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April 2, 2019

Signs of Resentment and How to Overcome It

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Resentment is often rooted in ruminating on a negative feeling (e.g. anger) and replaying the events associated with this feeling. It’s often the result of a long history of unhappiness or feelings of injustice and because it’s associated with the past, its present-day triggers can be unpredictable and seemingly innocuous.

Unlike other feelings that can threaten a relationship like anger and frustration, resentment will rarely subside on its own, as it builds and intensifies over time. It can be one of the most difficult feelings to address and overcome, as it often indicates an unwillingness to forgive and a history of repeated behaviour.

Some signs that your partner is resentful:

1. They express anger at the very first sign of conflict, frustration or hurt. If they blow up over the little things (and they didn’t used to react this way), it’s possible that their feelings of frustration have built into resentment and there is a near-constant anger bubbling below the surface.

2. They take displeasure in your pleasure. If they’re resentful of your success or happiness, they may criticize your accomplishments, belittle you or highlight the faults in your behaviour.

3. They look for the negative when things are going well. If you’re getting along, they may say “we’ll find a way to screw it up” or focus on negative events in the past instead of living in the present.

How to address resentment:

Forgiveness. Resentment involves holding on to hurt and a refusal to forgive. If you decide you want to forgive, you can overcome resentment. But first, you likely need to identify why you’re really upset. This can be difficult because the deeper hurt may have occurred long in the past.

Forgiveness involves letting go of negative feelings — it’s a conscious choice by someone who acknowledges that they were wronged (i.e. they weren’t deserving of the poor treatment), but opts to let go of the negative feelings nonetheless.

And forgiveness is a distinct process from other responses; when you forgive, it’s not the same as condoning, forgetting or excusing behaviour.

Once you understand the meaning of forgiveness, how do you put it into practice?

You can follow the forgiveness therapy model, which in simplified terms involves:

1. Uncovering phase: Acknowledge the injury

2. Decision phase: Understand forgiveness and opt to forgive

3. Work phase: Attempt to understand the wrongdoer’s perspective (develop empathy and compassion while relinquishing anger)

4. Deepening phase: Reflect and examine deeper meaning

Forgiveness not only benefits the relationship, but can benefit your health: When you’re angry or stressed, cortisol levels spike. Chronic anger is associated with elevated blood pressure and lowered immune response — these bodily changes are positively correlated with increased risk of depression and heart disease.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is positively associated with greater life satisfaction and positive health measures. Marital longevity, harmony and satisfaction are also strongly tied to the ability to forgive.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can also help to address resentment, as you can learn to acknowledge a feeling without ruminating on it.

Focus on empathy. When you recognize that you’re feeling resentful, can you consider what you’re trying to achieve? Can you consider moving from a place of love and empathy? If your resentment is directed toward your partner, can you stop and think about why you appreciate them or how you’d feel if you weren’t together?

It’s also important to note that we can build resentment in response to our own behaviour as well. For example, our own guilt and regret can fuel resentment, so it’s important to consider both external and internal (personal) sources of resentment. We tend to blame others’ behaviour automatically as a matter of self preservation, but it’s likely worth digging a little deeper to see if your own behaviour also plays a role in mounting anger and resentment.