What impact can resentment have on your emotional wellbeing?
Resentment can evolve over time, and then there’s the possibility that it will grow, as Louise Goddard-Crawley, a London-based chartered psychologist, explains: ‘It can accumulate because of repeated negative experiences, ongoing conflict or unresolved grievances. It may start with a minor frustration or disappointment that gradually builds up, eventually leading to an accumulation and deeper sense of bitterness and resentment.’
This might be resentment caused by social comparison – when you compare yourself to others and perceive yourself as worse off – or resentment caused by an emotional wound or past trauma that hasn’t been resolved.
Everyone’s response will be different. You might feel angry, bitter or indignant, but equally, the predominant emotion could be a feeling of hurt or alienation. Your reactions could be anything from explosive to brooding and disengaged.
Because resentment is such a complex emotion, however, it makes confronting it and letting it go incredibly hard. You might have to acknowledge that your resentment towards someone stems from the fact that they’ve achieved something you wanted but haven’t attained. Here, resentment holds a mirror to your own or others’ expectations of your life and where you might perceive yourself to have failed.
How resentment can be used to begin a process of self-analysis
Resentment can also be rooted in personal insecurities, such as low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy, and there might be resentment towards others who appear not to be dragged down by these factors. Clinical psychologist Patapia Tzotzoli explains: ‘To put it simply, resentment stems not from being upset with others’ actions, but from our own unfulfilled needs and aspirations.’
In that regard, resentment offers a chance for analysis and relief. As Sophie Hannah writes in her book, How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – the Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life: ‘Denying your negative emotions and experiences in the hope that they will disappear from memory and leave you feeling and thinking exactly as you did before they happened will lead only to more pain, conflict and stress in the long term.’
Instead, perhaps it’s an opportunity to ask yourself why you feel resentful in a situation and explore what it says about your expectations, ambitions and desires. For some, it’s helpful to do this with pen and paper. Sophie, for example, writes about processing grudges – and the same holds true for resentments. She says: ‘…you can distil vital life lessons from them – about your value system, your hopes, needs and priorities – that will act as a series of stepping stones, pointing you in the right direction for the best possible future.’
You might also want to explore whether your feelings of resentment were sudden and momentary or something you’ve been aware of for days, months or years. Have you felt this way before? If the answer is ‘yes’, this might indicate a pattern that would benefit from further exploration.
How analysing resentment can lead to a healthier and more constructive outlook
Patapia suggests that analysis might, for example, lead to you setting new boundaries in relationships, evaluating your expectations and questioning your perceptions. It’s also a chance to hone how you communicate your needs to others and, perhaps, to yourself. After all, if you communicate honestly and clearly, this negates the chance for miscommunication and misunderstanding and, potentially, reduces the chance that resentment might follow.
But there’s a caveat. Resentment is an emotion that has evolved with humanity. It’s a response to perceived unfairness or violations of social norms, and sometimes it can spark positive actions. Louise explains: ‘Fairness is crucial for cooperative interactions within groups, and resentment may serve as a mechanism to discourage free-riding or exploitation by others. It can motivate individuals to assert their rights, restore fairness or seek retribution.’
Some prompts for exploring past and present resentments
Can you recall a specific situation or event that triggered feelings of resentment?
Can you remember how you felt in your body?
How did you feel when you first noticed your response?
What emotions did you get a sense of (for example, anger, sadness, betrayal)?
How has this impacted you?
Does the person involved know how you feel?
Have you spoken to anyone about what happened?
How does it make you feel when you think about it right now?
What do you think could help you to feel better?
What did you learn?
Would you do anything differently if it happened again?
When you reflect on what happened, do you notice that you’re compassionate or critical towards yourself? (Often a lack of self-compassion can lend towards unresolved resentments.)
Are you being as kind to yourself as you would be a friend when you reflect on your experiences?
For more information about Louise’s work, visit drlouisegc.co.uk
For more information about Patapia’s work, visit patapiatzotzoli.com
You can read more articles about mental health and wellbeing in issue 61 of Breathe magazine.