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Does Resentment or Anger Rule Your Home?

They start small and gradually consume relationships.

Key points

  • The biggest challenge of living with a resentful or angry person is to keep from becoming one yourself.
  • Resentful, angry people see themselves as merely reacting to an unfair world.
  • Narrow, rigid thinking magnifies the negative aspects of real and imagined situations.
  • Resolving specific issues that invoke resentful, angry responses won’t improve relationships.

The biggest challenge of living with a resentful or angry person is to keep from becoming one yourself. The powerful contagion of resentment and anger and the almost automatic reactivity to them can easily turn you into someone you are not.

The second biggest challenge for partners who choose to remain in relationships with resentful or angry people is getting them to change.

Barriers to Change

Likely to obstruct any such attempt to change habituated resentment/anger:

  • Habit of blame
  • Automatic negative attributions
  • Victim identity
  • Temporary narcissism.

Habit of Blame

Most problem anger—that which makes us act against our best interests—is powered by the habit of blaming uncomfortable emotional states on others. Chronically resentful, angry people have conditioned themselves to pin the cause of their uncomfortable emotional states on someone else, thereby becoming powerless to self-regulate.

Self-regulation generates energy and confidence by allowing us to improve situations, rather than blame them on someone. In lieu of self-regulation, many people rely on the adrenaline-driven energy and confidence that comes with resentment and anger, in the same way that many more are conditioned to take a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. The boosts to energy and confidence from anger last about as long as the effects of a cup of coffee, which means they have to stay resentful most of the time to feel confident and energetic.

The law of blame: Eventually it goes to the closest person. They can start out blaming bosses, coworkers, neighbors, or politicians, but sooner or later, the energy of blame will usually turn on their partners.

Your resentful or angry partner is likely to blame you for all the problems of the relationship—if not life in general—and therefore will not be highly motivated to change.

Automatic Negative Attributions

States of anger and resentment feature narrow and rigid thinking that magnify only the negative aspects of behaviors and situations. They tend to attribute malevolence, incompetence, or inadequacy to those who disagree with them, which makes negotiation, much less positive change, extremely difficult.

They’re likely to perceive sincere attempts to help them as manipulation, if not abuse. Chronic resentment and anger are degenerative conditions in that the reactions they invoke in others worsen over time. Their emotional range and subsequent worldview grow narrower and more rigid, when they need to become broader and more flexible.

Victim Identity Breeds Entitlement

Resentful, angry people see themselves as merely reacting to an unfair world. They often feel offended by what they perceive as a general insensitivity to their "needs." As a result, they're likely to feel attacked by any attempt to point out ways in which they might be unfair. They show little concern for the negative effects of their behavior on others.

Driven by high standards of what they should receive from others and what other people should do for them, the angry and resentful frequently feel disappointed and offended, which, in turn, causes more entitlement. It seems only fair, from their perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations. Special consideration seems like so little to ask! Here's the logic:

  • "It's so hard being me, I shouldn't have to do the dishes, too!"
  • "I'm exploited; you have to cook my dinner!"
  • "I'm oppressed; you have to support me!"

Temporary Narcissism

I’ve had hundreds of clients who were misdiagnosed by their partners' therapists or Internet checklists with narcissistic personality disorder. Although it’s unethical and foolhardy for professionals to diagnose someone they haven’t examined, it’s an easy mistake to make with those who are chronically resentful or angry.

Everyone is narcissistic while angry or resentful. In the adrenaline rush of even low-grade anger, everyone feels entitled and more important than those who have stimulated their anger. Everyone has an inflated sense of confidence (if not arrogance), is motivated to manipulate, and is incapable of empathy, while angry or resentful. Narcissism doesn’t cause resentment and anger, but chronic resentment and anger seem like a personality disorder. Once self-regulation skills are learned and practiced, the symptoms of personality disorder often seem to vanish in those who were chronically resentful or angry.

Can You Get Your Partner to Change?

When resentment or anger dominate a person’s defense system, focusing on specifics that trigger resentful or angry responses will bring about slight temporary improvement at best. The resentment and anger will soon transfer to some other problem or issue.

Inasmuch as sincere attempts to get your partner to change are likely to be construed as manipulation, it's imperative that you focus on your own healing and well-being. Reclaim the core value lost in the fog of walking on eggshells.

Not incidentally, that is also the most compassionate thing you can do for your partner. Increasing the value of your experience will lead you away from your devaluing partner, which may serve as a wake up call to get intensive help.

See the risks of individual therapy and couples counseling for chronically resentful/angry partners.