Resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness) is a complex, multilayered emotion - rather than one of Ekman's six basic emotions (surprise, disgust, happiness, sadness, anger, and fear) - which has been described as a mixture of disappointment, anger and fear. Disgust, sadness and surprise, as well as the perception of injustice, are also related emotions, as are envy and spleen.
Resentment can be triggered by an emotionally disturbing experience felt again or relived in the mind, and is a compound emotion (including cognitive elements) elicited in the face of insult and/or injury.
Robert C. Solomon, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, places resentment on the same continuum as anger and contempt, and he argues that the differences between the three are that resentment is anger directed toward a higher-status individual; anger is directed toward an equal-status individual; and contempt is anger directed toward a lower-status individual.
Resentment can result from a variety of situations involving a perceived wrongdoing from an individual, which are often sparked by expressions of injustice or humiliation. Common sources of resentment include publicly humiliating incidents such as accepting negative treatment without voicing any protest; feeling like an object of regular discrimination or prejudice; envy/jealousy; feeling used or taken advantage of by others; and having achievements go unrecognized, while others succeed without working as hard. Resentment can also be generated by dyadic interactions, such as emotional rejection or denial by another person, deliberate embarrassment or belittling by another person, or ignorance, putting down, or scorn by another person.
Unlike many emotions, resentment does not have physical tags exclusively related to it that telegraph when a person is feeling this emotion. However, physical expressions associated with related emotions such as anger and envy may be exhibited, such as furrowed brows or bared teeth.
Resentment can be self-diagnosed by looking for signs such as the need for emotion regulation, faking happiness while with a person to cover true feelings toward him, or speaking in a sarcastic or demeaning way to or about the person. It can also be diagnosed through the appearance of agitation- or dejection-related emotions, such as feeling inexplicably depressed or despondent, becoming angry for no apparent reason, or having nightmares or disturbing daydreams about a person.
Resentment is most powerful when it is felt toward someone whom the individual is close to or intimate with. To have an injury resulting in resentful feelings inflicted by a friend or loved one leaves the individual feeling betrayed as well as resentful, and these feelings can have deep effects.
Resentment is an emotionally debilitating condition that, when unresolved, can have a variety of negative results on the person experiencing it, including touchiness or edginess when thinking of the person resented, denial of anger or hatred against this person, and provocation or anger arousal when this person is recognized positively. It can also have more long-term effects, such as the development of a hostile, cynical, sarcastic attitude that may become a barrier against other healthy relationships; lack of personal and emotional growth; difficulty in self-disclosure; trouble trusting others; loss of self-confidence; and overcompensation.
To further compound these negative effects, resentment often functions in a downward spiral. Resentful feelings cut off communication between the resentful person and the person he or she feels committed the wrong, and can result in future miscommunications and the development of further resentful feelings. Because of the consequences they carry, resentful feelings are dangerous to live with and need to be dealt with. Resentment is an obstacle to the restoration of equal moral relations among persons, and must be handled and expunged via introspection and forgiveness.
Psychologist James J. Messina recommends five steps to facing and resolving resentful feelings: (1) Identify the source of the resentful feelings and what it is the person did to evoke these feelings; (2) develop a new way of looking at past, present and future life, including how resentment has affected life and how letting go of resentment can improve the future; (3) write a letter to the source of the resentment, listing offenses and explaining the circumstances, then forgive and let go of the offenses (but do not send the letter); (4) visualize a future without the negative impact of resentment; and (5) if resentful feelings still linger, return to Step 1 and begin again.
Comparison with other emotions
Resentment is considered to be synonymous with anger, spite, and other similar emotions. However, although it may incorporate elements of these emotions, resentment is distinct from them in several ways. Aside from sharing similar facial expressions, resentment and anger differ primarily in the way they are externally expressed. Anger results in aggressive behavior, used to avert or deal with a threat, while resentment occurs once the injury has been dealt and is not expressed as aggressively or as openly.
Resentment and spite also differ primarily in the way they are expressed. Resentment is unique in that it is almost exclusively internalized, where it can do further emotional and psychological damage but does not strongly impact the person resented. By contrast, spite is exclusively externalized, involving vindictive actions against a (perceived or actual) source of wrong. Spiteful actions can stem from resentful feelings, however.
- Scheler considered resentment as the product of weakness and passivity.
- Nietzsche saw resentment as an ignoble emotion underlying Rousseau-esqe Romanticism - “for under all romanticism lie the grunting and greed of Rousseau’s instinct for revenge”.
- Philosopher Robert C. Solomon wrote extensively on the emotion of resentment and its negative effects on those who experience it. Solomon describes resentment as the means by which man clings to his self-respect. He wrote that it is in this moment when humanity is at its lowest ebb.
The Alcoholics Anonymous organization cites resentment as the number one offender, and one of the greatest threats to an alcoholic. Several of the Twelve Steps (step 4 inventory, step 5 inventory review, step 6 asking the fear to be removed, step 7 asking the shortcoming to be removed, step 8 creation of a list detailing any wrongdoing done, and step 9 actively seeking to make amends) of AA involve identifying and dealing with resentment as part of the path toward recovery, including acknowledging one's own role in resentment and praying for the resentment to be taken away. The inventory that AA suggests for dealing with recovering from resentments is to first inventory the resentment by identifying what person, organization, idea or thing is the source of the resentment, then to identify why it is that thing is causing the resentment and what fear is underlying the conflict. Finally, removing the other person entirely, one must ask himself/herself what is my own part in this play? The book Alcoholics Anonymous then recommends following through with more action.
Resentment can also play a role in racial and ethnic conflicts. Resentment is cited as having infected the structure of social value, and is thus a regular catalyst in conflicts sparked by inequality. It can also be one of the emotions experienced during class conflict, particularly by the oppressed social class.
- The writer Norman Douglas confessed to a habit of borrowing money, like D. H. Lawrence; but unlike Lawrence Douglas was able to hide “the primary reaction: resentfulness….We object to being patronized; it makes us resentful”.
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- Solomon R. C. (1993). The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. Hackett Publishing.
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- Stosny, Steven (June 2008). "Emotional Abuse: Is Your Relationship Headed There? You Might be a Lot Closer than You Think!". Psychology Today. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
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- Albert Camus The Rebel (Vintage nd) p. 17
- W Kaufmann ed., The Portable Nietzsche (Penguin 1987) p. 514
- AA Services. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 4th edition; 2002.[page needed]
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- N Douglas, Looking Back (London 1934) p. 349
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