Psychology of Resentment

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Projecting Responsibility for Unhappiness

When we’re feeling resentful the typical response is to point that resentment towards the person who we believe has wronged us. This person becomes responsible for the unwanted state of our psyches and for making things better.

But in the vast majority of cases, particularly when resentment has built up over a long period of time, the unwanted state of affairs is due to our own felt inability to clearly communicate or even be able to articulate our psychological and emotional needs. For whatever reason, in this particular conflicted relationship we find it difficult to call a spade a spade, to state simply and clearly what’s behind the conflict and what we believe needs to change.

Deciding to Look Inwards

So while we automatically tend to point our resentment towards an external source we should use our resentment, particularly our long-term resentment, as a cue to look inwards. We’ve got to push past our defense mechanisms and resistances in order to discover why we feel powerless, why we don’t feel like we can be totally honest about our needs, and why engaging in open conflict with the person we believe has wronged us seems scary or impossible.

Conflict Can Be Healthy or Unhealthy

Remember that conflict in and of itself is not good or bad ,but simply an unavoidable part of human life and human relationships, because no two people are exactly the same and no two people have full access to each other’s inner worlds.

Conflict can be healthy or unhealthy though. The fact is that when resentment has built up in an intimate relationship over the months and years it’s representative of unhealthy conflict, of a festering wound that’s never had the chance to heal because nobody has ever directly addressed it. Feelings of resentment have less to do with the people who have wronged us and more to do with our own felt inability to do anything to right those wrongs.