Is Resentment Holding You Back?
Resentment is a bitterness that not many people can forget. You can feel the bitterness in smaller and larger scale acts against you such as from Susie in the 5th grade not giving you back your favorite dinosaur pencil to much more severe cases like gut-wrenching betrayal, abuse, and pain that has its nails in your heart.
The Merrian-Webster definition of resentment is "a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury." Unfortunately, a lot of people have experienced this sensation.
They may feel that irritation, guilt, and feel blocked like nothing could allow them to move forward until that person apologizes or, sometimes in more severe cases of resentment, the need for revenge. If you are ready to take the next steps for your healing, it is important to understand resentment to be able to defeat it.
Resentment is not a mental illness but a human condition that happens when someone does you wrong. The hurt and anger you feel are part of your subconscious not agreeing with what has happened to you. The anger is you protecting yourself and an acknowledgment of when you have been wronged.
The causes of resentment can come in the form of injustice or misunderstanding. Sometimes a person can be completely oblivious to the words they say and might say something unintentionally that hurts you. For instance, if a person commented "I love your confidence" when posting a picture of your body without you explicitly saying, "Hey, I feel confident and radiant." That can be hurtful because it is a back-handed compliment of "you have to have the confidence to go outside and look like that."
It can also come in the form of a lack of education. Racism and religious persecution are due to an intolerance to learning, lack of understanding others, and internalized resentment. Some people have an imaginary bitterness with others due to media agenda setting and creating a division between people. It can come in the form of "oh, of course, they have it easier because they are X."
Whether justly caused or imaginary, people who hold resentments typically hold these feelings until they are too heavy to bear. Resentment is a seed that only grows weeds in your thoughts and feelings that dig their roots deep inside of you.
Symptoms of Resentment
Since there is no individual cause for resentment, the symptoms can sneak up on a person if they do not know what to look out for, like:
- Feeling bitter towards someone or a group of people
- Intrusive thoughts of the initial injustice that is then accompanied by heavy feelings like intense anger
- Ruminate or constantly think about the event
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Quiet rage
- Feeling small or insignificant
- Relationship tension with the person who caused the resentment
- A general feeling of being unable to let go
- No middle ground- "you are with me or against me," thinking
If a person is not given closure when experiencing resentments like an apology or a deep conversation about why someone had acted or said a certain resentment. This emotional wound can infect other parts of your life to other relationships completely unrelated to the event.
The emotional wound will continue to worsen and become angrier. It will feel like a physical wound if you do not take steps to treat it. It can consume your life if you do not take steps to make amends or create closure. Your mental health is affected the most by resentment.
Resentment & the Negative Effects on Your Health
Since everyone will experience resentment sometime in their life, it is crucial to understand the consequences. A quote by Saint Augustine states "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Suppose the person is unable to make amends with the person that wronged them. In this case, they can begin to have severe signs of mental health deterioration like depression, anger problems, and anxiety. Resentment symptoms can also affect your physical health through high blood pressure or taking up addictions to divert your attention away from the resentment you feel.
There are cases when resentment is understood and sometimes needed to break away from a toxic person, like a child who suffered abuse for many years. You are valid in feeling bitterness towards an abusive parent because you deserved a capable parent who did not hurt you. It is important to not stay in resentment, however, because it will tarnish relationships that are not directly related to the abuse. When talking about not staying in resentment, you might try to find things that hurt just because that is where you feel the most comfortable.
Being able to forgive takes time, and it is okay if you can only forgive minor aspects at a time. What is the most important is for you to forgive yourself. You are probably thinking, "Why should I forgive myself if I wasn't the one causing the resentment?" You need to forgive and be kind to yourself for holding on to those pains for however long they existed.
As we have said previously, the best step to confronting your mental illness is identifying the causes behind why it happened in the first place. It can be critical to addressing the concern because, with an identified problem, there can be a solution. Pain isn't meant for anyone to feel long-term, nor do they deserve it. Pain from resentment will only cause more grief, shame, and emotional distress. It may feel good for a little because of the intensity of the emotions, but your body isn't meant to be on high alert and high emotions all day, every day.
What happens if resentment happens in relationships?
In relationships, it can be common to feel resentment with your partner. While we wish it were rainbows and sunshine every day with our loved ones, there can be small and large actions that create resentment within a couple.
There are a couple of signs that there might be resentment in the relationships. One of the initial signs is a level of pettiness between partners. The individual feels like they are doing everything while viewing their partner as lazy and not viewing the relationship as a priority. It can be from everyday chores, taking care of pets or children, making more money, beginning conversations, or even trying to be intimate. When they feel it is one-sided, there is frustration and conflict.
On the other hand, if the partner could feel an imbalance of responsibilities and respect. For example, referfencing the person from the first paragrah, if they feel like they are doing everything, then criticizes how a chore is done by the their partner. The other partner might feel powerless, "well, if I can't do it right, why should I do it to begin with?" There is a sense of losing a part of their identity and creating resentment in both partners.
Even if it is something a partner can not control, there might be subconscious and conscious resentment. For instance, if a partner has contracted a debilitating health issue, they may not be able to contribute to the home as readily as the able partner. The chores initially performed by the partner who has medical problems now move to the able partner. They are pulling double-duty on chores and possibly the only breadwinner, depending on the severity of the illness.
With stress from the medical condition, if not communicated, the person without the illness will feel resentment with the challenge of their new life, anxiety over their partner's health and wellbeing, lack of control over the situation, and that their needs are not being satisfied.
Hurtful words might lash out at the other partner as a way to get even or to remedy the resentment. It results in two people feeling negative about the situation, and like the weeds, the bitterness spreads to other parts of the couple's life.
The first step in remedying resentment in a couple's life is to have clear communication where both partners are receptive to what the other has to say. Some easy tips in keeping a conversation positive are using "I feel” statements. For example, "I feel frustrated when I am the only one completing the laundry," or creating compromises with their partner. Parenting can be difficult to not hold resentments due to the many responsibilities they carry and the stress of a child’s wellbeing.
If the couple is unable to communicate with themselves and about how they are handling responsibilities like childcare. We recommend reading our article How to Stay Patient as a New Parent. While you might be a veteran parent, it can provide some wisdom that might not have been considered.
Sometimes if resentment has sat too long, it might be necessary to reach out to a couple's counselor to help remedy the issue. The counselor will assist in a non-biased and impartial way of viewing the couple's problems. Resentments need to be checked, especially in romantic relationships, because if not healed, the emotional wound might cause the partners to want to separate.
Releasing Resentment Through Journaling
Sometimes, people are not able to reach out to the person who provided the resentment. They have to create closure within themselves, and sometimes that is the most challenging task to complete. Journaling provides the individual a way to address their resentment head-on as well as other factors that might be distressing them during everyday life.
Resentment is about forgiving, but forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean reaching out to that person again to receive closure. You can create closure while maintaining a boundary if the person is unhealthy for you. In practicing self-care, you can keep your distance while forgiving them and understanding that they will probably hurt you again if given a chance.
If you want to continue a relationship with the person who offended you, we would recommend journaling. Writing your feelings and expressing why something hurt you can be equally powerful when you are ready to communicate with that person. If you understand that the initial action was a "one-off," you need to express your boundaries to this person because it is an excellent way to continue the relationship while not forgoing your own needs.
- Journal Prompts
- Why is forgiving and releasing resentment so hard?
- When I think about releasing my resentment, what do I feel?
- What purpose did the resentment have in my life?
- Moving forward from resentment, how will my life change?
- Is there a part of me that enjoys feeling resentment and why?
- Why is expressing anger difficult for me?
- How does resentment block me from happiness?
- What did this resentment teach me?
- How will forgiveness help me?
- Am I present?
- Was my expectation too rigid towards the person who created the resentment?
- Will I reach out to the person who created the resentment and why? Create a pro's and con's list for reaching out to them.
- Journal Tips
- Compassionate self-talk: you were doing the best you could with the resources you had. Nothing good will happen if you try to focus that anger and disgust on yourself. If you do, resentment will continue to hold your heart tightly.
- Thank you, thank you, thank you- practicing gratitude can be incredibly powerful and helps with your self-talk. Thank your body for protecting you and it is okay to release the pain from your resentment. Thank your relationship for providing you a new life lesson that you will learn from and continue to live your best life. If you aren't ready to focus on the resentment, practicing gratitude about other aspects of your life works well too!
- Be Empathetic- It can be hard to see the other person's side of the story, but when you practice empathy, you try to understand why the person might feel this way. For example, if someone was mean to you and created resentment, it might benefit you to think of the reasons why they might have been mean to you. Maybe they do not know any better because, in their household, that is how they talk to one another and never experienced healthy communication. Another reason could be that the person craves attention so desperately that they would rather put you down instead of facing their issues head-on. While it is not right for them to be mean to you, identifying the reasons can help provide more context instead of "she is mean because that is who she is."
- Consistency- Writing consistently helps provide more healing and can become a five-minute (or longer) practice where you can be mindful about your thoughts and feelings.
To begin your journaling journey, join to release resentment and possibly other bad habits with JournalOwl. Our expert program creates badges for the skills you have accomplished and connects you with an online therapist (depending on the package you choose). JournalOwl creates accountability and even better habits.
While journaling is beneficial, sometimes you need extra support to release the resentment in your life. Meditation, mindfulness, and therapy are great resources in finding help for your resentment.
In the case of neglect or abuse, we hear you, and we see you. You deserved better than what happened, and speaking with a therapist might provide the needed help. You wouldn't ask a friend to redo your entire house's piping; in dealing with traumas, it would be helpful to seek guidance from a licensed professional.
If you haven't seen a counselor yet, there might be aspects of your hurt that show in different ways. Even worse, feeling nothing at all because resentment has been so strong in your system, you have disassociated to the point of feeling numb.
As we said before, our bodies are not expected to be in a high emotion state at all times. The coping techniques you might have tried to use to bury this resentment might not be working because hurt is replacing hurt. The only way to resolve the hurt is through healing.
Forgiveness is an act of letting go of power. When you did not have power in a situation when the resentment occurred, it can feel tempting to keep that power close to your heart. Total forgiveness does not happen overnight, it might take years, but you are strong and can get through to the other side.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Resentment. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 4, 2021, from HTTPS://?www.merriam-webster.com/?dictionary/?citation
About Emily Ruiz, MA
Emily Ruiz is a contributor of JournalOwl with a passion for spreading mental health awareness. She believes that mental health topics are instrumental in creating change. She enjoys writing about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other arrays of topics by adding an emotional feel to her writing.
Before joining the JournalOwl team, Emily received her Masters in Communication with a focus in healthcare advocacy at East Carolina University in North Carolina. She has assisted organizations teaching social skills to children who are autistic and ADHD and teaching mindfulness to teenagers with BPD and who are high-risk self-harm and suicide. Emily created a training module for a non-profit equestrian therapy, Difference instead of Disability, for her independent study during her master’s program.
Emily and her husband are North Carolina natives who enjoy traveling, exploring, and general shenanigans with one another. They foster and rescue animals in their free time. She enjoys riding horses, theatre, and reading.
JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.