Resentment is a fascinating emotion because it’s generally considered a subcategory of anger, but it includes other emotions as well. When we experience resentment, we might also feel surprised or disgust, or contempt (for others or for ourselves). We might feel we’ve been wronged and have a persistent feeling of mistreatment. It’s a very complex dynamic.
The tricky thing about resentment is that it can be somewhat invisible. When someone feels angry, it’s pretty obvious — rage is visible, it’s out there, and it usually has a fixed timeline. But resentment is quieter, it simmers. We can hold on to it and live with it for a long time, years, even though it’s a very unpleasant feeling to experience. And that’s why it’s so toxic.
On top of that, women are generally conditioned to ignore, distract from, minimize or not even acknowledge their feelings of anger and resentment. But there’s an incredible amount of research that shows that suppressing these feelings not only causes our relationships to deteriorate but also our own physical health.
So the first thing you need to know is that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger or resentment — these emotions are trying to tell you something. And you should listen to what they are trying to tell you. They can force you to renegotiate things in your life that aren’t working. They can lead to positive change.
Look at the things that are triggering your resentment, the things you’ve maybe been trying not to look at, and instead gently say to yourself, ‘oh my gosh, it’s so hard to deal with this, but it looks like I need to do it.’ The beautiful thing about dealing with difficult emotions is that if you talk about them, you’ll understand what your needs are and recognize what’s weighing you down. Cleaning your mental closet requires vulnerability, humility, and accountability. You know it’s going to be messy, but you can wade in with enormous compassion for yourself.
To find that compassion, I often encourage my clients to write themselves an apology letter. It’s a simple exercise: find a quiet, private space and set a timer for five minutes. Then messily write the things you wish someone would say to you. ‘I’m so sorry you’re feeling so bad. What’s going on?’ or ‘I’m sorry you’ve been stuck working between the kitchen table and the couch while [insert partner’s name] gets the dedicated office space.’ And so on. Then put the writing away to revisit in a week, or just toss it out. Either way, it’ll help get to the root causes, clarify your boundaries, and what you need to address to constructively move past these complex resentful emotions.