When you perceive that you have been mistreated, slighted, wronged, or victimized and taken advantage of by someone and you were not in a position to do anything about it (emphasis added), the emotion you experience is resentment.
To put it another way, resentment involves the perception that someone has taken advantage of, or victimized, you because they have an “asset” such as power, position, or influence that you do not have.
This is the message of the emotion of resentment.
By contrast, if you were focusing only on the issue that someone has wronged or victimized you without the element of some unfair advantage, this action on their part would represent a threat and the emotion you would be feeling is anger.
I will address anger specifically below.
Resentment can be accompanied by other emotions including frustration, hostility, bitterness, other “hard feelings” and, of course, anger.
The downside of resentment is that your self-esteem, self-worth or value can be diminished if you put yourself down relative to the other person.
On the upside, however, short-term resentment can bolster self- esteem by allowing you to blame others for what may be your issues.
“Blaming others” is not, however, using your emotions either adaptively or strategically.
Adaptively and strategically deploying your emotions is the approach advocated by the Emotions as Tools Model which focuses on mastering one’s emotions in order to improve your life and your relationships.
Let’s unpack this approach from an Emotions as Tools perspective:
How do you master resentment?
In order to answer this question, I need to revisit the emotions cycle.
Remember that you constantly scan your surroundings for any “threat”.
When a threat is perceived, the amygdala in your brain reacts, generates an alert which triggers the sensation of an emotion and prepares your body to take action consistent with the emotion and the perceived threat.
This reaction happens unconsciously and is what you are referring to when you say “I resent (whatever is your target)”
At the same time as this reactive message goes out, a signal is sent to the cerebral cortex which is the thinking part of your brain.
Emotional mastery engages the cerebral cortex to assess the situation and choose how you want to respond to what is happening.
Remember the message of resentment.
When you resent another person, you have perceived them as hurting you by utilizing an advantage that they have over you.
Thus, there are two parts to this interaction. One is the wrong that may have been done to you and the second is the use of an unfair advantage.
From this perspective, you need to question your perception which elicited the emotion.
And, so that you can do this as objectively as possible, you need to take a psychological step back from the situation to create some “space” between you and the other person. This is not easy and you may have to get some help to do it. But, it is doable.
Mastering an emotion involves…
- Accepting that no-one causes you to feel anything. You create what you feel by how you perceive what is happening to you.
- Questioning the message of the emotion in terms of the extent to which it informs you about…
- what is actually happening in your situation
- what actions, if any, are needed to bring about adaptive changes in your situation and
- the energy you have access to in order to facilitate taking those actions.
Let’s apply this to the emotion of resentment…
An important element in the Emotions as Tools Model is the awareness that, while you may or may not have been victimized, wronged or taken advantage of, you are not “powerless” and may have options available to you to deal with the situation you are in.
Here are the questions you need to ask and get answers to:
- What is actually happening in your situation?
- What did the other person actually do?
- To what extent was I wronged, slighted, insulted or denied my “fair share”?
- To what extent did the other person take advantage of me? If they took advantage of me, what was involved (position, power, gender, my situation)?
- Was I actually “wronged” or is there some other explanation for what they did including a possible misunderstanding (by you or the other person), poor communication skills, inadequate social skills, etc.
If there was no “wrong”, you may only need to clear up any misunderstanding.
If there was a “wrong”, then you need to ask and answer several additional questions:
- Given that there was a “wrong” which led to my being “taken advantage of”, what are my options for “making the situation right” ?
- What options do I have available to me which won’t put me at greater risk including office policy and power differentials between me and the other person? (This acknowledges the “advantage” the other person may have.)
- Can I approach this situation directly or do I need to take a more indirect approach?
If there was, indeed, a “wrong” then you will need to engage the emotion of anger and you will need to “forgive” the other person.
WhileI have addressed both anger and forgiveness in other posts, let me give a quick overview…..
Anger is a primary emotion which serves as a primitive threat detector. Anger subconsciously alerts you to and prepares your body to engage with and eliminate a perceived threat.
The message of Anger is that you perceive another as a threat and you are ready to go to war to eliminate the threat.
In the context of resentment, anger is important because it provides the energy to pursue your plan to “right the perceived wrong”.
The concept of forgiveness is NOT that it absolves anyone of any responsibility for their actions. Forgiveness is for YOU and involves the process of stepping away from and disengaging from the other person so that you can focus on your options.
So, you experience resentment, assess that you have been both wronged and taken advantage of, and use your anger to develop and carry out a plan to make things right.
If you were only wronged but no unfair advantage was utilized, your resentment resolves into anger and you can pursue your plan.
When you experience yourself feeling resentful toward someone, keep in mind that resentment is often a compound emotion which includes anger.
Because anger is both a very powerful emotion and a very familiar emotion, you may identify your anger before you identify your resentment.
I am not saying that one feeling is more predominant over the others. In fact, they are all mixed together.
Dealing with mixed feelings is often difficult because you may only be aware of one feeling and may not recognize that others are present.
So, you may have to ask yourself, when you are angry or resentful of another person, if there are other feelings present. If so, label each one accordingly and attempt to “master” it as best you can. As anger and resentment are the strongest emotions here, once you master them, the others may just resolve themselves.
And, I NEED TO EMPHASIZE, if you believe that the situation you are in represents a risk that you do not feel you can safely handle alone, seek help from a professional. Dealing with emotions such as resentment in any context in which someone is taking advantage of you can be dangerous so proceed with caution if necessary.