.
The resentful and the envious are vulnerable to being used by, or using, one another. Envy’s temptation flirts with a resentful attitude. The resentful have abnormally low defences to oppose envy, for if the envious seek to deprive the same person of a possession, a dark attraction implicitly dances before them.
Resentful people can find themselves condoning, encouraging, and even performing actions that aid another’s envious intentions. Both have a vested interest. One’s vengeance is satisfied while the other gains a possession. They are both unopposed to malice being inflicted on the same individual or people. Relationships form between resentful and envious people because they share a destructive goal (see also Envy).
The resentment can be false though. When people have a resentful nature, they often vent their angry feelings onto others to relieve their underlying negative mood. Studies show that people release accumulated anger onto easy targets that are perceived to deserve resentment in some way.14 For example, if people perceived that unidentified person A evaded punishment for an offence, the next time they perceive unrelated person B committing an offence they are more likely to sanction elevated levels of punishment. Just as if person B were responsible for person A’s past crime. People have a tendency of backdating punishment for earlier evasions of justice. This rough justice is largely done unconsciously, and it’s more of a venting procedure than an act of integrity. People have a tendency to carryover resentment and release it onto the next person they have a chance of punishing – a sort of transference.
For example, unemployed people who receive benefit are easy targets who are vulnerable to being attacked in this way. They can receive the resentment that people are too afraid to direct at their boss. Many people with resentful attitudes do not express their anger toward their superiors, so instead they wait to find someone who they believe cannot retaliate, and someone who is perceived as lower in hierarchy is perfect for their venting of resentment. This abusive redirection of negativity is aimed at someone who is perceived to be offensive (typically in some minor way). This makes it harder for onlookers to see the negativity as abusive manipulation. Besides, the onlookers may do the same, or even join forces to create a venting mob of resentment, all looking sheepishly back at their boss, but not knowing why. People can even believe they are acting with righteous indignation. The truth is that even when the victim is offensive, the amount of resentment imposed on them is vastly out of proportion; it’s a carryover of resentment.
The mass of negativity can seriously affect people’s mood and lead to denial of detrimental emotions, behaviours and situations that have ultimately been created by the resentment. People don’t want to take responsibility for the destructive situations that have been created by their misdirected resentment. People do not want to feel like the guilty one. It feels unfair to view one’s self as guilty when feeling resentment. Also, people fear becoming the target of the sort of resentment they are treating others with. This means that the resentful feelings may be protected by the defence-mechanism of denial (see Ignorance).
Nevertheless, denial is certainly not the only side-effect when resentful thoughts are being harboured. Irritable and touchy feelings regularly arise when a resented person is in the vicinity. This is a hallmark reaction of resentment. Anger arises when the person, who is the focus of resentment, is recognised positively by other people or even animals. Yet the anger and envy, fuelled by resentment, motivate actions unknowingly because people have ignored the negative emotions that stem from their resentment. This is referred to as acting-out.
If people disown or deny the emotions they feel, the emotions are still being created. The denial only pushes the emotions out of conscious awareness. Unexpressed anger of any sort will cause people to act in destructive passive-aggressive ways. When people cannot consciously accept the emotions they feel, it complicates everything. Not only do they act-out the feelings unknowingly, but if they realise that their behaviour is part of the problem and wish to address their passive-aggressive offences, they cannot recognise the emotions that are motivating the offending behaviours.
Frustratingly for everyone else, others cannot discuss the feelings directly either. When another mentions that their actions seem to be passive-aggressive, contain anger, envy or resentment, they do not know what the other is talking about. They may even take further offence at the seemingly unprovoked accusation and slur on their character, creating more resentment they cannot recognise.
If people are emotionally illiterate, a similar situation is created. Just as when people are in denial, they cannot recognise the emotions to which others refer. Much worse is when people are both afraid to feel emotions and emotionally illiterate. This creates defence-mechanisms that are frustratingly difficult to address, even for professionals.
One of the most serious effects of resentment on health regards the underlying feelings that can accumulate. Very significant changes in mood can occur. A pervasive negative outlook can stimulate depressive neurotransmitters and hormones. The result is serious episodes of depression that can go unnoticed and denied for long periods of time. The troubling aspect is that resentment is more common in people who hide their feelings. Not expressing feelings can be extremely self-defeating in these scenarios. In serious cases it can lead to pathological passive-aggressiveness.15
For example, when people do not express their concerns it creates a situation where they could be feeling unhappy and angry towards someone, yet faking happiness or disinterested contentment. This situation itself could be a path to depression and passive-aggression while others have no idea. If inexpression is also coupled with denial of personal feelings (not just hiding them), it sets in place attitudes that are extremely conducive to orientating people towards a state of depression and passive-aggression. The astonishingly detrimental thing is that nobody knows it’s happening, not even the people to which it’s happening. If the anger was expressed overtly, it would aid others who care to recognise that there’s something wrong – before mood has become too affected.
Another aspect to a developed resentful personality is the sudden outburst of negative emotions. Betraying the apparently calm and collected mood that has been presented to date. Small outbursts of anger may appear from nowhere. These sudden lashes of outward aggression are incredibly important insights into people’s present makeup, and a sign that issues of resentment are a possibility (although frustration would have to be ruled out).
Because people can subconsciously recognise that their consciously ignored behaviour is unfair, a whole array of self-defeating attitudes can be created from continually feeling resentful. This to a large extent can be a consequence of inaccurate perceptions of everyday issues that lead people to feel wronged when indeed they are not. Misunderstanding can be a key factor in feeling resentment and to what degree the intensity of those feelings are felt. As resentment is easily confused with justice, rejection can ensue if the resentful feelings are challenged with a heavy handed approach. A hammer is not the tool for this job. In such cases, resentful people are likely to push away the people who intimately care about them. This scenario often induces depressive episodes whilst leaving the resentful isolated and unwilling to accept help from those that care most.
The resentful are particularly vulnerable to being manipulated in such isolated positions. If abusively envious personalities recognise resentment in another is directed towards someone to which they are envious, they could encourage the resentment by modestly agreeing with it. While seemingly endearing themselves in sympathetic expressions, abusers can subtly split people apart by gradually eliciting feelings of hate. While the resentful are being used, they start to care for the person abusing them. Unthinkable situations can materialise when people resent an offspring, parent, partner, friend or colleague.
Whenever challenging resentful feelings, just like passive-aggressive behaviours, they are best addressed with one tentative challenge at a time. Whatever the reply, a remark that refers to a resentful attitude being seemingly over-the-top needs to be followed by a retreat. The typical defensive reaction of people defending their attitude can be accepted – regardless of its content. To overcome defence-mechanisms it’s important that the resentful person does not feel under attack. Then, although a tentatively challenging comment may not seem to have caused any change in attitude, it will be thought about as a reasonable point. In time, single tentative remarks accumulate into unthreatening objective reasoning.
Latin. Sentire = to feel.
French. Ressentir = feel pain, regret.
1. Indignation or ill-will felt as the result of a real or imagined grievance.
2. To hold bitter feelings towards somebody for a perceived transgression.