Resentment is the feeling of bitterness, anger, or hatred resulting from a real or imagined wrong. The key difference between resentment, anger and contempt stems from how a person perceives the status of the wrong-doer.
Resentment is directed at people with perceived higher status;
Anger is directed at people with perceived equal status;
Contempt is directed at people with perceived lower status.
Resentment is often triggered by an expression of humiliation or rejection by another person with real or imagined power. There is a feeling of being used, taken advantage of, or being unrecognized for achievements while others succeed without equal merit.
When people feel they have no power to address unfair or demeaning behavior, negative feelings get internalized. Bitterness further causes others to overlook or reject them. So by stewing on negative feelings, resentment compounds the problem of being belittled and marginalized.
Thus, working on personal authority is key to eliminating feelings of resentment.
To enhance your own self-empowerment:
• Recognize people who take advantage of you. Try to limit your exposure to them.
• Learn to speak up for yourself in a positive way, without being defensive or petty.
• Own your own achievements, while avoiding the extremes of excessive humility and being a braggart.
Recognizing signs of Resentment:
1. Using phony friendliness to cover your true feelings.
2. Speaking sarcastically about the person resented.
3. Speaking in a demeaning way about the person resented.
4. Expressing agitation and unexpected anger for no apparent reason.
Effects of Resentment:
Resentment is most painful when it is felt toward a person you’re close to, such as a parent, good friend, or spouse. If you don’t overcome feelings of powerlessness, you might develop a cynical, hostile attitude.
Cynicism and hostility seem to protect a person by lowering his or her expectations in relationships. But they also cause the heart to close itself off, keeping a person from love and intimacy.
A healthier way to deal with resentment is to figure out how you may have participated in letting someone treat you unfairly to avoid repeating the same pattern. Sometimes people have no choice in their situations, as for example, being a child in an abusive family. But in many cases, we unwittingly allow situations to become unfair.
1. Is the unfair treatment real or imagined? If real, why did the other person treated you badly?
2. Why do you hesitate to respond with more personal power? Are you afraid of conflict? Do you feel undeserving? How is your lack of personal power hurting you more than possible disapproval or loss?
3. Are you afraid to speak up for yourself because you tend to become defensive and make things worse? How could you learn to speak up assertively—with a positive attitude?
4. How would your life improve if you were to eliminate your resentment?
When people let go of resentment and learn to speak up for themselves without bitterness, they gain confidence and optimism. In turn, others are LESS likely to treat them unfairly, and if they do, they won’t get away with it.
Irrational thinking: “I’ll reject them before they reject me.”
Resentment eats away at a person’s well-being. The resentful person becomes unhappy, works less effectively, and pushes people away. Yet, the person resented is not called to task and is barely affected by the resentment.
Often, resentment is based on irrational thoughts. So if we clear up our thinking, sometimes we can eliminate this bitter feeling and its ill effects.
Irrational thoughts and their alternatives:
1. “Speaking up for oneself is wrong or abrasive.”
~Not speaking up often causes more harm than good.
2. “There are no disagreements in good relationships.”
~In all relationships there’s room for diplomatic disagreement. When people hide their opinions and feelings to avoid conflict, such suppression can lead to resentment and a bad relationship.
3. “I’m a victim; no one will accept me. So, I’ll reject them before they reject me.”
~People are much more likely to be accepting if you have some self-assurance and are accepting of them, warts and all.
4. “I’ll never win at anything I try; I’m unlucky.”
~Successful people learn from mistakes and persevere through failure.
5. “It’s WHO you know that matters.”
~Many people work their way to happiness and success through work, learning from their mistakes, kindness, and maintaining a good attitude.
It’s important to identify situations that trigger your irrational thoughts. Work out ways of responding to these triggers ahead of time. For example, if someone tends to take credit for your ideas, prepare to say with a smile, “I’m glad you like my idea.”
Ten Ways to eliminate resentment through self-empowerment.
Research shows that putting intentions in writing helps a person achieve his or her goals. So the most effective way to improve your responses to hot button moments is to personalize the following ideas that are most relevant to you and write down how you plan to respond in the future.
1. Speak up when you think you should. People who have personal power are willing to express their ideas and opinions. They also respect and listen to others.
2. Act responsibly and hold others accountable for their actions.
3. Don’t take it personally or act embarrassed if anyone belittles you. People who belittle others often feel inadequate themselves. Say something about it when it’s appropriate. They’ll feel better about themselves if they can’t get away with it.
4. Think about what you need and ask for it—it’s better than complaining.
5. Take courage by focusing on what you have to GAIN in a situation rather than on what you have to LOSE.
Helpfulness and Appreciation:
1. Don’t agree to do things for people who take advantage of you. Just say you don’t have the time.
2. Seek collaboration rather than doing everything yourself. It’s much better to say, “Can you help me with this,” with an UPBEAT attitude than to feel bitter about doing it all yourself.
3. Focus on helping those who appreciate you, and stop trying to get the attention of those who reject or ignore you.
4. Ask for appreciation in a positive way. For instance, “Isn’t this a great dinner I made?”
5. Limit or end a relationship if you are the only one making the effort.
If you plan ahead how to respond with personal authority, it will become easier to avoid situations that give rise to resentment. It will also enable you to forgive past resentments and to stop holding grudges.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
Read “People are always criticizing me.”