How Therapists Define Resentment And Help You Deal With It

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Laura Angers, NCC, LPC

Are you experiencing resentment and wondering how you can get past it? It’s a natural question. After all, it’s an uncomfortable feeling, and it can have a detrimental impact on your life. It might help to start with understanding what the word “resentment” means. Then, with the help of a therapist, you can sort out your feelings, deal with the situations involved, and learn to let go of it.

Definition of Resentment

Find The Support You Need In Therapy To Overcome Resentments

The Cambridge Dictionary offers a seemingly straightforward definition of the word “resentment.” It defines this word as “a feeling of anger because you have been forced to accept something you do not like.”

Components of Resentment

While the Cambridge Dictionary definition does cover the basic idea of a resentment definition, it fails to address the complexity of feelings of resentment. The noun resentment, to a therapist, is more than just a simple synonym for “anger.” Its meaning consists of three main components.

Persistent Anger

Resentment is not just a quickly passing feeling of anger. When you’re resentful, the anger and resentment persist over time. The intense emotion is one that’s hard to shake, and if you don’t do something to address your bitterness, it’s likely to continue or even get worse.

Unfair Treatment

Resentment comes from a belief that someone (or the world in general) has mistreated you and that’s you’ve been on the receiving end of some type of wrongdoing. Anger is a little different because you can be angry without necessarily thinking you’ve experienced an injustice. In resentment, it may be that someone has actually treated you unfairly. Sometimes, though, people get caught up in resentment because they misunderstand what happened or the other person’s intentions.

Dwelling on Upsetting Experiences

Do you ever find yourself replaying upsetting conversations and events over and over in your mind? Ruminating over distressing situations can be an extremely painful experience as you continue to call up negative emotions. However, when someone is resentful, they usually do dwell on hurtful experiences.

What Can Cause Resentment?

So, where does resentment come from, anyway? What caused resentment for you might be very different from what caused it for someone else. The following are some of the most common causes of resentment.

Inequality in Relationships

When one person in a close relationship has more power than the other, the less powerful one may feel resentment towards their partner. Or perhaps the one who has more responsibilities may feel bitter that the other person isn’t shouldering an equal share of life’s burdens. And even in the most loving homes, children may feel resentful that their parents get to do or have things that they aren’t allowed. Sometimes, there isn’t an easy way to equalize the relationship. However, you can get beyond the sense of resentment if you can learn to deal with it effectively.

Abuse and Neglect

You might tend to feel resentment, anger, and perhaps fear if you experienced abuse or neglect, either as a child or later in life. And that’s perfectly reasonable. You certainly didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Yet, these negative feelings are painful and can become self-destructive after a while. Once you’re out of the abusive relationship, a therapist can help you shift your focus to get beyond those feelings and build a more positive future. (If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website)

Health Problems

Often, health problems can create situations where resentment crops up easily. Medical issues put many people in a position that requires them to do things they’d rather not do. Caring for someone who is sick or injured is a huge responsibility, and if the person you’re caring for you is uncooperative or unappreciative, it can be hard to take. In one study, caregivers of people with dementia completed resentment rating scales. The results showed that they were indeed resentful, and when the person they were caring for behaved in manipulative or willful ways, they were even more resentful. In addition, people may feel resentment if there’s an inability to cure a health problem.

Being Humiliated

Humiliating experiences or even a cruel word often lead to lingering feelings of resentment. You might resent another person who you believe caused the embarrassing event. Or you might blame yourself and feel that life has let you down by not preparing you well enough for that moment. Even years later, a memory of humiliation can bring about the emotional response of bitter resentment.

Prejudice and Discrimination

Many people face prejudice and discrimination related to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other aspects of who they are. Interestingly, both people who discriminate and those who they discriminate against may feel resentment. For example, scientists conducted two studies – one in the 1980s and one concluding in 2011 – and determined that racial resentment was a factor in why white policy-makers didn’t and still don’t create programs to address racial inequality.

Envy and Jealousy

Many people feel bitter that someone else has what they want and can’t get. The other person may not have done anything to hurt them directly. The anger and resentment come from the idea that they feel it’s so unfair that they don’t have what they want or need while someone else does.

Rejection

Rejection is often a source of resentment. You might face rejection when you ask someone for a date, when you apply for a job, or even when you offer to help someone. If the other person turns you down, it can feel very unfair. It may feel personal, like an insult. A sense of frustration may arise from the inability to change or control the rejection. Anger and shame can turn to resentment in these situations.

Effects of Resentment

While resentment can cause you a lot of pain and keep you stuck in the past, it’s important to remember that emotions aren’t “right” or “wrong.” They’re just the way you feel. So, you don’t have to blame yourself or feel bad about yourself because you feel resentment. There may be a great deal of truth in your opinion that someone has treated you unjustly. Still, dealing with the feeling and moving past it is critical to your mental health. Here are some of the ways resentment can affect your life.

Relationship Issues

Resentment can be toxic to close relationships. Couples who experience resentment towards each other usually have unsatisfying relationships. They may stay together in misery, or they may split up to get away from those bad feelings. Yet, even if you do end the relationship, dealing with your feelings can help you move on to better relationships in the future.

Strong, Uncomfortable Feelings

The feeling of resentment can be very distressing. Other uncomfortable feelings may come along with it, too, and may linger. You may develop feelings of regret for the things you did or said or the way your life turned out. You might begin to feel inadequate if you believe you didn’t handle the situation well. These intense feelings can disrupt your life and may even lead to other mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

Avoiding Conflict

If you often feel resentful, you might begin to avoid conflict. Because you haven’t let go of the resentment, you may not feel ready to face difficult situations. And it’s understandable if you don’t want to be hurt anymore. But facing challenges is often the only way to find satisfaction and pleasure in your life. Many people find that working through their resentment frees them to deal with new conflicts when they need to do so to get what they desire or achieve their goals.

How Therapists Help with Resentment

A therapist can help you deal with resentment in several ways. Treatment usually includes self-expression, learning, and putting into practice what you’ve learned. In therapy, you may learn how to stop thinking about a past emotional injury and embrace new policies to guide you to greater happiness. Here are some of the tasks involved in overcoming feelings of resentment.

Expressing Emotions

One thing that can help tremendously is to find appropriate ways and the right words to express your emotions. Just talking to your counselor about your feelings is a good start. Another method is showing your feelings through artwork or music. Sometimes, counselors suggest writing a letter to the person who has wronged you and then, once you’ve got the emotions out and have expressed yourself, destroying the note. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to communicate with the other person, but only to face your feelings and the situations that caused them. Journaling is another useful tool for self-expression.

Identifying the Source of Resentment

What is causing your resentment? Resentment may come without you knowing its source at times. If that happens, one of your tasks will be finding out what happened that caused you to feel resentful or why you regarded someone with resentment. Your therapist can help you explore the possibilities and come to your own answer. And even if you know what you’re resentful about, you can go deeper to find the specific words, actions, or circumstances that are generating that emotion.

Recognizing Patterns of Resentment

Another question you and your therapist may delve into is whether your resentment is an isolated incident or not. For some people, resentment can become a way of life. The German philosopher Nietzsche wrote about resentment being directed at something outside of a person but eventually a sort of value system or pattern. By identifying long-term patterns of resentment, you and your therapist can work towards overcoming them.

Checking Your Perspective

It also helps many people to have a therapist who can guide them in seeing other perspectives on the circumstances that cause them resentment. Sometimes being able to see the situation from another angle can help you feel less mistreated. By taking another person’s point of view for a moment, in some cases, you might realize they didn’t mean to harm you at all.

Assessing and Choosing Thoughts

Sometimes, it’s not so much what happens to you that’s painful. It’s what you think about what happened that fuels the resentment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy offers tools to help you assess the thoughts behind your resentment, decide whether they’re accurate and helpful, and choose the thoughts and behaviors that will benefit you the most.

Learning To Accept And Forgive

The act of forgiveness may be a behavior that you find will benefit you. If you’re harboring hard feelings or resentments towards someone for long periods of time (or even year), your resentments may be taking a toll on you. Learning to forgive can strengthen your own well being. This doesn’t mean a person will rush out and reconcile with an ex husband or former boss. It doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting or excusing harm. It’s making a decision to let go of resentment so that you can live more peacefully. Imagine that sense of liberation that can come from releasing yourself from a life sentence of displeasure, disappointment, and indignation.

Calming Techniques

While you can use your mind in many ways to help you in letting go of resentment, thinking obsessively about the source of your pain usually makes the feeling more intense and long-lasting. Sometimes, calming techniques can make it easier to let go. Many therapists teach their clients mindfulness meditation, systematic muscle relaxation, or other methods that help them relax and focus on something other than their pain. Affirmations or mantras may also help. For instance, you might try repeating a calming “word of the day” or a short sentence when you begin to have negative thoughts and feelings.

Building Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

Find The Support You Need In Therapy To Overcome Resentments

If you’re suffering from feelings of inadequacy, your therapist can help you build your self-esteem and boost your self-confidence. They can do this by helping you recognize what triggers your low self-esteem. They can help you challenge negative beliefs. They can also encourage you to take risks and work towards goals that will increase your feelings of self-worth.

Adjusting Expectations

Setting reasonable expectations for fairness might also help you feel less resentful. There’s rarely any guarantee that the world will give you precisely what you want or even what you need. By recognizing that life isn’t always fair, you might be able to avoid intense feelings of resentment and displeasure when things don’t go your way. At the same time, it’s still important to stand up for yourself when you’re being hurt, discriminated against, taken advantage of, or abused. The goal here is to find the right balance between your expectations and what’s actually possible.

Envisioning a Future Without Resentment

Once you deal with your resentment, resentment will no longer be your focus. At some point in your therapy, it’s good to take some time to think about what your life will be like without that unpleasant feeling. What are some examples of how you’ll feel and behave without the burden of resentment? Your therapist can help you envision this by encouraging you to make new plans for a future without resentment.

Are you ready to move past your resentment? A therapist can help you, either in your local community or online. Licensed counselors are available at BetterHelp to guide you in your journey away from the emotional pain and devastating effects of resentment. Online therapy through BetterHelp comes with many advantages. Examples include being able to have therapy at a place and time that works for you and being matched with a therapist who will be a good fit for you. Then, you can work through your feelings, make new plans, and create a better life for yourself and those you love.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

What does having a resentment mean?
How can you tell if someone resents you?
What is an example of resentment?
What is resentment in a relationship?
What is the root of resentment?
Is resentment the same as hate?
How do you treat resentment?
Can you resent someone and still love them?
How do I stop resenting someone?
What builds resentment?

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