Resentment is a common emotion, though commonly misunderstood. We may not always be able to control our other emotions, but we at least understand anger, love, despair and the rest. Resentment is an emotion that we often feel without fully recognizing it for what it is, or even being able to properly put the name to it.
What is Resentment?
Before we can deal with resentment, we need to understand what it is and how it affects us. Resentment is a feeling of displeasure or indignation that stems from an incident, real or perceived, that is hurtful. When you resent someone it will color all your future interactions, no matter how trivial, with that person.
Resentment can be open or concealed, immediate or delayed.
Sometimes resentment sits right on the surface. You may resent a coworker who gets ahead by taking undo credit for your work. You may resent a friend’s patronizing attitude toward your hobby or maybe your ex’s new beau.
There is no end to the number of issues, large and small, that have fired a sense of resentment in people. Resentment can sneak up on the best prepared of all of us. It is how we handle it that matters – how and how soon. The longer we let resentment linger, the more powerful it becomes.
The Cure for Resentment
The cure for resentment, as with many other negative emotions, is forgiveness. The only way to get past resenting someone for something is to forgive that one for that thing. As devastating as resentment is, if it is open and on the surface then resentment is usually a relatively easy cure once the resent-er acknowledges his need to forgive and deal honestly with the resent-ee.
Hidden, or unrecognized resentment is a thornier issue. Resentment can be a subtle but devastating obstacle on the road to happiness and self-fulfillment. Unlike outright anger or contempt, resentment can linger in our thoughts and on our hearts without us realizing that it is there.
Because it is harder to spot, some people will harbor deep resentment toward others without any conscious knowledge that there is a problem. But when situations become tense, those old resentments find their way to the surface, impeding resolution and fueling the fires of conflict.
If left unchecked, resentment can linger after the situation is seemingly resolved. Often resentment will still fester long after apologies are exchanged and all is superficially forgiven. This concealed resentment poses a real danger to our happiness. The first step to releasing the negative emotion and moving toward happiness is recognizing that there is a problem. There are three common signs of concealed resentment: distrust, questioning motives, and bitterness.
Someone holding on to resentment will often demonstrate an unfounded distrust and suspicion of the other person, sometimes without consciously realizing it. It may be in matters completely unrelated to the initial incident.
Resolving a Conflict between Two Teenagers
Say two teenagers, Janie and Susie, have a conflict over who misplaced Susie’s favorite hairbrush. They may make up. They may apologize. They may appear to move on completely.
But if Susie holds on to her resentment, believing deep down that Janie really did take her hairbrush, that resentment may boil over into other matters altogether. She may hold Janie accountable for more than her fair share of their homework project; she may think Janie is making advances on Susie’s boyfriend.
If there is a lingering resentment, it could show up in any interaction between the two, even if it is completely unrelated to the original issue. In fact, many times it is more likely to come up elsewhere because Susie feels secretly ashamed for still resenting Janie after they made up.
Releasing Fixed Attention
Another common sign of unsettled resentment is an unusual level of attention to the other person’s motives in mundane actions. This is really a manifestation of projecting one’s own feelings of displeasure onto the other person. Going back to the previous example of Susie and Janie, Susie may think that Janie is suddenly acting “fake”. Susie finds herself questioning if Janie really meant it when she said she liked her earrings, or the real reason that Janie offered to drive them to the mall.
The motive behind the other person’s actions becomes more and more suspect as time goes on. Soon, the offender is simply assumed to be duplicitous in everything. Resentment like this can ruin a relationship quickly if it is not dealt with properly.
The Signs of Bitterness
The third sign is simply a bitterness that shows itself whenever the other person is around, though it may not necessarily be overtly directed at that person. Many times resentment couples with the previously mentioned sense of shame when a person knows that they should not feel that way.
The result can be an unfocused, unproductive sense of bitterness every time the other person is around. Because the bitterness has become detached from the real issue that sparked the resentment, it has no real focus and we tend to lash out at anyone in the vicinity.
This presents a great danger to our happiness because it affects not only our already troubled relationship, but our other relationships as well. This can begin a downward spiral, or domino effect, that works its way through the resentful person’s entire life.
Resentment does not always focus on a person. We can resent a pet, a company, a religion, even our own bodies. In order to get past the feeling of resentment we need to look at the root cause of our resentment.
Do I really resent the dog, or do I resent my wife for buying the dog without consulting me? Is it the church, or the gossipy neighbor who goes there? Not always, but usually, there is a person on the other end of our resentment, a person who needs our forgiveness just as much as we need to forgive them.
The remedy for resentment: The Choice of Forgiveness