Resentment is among the most dastardly of emotions. Upon hearing this word, you’re likely to recall bitter arguments, toxic relationship dynamics, or that one boss you had who just never seemed to “get it.” A chief characteristic of resentment is a feeling of powerlessness, either to a person or a situation and is almost always takes up more of your mental energy than you’d like.
Merriam Webster defines resentment as “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” The keyword here is persistent. Resentment builds over time; it is every repressed emotion, every time you wanted to speak up and didn’t. Essentially, every time you felt your feelings were not valid or allowed. It is predominantly found in intimate partnerships but is no stranger to family relationships, friendships, or societal and cultural relating. It is a tricky emotion, often masquerading as anger, frustration, or sadness. There is an easy way to catch it though: look to your judgments.
The moment you catch yourself judging someone else, resentment is often there to accompany it. Maybe you’re ticking off a list of all of your partner’s flaws. Perhaps you’re secretly mumbling about how self-centered and hypocritical your boss is. You’re lamenting how the hosting of holidays in your family falls on your shoulders or how no one ever seems to want to help you. Resentment and judgment go hand-in-hand.
You may be thinking that these are valid ways to feel. What if your boss really is self-centered and hypocritical? What if your family really does lean on you for everything? What if your spouse really is a slob? Resentment wants us to notice how unfairly we’ve been treated so that we can have a reason to punish. When looking at life through a lens of resentment, we are the innocent victim to everyone else’s perpetrator. When it’s everyone else’s fault, we can defer blame and responsibility for the areas of our life that we don’t like. We think that we’re empowered in our resentment, but in reality, it is the exact opposite.
Resentment shortchanges us every time because we can’t live authentically and be feeling resentment. Again, resentment happens over time. If we are standing up for ourselves, healthily sharing our truth, and setting (and holding) healthy boundaries, there is no room for resentment. When we are empowering ourselves by taking responsibility for us and us alone, we are no longer victims. Resentment may feel like strength, but it isn’t. It can, however, be an ally.
The hidden gift of resentment is that it can show you where you’re in integrity—and where you aren’t. Being judgmental and resentful means that you are overly focused on the other person and where they aren’t meeting your expectations. When we are focusing on where others are wrong, we aren’t seeing where we need to grow. If you are judging someone for being hypocritical, can you feel where you might be hypocritical? If you are resentful of the fact that your spouse never helps around the house, can you see where you might be resistant to receiving their help? If you are judging someone for being overbearing and are resenting them for never listening to you, can you see where you might be overbearing? Where do you refuse to listen?
The key to eliminating resentment from your life is by accepting the invitation it is extending to you: look more closely at yourself. Integrity looks like taking responsibility for everything you say, feel, and do. It’s making a commitment to speaking up and sharing your feelings genuinely and respectfully. It’s about being true to your word. When we come into this kind of integrity, a sense of joy and freedom permeates our lives. We live in harmony with those around us and no longer relinquish our power to the people in our lives who challenge us. We can create this shift by getting curious.
When you notice your feelings of resentment arise, start asking questions. You can even start a journal practice around this if it helps you to observe your thoughts more easily. What are some questions you can ask to help you uncover what your resentment is trying to show you? Here are a few possibilities:
Are you honoring and communicating your feelings?
If we don’t acknowledge and honor our true feelings, no one else will. Whether you’re feeling scared, angry, or sad share your emotions with your partner, friend, or family member. You don’t have to have the right words, you can even start with “I’m feeling upset, and I’m not sure how to express it perfectly, but I want to try.” Proactive communication in all relationships is key to their survival. It isn’t about finding ways to make your point perfectly clear, it’s about being vulnerable and sharing from that space.
Are you taking responsibility for your part in the conflict?
It takes two. The other person may have done something that hurt you, but where does your responsibility lay? For example, let’s say your partner asks what you want for your birthday and you say nothing—you can’t be angry when they don’t get you something. This might be an oversimplified example, but you can see the point. If you’re unhappy in a relationship or feel that your needs aren’t being met, ask where and how you are contributing and own it.
Where can you offer forgiveness?
When we’re hurt, it’s easy to see things as black a white. The other person rarely if ever meant to hurt us, and even if they did, it is coming from a lack of their own that we might not be privy to. Offering forgiveness to those that hurt us clears a space for us to not only empathize with the other person but to provide ourselves with compassion. In intimate partnerships, it can remind us that we are not against each other. In life, forgiveness sets us free.
Resentment can teach us a lot about ourselves and ultimately, lead us to a more empowered and liberated experience of life.
The next time you feel resentment creeping up, ask yourself these questions and see what you find. Think of this as an exploration and be careful not to fall into the trap of judging yourself.