The Resentful Life

Resentment impairs health, well-being, relationships, and work performance.

Posted Jun 16, 2019

These are the questions most of my clients ask, once they realize that chronic resentment keeps them stuck in the depressive, angry, or anxious states that brought them into treatment:

Isn’t my resentment valid?

Isn’t it justified?

Yes, of course, your resentment is valid and justified. And you have an absolute right to be resentful. But those are the wrong questions. The right questions are:

Do I want to be resentful?

Is resentment keeping me from being the person, worker, partner, and parent I most want to be?

Resentment is the persistent feeling that we're being treated unfairly—not getting due respect, appreciation, affection, help, apology, consideration, praise, or reward. It keeps us locked in a devalued state, wherein it’s extremely difficult to improve or appreciate or to connect positively with people in general.

Resentment is the road to:

  • Bad sex
  • Failure at work, school, relationships
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Aggressive Driving
  • Community breakdown
  • Ill Health
  • Violence
  • Shortened Lifespan

A lot of your resentment isn’t even your own; you probably caught it from someone else. It’s one of the most contagious emotional states. If you’re around a resentful person, you’re likely to become resentful. If someone comes into work resentful, by lunchtime everyone around that person is resentful. If you’re in one mood when you come home, and someone else in the house is resentful, you’re likely to join their resentment. If you encounter a couple of jerks on the road on the way home, you’re likely to make everyone in the house resentful once you get there. Resentment passes:

  • Workstation by workstation throughout the company
  • Locker by locker in school
  • Car by car down the road
  • Room by room at home

In the workplace, resentment is:

  • The hidden cause of most failure (deteriorates judgment, increases errors)
  • Breeds stagnation, spite, infighting, backstabbing, burnout, sabotage, internal collapse
  • Prepares the way for violence (the resentful employee faced with something unexpected, getting fired or not getting a raise or promotion, is a risk to be violent).

When it comes to health, resentment increases the risk of:

In close relationships, resentment is:

  • The heart disease of families (#1 family killer)
  • Destroys trust and intimacy
  • Creates continual power struggles or persistent passive aggression
  • Eventually leads to contempt, disgust, detachment

Chains of Resentment Are Hard to Break

The habitual nature of resentment means that:

  • It’s never specific to one behavior, nobody resents just one thing
  • Its content is rarely forgotten; each new incident of perceived unfairness automatically links onto previous ones, eventually forging a heavy chain.

The chain of resentment always extends into the distant past. In advanced stages, it goes into the future. That's when you hear things like, "It's going all right now, but she'll find some way to screw up the weekend," or, "It's fine at the moment, but the ‘real him' will come out, just wait."

The tremendous effort required to drag the chain of resentment through life makes us hyper-vigilant for possible ego offenses, lest they "sneak up" on us. The chain of resentment makes us look for things to resent. This creates frequent sour moods and an atmosphere wherein no offense is too trivial or too unrealistic to be added as yet another link on the chain. We'll find things to resent in the news, traffic patterns, a dearth of parking places, the temperature of drinking water, and in other people's tastes, thoughts, opinions, mannerisms, and feelings.

A member of a court-ordered class I once taught had a colorful way of describing the effects of resentment. He said that dragging the chain of resentment through life is like carrying around a bag of horse manure. (Okay, he did not say "manure.") You want to smear the bag of horse doo-doo in the face of the person you resent. So you carry it around, waiting for the opportunity, and carry it around, and carry it around, and carry it around. And who stinks?

Part II of this post will focus on a resentment-free life.