Mental Health

Why Do We Feel Resentment, And What Can We Do About It?

Do you frequently feel resentful about your life or your circumstances? Perhaps there is someone who frequently takes advantage of you. It leaves you seething every time, but you feel helpless to do anything about it. Or maybe, like me, you’re not very good at speaking up about things that need to change. Too often, I say nothing and then obsess about how unfair things are, or how frustrated I am.

It’s exhausting. It’s a very real source of stress.

Resentment is a symptom that something is wrong. It’s a red flag that needs attention. In many cases, something in your situation is wrong or unfair and needs to change. In some cases, though, it might be that your reaction is the issue, not the circumstances.

The next time you feel resentful, here are some ways you can sort out and deal with what is going on:

1. Practice Noticing Resentful Feelings and Explore Their Roots

It’s easy to get swept up by burning feelings of resentment. Dwelling on resentment can easily become a habit. Given enough time, you may end up continually feeling resentful about certain circumstances or certain people. This is no way to live.

I got into that zone once when a certain area of my life was out of balance. I wasn’t speaking up about it, so some of it was my responsibility. I fumed all the time. I would catch myself feeling angry about the unfair circumstances whenever my brain was idle.

I eventually learned to catch myself whenever this phenomenon would occur. First, I’d stop the ruminating, as all it was doing was increasing my stress and anger levels. Next, I’d commit to figuring out why I was so upset and what I needed to do to fix it.

2. Journal About Your Resentments

This is a really good place to start. I can have (annoyingly) high standards and tend to give excessively to others even though no one has actually asked me to. I find journaling so helpful. It sheds light on what’s actually going on.

When we are upset, our right brains take over and we spin unproductively around and around negative emotions. Putting pen to paper gets our more rational, problem-solving left brain back into the game. I avoid a lot of unnecessary complaining or confrontations by journaling whenever I’m upset.

For example, my wife did something minor the other day that pushed my buttons. When I journaled about it, I discovered that I do exactly the same thing to her. It was pretty funny, and humbling. The resentment disappeared instantly in a puff of perspective.


3. Get Counseling Support

If you have access to professional counseling, use it. It’s so helpful to talk through challenges with an objective, wise person. If you aren’t able to get formal counseling or coaching, talk to a wise friend or mentor. When a difficult or complex situation is making you resentful, it can be so helpful to get a second opinion before deciding to take any action.

5. Speak Up

Once you’ve identified the source of your resentment, it’s usually a good idea to speak up respectfully if something needs to change (there are exceptions, of course). Often it’s the people that love us and are closest to us that step on our toes, and they just need to be made aware. Maybe it’s time to set some healthy boundaries that are long overdue. Again, a counselor or mentor can be really helpful in helping you navigate this and stick to your guns.

6. Manage Your Reactions

As mentioned earlier, I get swept up in a relentless circuit of resentful thoughts if I’m not careful. Be aware of (and vigilant against) the toll that resentment or frustration is taking on you. Even if you’re in a situation that you don’t have much control over—for example, if your source is a toxic boss—you can still manage your reaction. Catch your mind when it starts obsessing, and focus it on something else. Go to the gym and physically burn off your frustrations. Feeling calmer and more centered will also help you deal with the situation in a more graceful way, believe me.

Bottom line: Don’t let resentments have their way with you. Step back, acknowledge them, analyze them, and take appropriate action. Imagine how much more energy and peace you would have if resentment was no longer a part of your life.

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