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Understanding Resentment

- Nature's Purpose for Resentment

- Resentment as a Secondary Emotion

- A Few Causes of Resentment

Managing Resentment

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Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening

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Understanding Resentment


1. Nature's purpose for resentment

In certain languages, Spanish and French for example, sentir means to feel, so re-sentir, or resent, means literally to feel again. Nature evidently has a purpose for us "re-feeling" something. We may assume that nature wants us to continue feeling something or to feel it again so something positive will be gained. The purpose of resentment might be so we can:

- Keep feeling something till we take responsibility for something to which we contributed and thereby learn, grow and become a more valuable member of the species.

- Keep feeling something till we take some action to help remedy a socially unhealthy situation.

(See Managing Resentment for more detail on the possible positive outcomes of resentment)

2. Resentment as a secondary emotion

Resentment seems to be a secondary emotion. By this I mean we usually feel a more primary feeling first. A person could feel resentful for many reasons, just like a person could feel angry for many reasons.

Here are some examples.

If someone ignores me when I ask them a question I first feel a little ignored. If they continue to ignore me I might say I feel resentful towards them for ignoring me.

If someone tries to tell me how to run my life, the more primary or specific feeling might be feeling controlled.

A person could feel resentful towards authority if they have repeatedly felt controlled and forced by authority figures in the past. A child who has felt controlled, pressured and forced to do things by his mother, father or both, and then who felt pressured, controlled and forced by his teachers and school authorities may later feel resentful of anyone in a position of authority as soon as those earlier feelings are triggered or re-stimulated.

But can resentment also be instantaneous? If a person insults you, you might say "I resent that comment." This is another way of saying you don't appreciate it. To say "I resent that" seems to me to be a more intense and threatening statement than saying "I feel insulted." One could also say, "I feel resentment when you say that," but not many people talk like that so you will sound very strange if you say that. Even if you say, "I feel insulted you will sound strange, since so few people express their feelings directly with feeling words.

In any case, it seems helpful to identify the more primary feelings which lead to resentment, just as it is helpful to identify the more primary feelings which lead to anger. It is more helpful, for instance, to tell someone I feel ignored than to say I feel resentful towards you or angry at you. It is more helpful for these two reasons:

1. It is more clear what is causing you the pain.

2. It may be less threatening to say "I feel ignored" than to say either "I feel resentful," or "I feel angry."

Because so many people have experienced so many negative emotions such as feeling afraid, insecure, controlled, pressured, teased, laughed at, judged, rejected there are a lot of people who feel resentful, afraid and insecure. When these people come in contact with each other it is easy for emotions to become intensified. That is one reason it is so important to understand emotions. With more understanding people can learn less threatening and less hurtful ways of saying things.

Another note about resentment is that it is probably just before hatred on the love-hate continuum.

A simplified version of this is:

Love ---- Appreciation ---- Resentment ---- Hatred

If we like what someone did, we feel appreciation. If we really really appreciate it, we may feel love for them. If we don't like what they did, we may feel resentment. If we really, really don't like it, we may feel hatred.

I'd say that we have an imbalance of resentment and hatred in the world. If so, this would imply we all could benefit from trying to create feelings of appreciation and love.

Note: Thinking of all of this led me to think that part of a test of emotional understanding is understanding which words and statements evoke which feelings and their intensity, and which others express which feelings and their intensity. For example, could a test question be:

Which is likely to make a person feel more threatened?

I resent that

- or

I feel insulted


A Few Causes of Resentment

It seems there are fairly universal cause of resentment. Most of us are likely to feel resentful when:

- Others try to tell us what to do, how to run our lives, what we need, what they think is best for us

- Others tell us what they think we should do, how they think we should feel, how they think we should act.

- Others feel and act superior to us.

- Others act in hypocritical ways.

- Others deprive us of our needs.

- We see those in power abusing their power and hurting others who are less powerful

- We feel falsely accused, judged, prejudged, discriminated against, labeled, ignored, attacked, hunted, persecuted, underestimated, invalidated

- We feel lied to or lied about.


Managing Resentment

One of my most valuable insights, which I call the AR3 principle, is: Accepting Responsibility Releases Resentment

Sometimes when I find myself feeling resentful, or bitter, which is often a more intense indication of resentment, I remind myself of this. I then begin to search for ways in which I was responsible for contributing to the development of the situation. It has been extraordinarily helpful in avoiding placing "blame" on other people and on focusing my attention on my own areas for improvement, growth and learning.

One useful way for me to reduce my resentment is to focus on how I contributed to the situation and what I could have done to prevent it. In other words, to take responsibility. I learned this after one particularly painful relationship.

I don't believe in "magic," but the word magical comes to mind. The power of these words, when applied, is indeed seemingly supernatural. Yet, nature has evolved certain truths, certain relationships in her complex web of life. These truths when discovered, seem like magic at first only because so few people have discovered them for themselves.

Another AR3 principle I developed is Accepting Reality Releases Resentment. This principle seems to help when there is very little we have done to contribute to a situation and there is very little we can do about it.

Something else I have found helpful is to take either learn something from what has happened or to take some constructive action.