"Annika" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

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.

Ask yourself:

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.

Speaking up:

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.”

24 thoughts on “Resentment

  1. TuesdaysChild

    I just kind of happened onto your site and will be going back and reading some of the articles. I have been dealing with resentment connected to looking after elderly parents. I had been having to deal with about 98 percent of the care giving. Parents would not call on sibling because ‘ we hate to bother them because they are so busy with activities.’ I will admit that I felt resentful.
    Well, I finally told parents that siblings had to help out. I asked them to help with a couple of errands that had to be done every couple of weeks and things seemed fine – for a while.
    Then I had to make a decision that I knew they wouldn’t like ( even though the doctors said it was the correct decision) They went ballistic and accused me of all kinds of outrageous things. Now I am dealing with a smear campaign, have had law enforcement called to investigate me, and found out that they had even called doctors behind my back and insinuated that I was over dosing parents. They even called a social worker.
    I can honestly say that I have always been polite and thanked them for anything they did to help. There were never any boundaries in my own family and the in law was brought up in an alcoholic and very dramatic home situation, where manipulation seemed to be common. I feel disrespected by them and also feel that my parents ( who never set boundaries until recently) are not treated with respect either.
    Needless to say, this is causing a lot of additional stress and my family is now torn apart.
    I don’t trust them at all because of the lying and back stabbing. How does anyone deal with this?
    Siblings act like nothing has happened and cannot even understand why I am upset.

    1. Alison Post author

      Oh what a horrible situation. I’m so sorry. Although I don’t know all the details, after I read your first paragraph, far before getting to the family’s negative reactions toward you, my thought was that you need to back off doing so much, even if you feel guilty doing so. First of all, resentment is an indication that you are doing too much and that things are unfair. It’s not good for you, and believe it or not, it’s not good for those you do things for.

      Also, when you do more to help your parents than your siblings, your siblings are bound to feel guilty. When people feel guilty, they often unconsciously look for reasons that they shouldn’t feel guilty. For instance, they might start thinking that you are self-serving and trying to take advantage of your parents–why else you do so much work, they will ask themselves? Or they focus on the fact that you’re not working as hard as they are while they are slaving away. The parents might also start thinking along the same lines. Old age sometimes brings along with it paranoia or criticism aimed at those who are around them the most. Also, when you feel sick or uncomfortable, you often displace your negative feelings onto the people around you. Those who simply come to visit once a week or once a month are remembered more fondly. Most influential is this family dynamic of emotional fusion. That is something that is extremely unlikely to diminish when people are in their 60s, 70s and 90s. So do not hope to change that in the family.

      Your best bet is to become more differentiated. You might search my blog for “differentiation” or “fusion.”

      But now that they have called law enforcement and doctors on you, I would definitely back off completely. Getting in the middle will make you a greater target for their dysfunctional blame game, if you could even become a greater target.

      Make sure you completely defend yourself against any legal action by having a great paper trail, and don’t be afraid to hire an attorney if necessary. Do not become a doormat and hope to finally appease and please your family. Write down everything you remember. But don’t worry about changing their opinions about you. The more they sense that you want them to view you a certain way, the more power they will have over you.

      Now, the more important matter is re-focusing your energy on more fulfilling interests and passions, and on positive people. Even if you love to help older people, go volunteer somewhere where you will get appreciation and kindness in return. Find several activities that you like to do, walking, going to movies, taking dance classes, anything that sparks your interest, if only temporarily.

      Wishing you the best.


  2. J.

    I have lived with my boyfriend for 5 years. He has kids18-22. I have met his kids, but never invited to go out with them, which is every Sunday and Wednesday eve. I resent that I do not know those he loves the most. Due to financial restraints, we have to live together. How can I end this resentment. I have expressed my feelings to no avail. I told him that I can’t live a relationship like this. So in about a year…I plan to move on.. it has been emotionally painful for me so I decided I need to do that. He is unfazed. How can I stop resenting him until I can leave or he leaves?

    1. Alison Post author

      This is difficult. I will have to think about this.

      The one think I would say is that you should do more activities on your own and with friends, while treating him with a friendly attitude, without bitterness and resentment. But start broadening your life. It will not help to argue with him or to become angry and resentful. You need to focus on people, activities and plans that are exciting, new, different, surprising, and even distracting to you.

      What is his reasoning for not introducing you to his adult children?

    2. Jan

      He feels bad about his parenting. He took a backseat to his more controlling wife. The kids never go new places ( eat at same 2 restaurants) every time they go out. Both were homeschooled. However from cards that he has been given… Very juvenile and very poor penmanship. I try to get their dad to expose them to new things, but not happening. He doesn’t want to alienate his kids, but do something. The youngest at 18 has no friends… Games all day. . His older son is working part time And not attempting ng to learn a skill. I have a pool, pinball and foos ball table. I tell him to invite the kids and i offer to leave. I don’t mean to criticize but trying to get a lot in. I don’t really want some major relationship but I don’t feel I can live our r/s without at least knowing them somewhat.. Thanks.. I ramble!

      1. Alison Post author

        Well, what you’ve described does sort of makes sense of his protectiveness and probably his very predictable, narrow way of interacting with the kids. He probably has anxiety about not being in control and/or having to face his children’s discomfort at meeting you. That would bother me too.

        What worries me is that this whole discomfort, fear of alienating his kids by protecting their predictable routine reflects his whole personality, and will eventually leave you frustrated and disappointed about him. To sustain a passionate and growth-oriented relationship, you can’t let a little anxiety about change and new things stifle you and the relationship. There is a certain point where the comfort and security of a relationship is not enough to sustain a fearful stagnant way of interacting.

  3. Luke

    I’m actually struggling with this right now. I’m resenting my mother and I sure as hell don’t want to feel resentment towards her but I’m aware it’s their and it sucks.

    1. Alison Post author

      As you find a way to be true to yourself and not be controlled by her, and yet perhaps to treat her with respect, you will feel less resentment. Sometimes a sense of humor can help. If you have particular examples, feel free to send them.

  4. Richard

    Thanks so much for this wisdom and clarity. I have found when writing columns and Facebook posts on political matters that spiteful personal attacks are posted. This makes me resentful and defensive, making matters worse if I respond in kind. I’ve learned to better choose my battles and not dignify expressions of deceit.

  5. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    Please delete the post from Saturday, August 8th, too. Thank you very much for deleting all the other inappropriate posts. I appreciate your understanding and consideration.



    1. Alison Post author

      Yes, I deleted it. Might I suggest that you sit on your correspondence for a day before sending it. I find that if I feel strongly about something, it’s best to review correspondence after a period of cooling off time.
      Best to you.

  6. Alison Post author

    Dear Anonymous,

    It really depends on the person and situation. Someone might feel that you are treating them or thinking about them with contempt, and their low-self-esteem causes them to feel resentful and humiliated. In order to feel self-empowered, they only know how to retaliate by being cruel or vengeful.

    I would say it’s best to try to avoid much interaction with such people, but when encountering them, be respectful and courteous, making a small effort to show that you are not treating them with disdain.

    Do you have any ideas why such a person would be provoking you? Jealousy, discomfort with not knowing what you think of them?


    1. rob

      of course you cannot engage with the untermensch who actually have fully understandable human emotions your so above that and messy emotions even though they helped us survive for millions of years smh just ignore the “darkness” dont shine a light on it its too hard for buddists to do real spritual work

  7. Jim H

    Great information. It seems that in order to deal with resentment a person must look inward and work on developing healthy way to address the problem. If you resent how the relationship is going in a marriage self help resources or professional advice may be helpful

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