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Resentment, Bitterness


Dec 2014 Personal Note from Steve

I have been feeling very resentful towards my partner, Priscilla. If I were to follow the advice on this page I would be feeling a lot better... I am still learning. But looking back on some of the things on this page reminds me of the wisdom here. I am not sure how I "forgot" these things. Maybe because I wasn't in enough pain to remember them. Or maybe because my early brain connections were so strong. So I am trying to make new, healthier connections. I really value my relationship with Priscilla. And I value her life. And I want to help her, not hurt her. So... yeah...

SPH Dec 30, 2014

Understanding Resentment

Nature's purpose for resentment

Resentment as a secondary emotion

A few causes of resentment

Managing Resentment

American sarcasm and resentment - Editorial

A page from Coping.org on resentment

Resentment In Society

Resentment Outlasts Appreciation

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Understanding Resentment

1. Nature's purpose for resentment

In certain languages, Spanish and French for example, sentir means to feel, so re-sentir, or resent, means literally to feel again. Nature evidently has a purpose for us "re-feeling" something. We may assume that nature wants us to continue feeling something or to feel it again so something positive will be gained. The purpose of resentment might be so we can:

- Keep feeling something till we take responsibility for something to which we contributed and thereby learn, grow and become a more valuable member of the species.

- Keep feeling something till we take some action to help remedy a socially unhealthy situation.

(See Managing Resentment for more detail on the possible positive outcomes of resentment)

2. Resentment as a secondary emotion

Resentment seems to be a secondary emotion. By this I mean we usually feel a more primary feeling first. A person could feel resentful for many reasons, just like a person could feel angry for many reasons.

Here are some examples.

If someone ignores me when I ask them a question I first feel a little ignored. If they continue to ignore me I might say I feel resentful towards them for ignoring me.

If someone tries to tell me how to run my life, the more primary or specific feeling might be feeling controlled.

A person could feel resentful towards authority if they have repeatedly felt controlled and forced by authority figures in the past. A child who has felt controlled, pressured and forced to do things by his mother, father or both, and then who felt pressured, controlled and forced by his teachers and school authorities may later feel resentful of anyone in a position of authority as soon as those earlier feelings are triggered or re-stimulated.

But can resentment also be instantaneous? If a person insults you, you might say "I resent that comment." This is another way of saying you don't appreciate it. To say "I resent that" seems to me to be a more intense and threatening statement than saying "I feel insulted." One could also say, "I feel resentment when you say that," but not many people talk like that so you will sound very strange if you say that. Even if you say, "I feel insulted you will sound strange, since so few people express their feelings directly with feeling words.

In any case, it seems helpful to identify the more primary feelings which lead to resentment, just as it is helpful to identify the more primary feelings which lead to anger. It is more helpful, for instance, to tell someone I feel ignored than to say I feel resentful towards you or angry at you. It is more helpful for these two reasons:

1. It is more clear what is causing you the pain.

2. It may be less threatening to say "I feel ignored" than to say either "I feel resentful," or "I feel angry."

Because so many people have experienced so many negative emotions such as feeling afraid, insecure, controlled, pressured, teased, laughed at, judged, rejected there are a lot of people who feel resentful, afraid and insecure. When these people come in contact with each other it is easy for emotions to become intensified. That is one reason it is so important to understand emotions. With more understanding people can learn less threatening and less hurtful ways of saying things.

Another note about resentment is that it is probably just before hatred on the love-hate continuum.

A simplified version of this is:

Love ---- Appreciation ---- Resentment ---- Hatred

If we like what someone did, we feel appreciation. If we really really appreciate it, we may feel love for them. If we don't like what they did, we may feel resentment. If we really, really don't like it, we may feel hatred.

I'd say that we have an imbalance of resentment and hatred in the world. If so, this would imply we all could benefit from trying to create feelings of appreciation and love.

Note: Thinking of all of this led me to think that part of a test of emotional understanding is understanding which words and statements evoke which feelings and their intensity, and which others express which feelings and their intensity. For example, could a test question be:

Which is likely to make a person feel more threatened?

I resent that
I feel insulted

A Few Causes of Resentment

It seems there are fairly universal cause of resentment. Most of us are likely to feel resentful when:

- Others try to tell us what to do, how to run our lives, what we need, what they think is best for us

- Others tell us what they think we should do, how they think we should feel, how they think we should act.

- Others feel and act superior to us.

- Others act in hypocritical ways.

- Others deprive us of our needs.

- We see those in power abusing their power and hurting others who are less powerful

- We feel falsely accused, judged, prejudged, discriminated against, labeled, ignored, attacked, hunted, persecuted, underestimated, invalidated

- We feel lied to or lied about.

Managing Resentment

One of my most valuable insights, which I call the AR3 principle, is: Accepting Responsibility Releases Resentment

Sometimes when I find myself feeling resentful, or bitter, which is often a more intense indication of resentment, I remind myself of this. I then begin to search for ways in which I was responsible for contributing to the development of the situation. It has been extraordinarily helpful in avoiding placing "blame" on other people and on focussing my attention on my own areas for improvement, growth and learning.

One useful way for me to reduce my resentment is to focus on how I contributed to the situation and what I could have done to prevent it. In other words, to take responsibility. I learned this after one particularly painful relationship.

I don't believe in "magic," but the word magical comes to mind. The power of these words, when applied, is indeed seemingly supernatural. Yet, nature has evolved certain truths, certain relationships in her complex web of life. These truths when discovered, seem like magic at first only because so few people have discovered them for themselves.

Another AR3 principle I developed is Accepting Reality Releases Resentment. This principle seems to help when there is very little we have done to contribute to a situation and there is very little we can do about it.

Something else I have found helpful is to take either learn something from what has happened or to take some constructive action.


Here is an excerpt from an article about David Caruso and his resentment towards me for writing about him.

When I say resentment I am talking about a feeling or a combination of feelings that are either a) poisoning us or b) trying to teach us something or c) trying to help us or help others. Let me try to explain.

By poisoning I mean negative feelings that are not helping us in any way. They are simply eating us away from the inside. They are causing us to be defensive, hostile, sarcastic, bitter. All of this is physically unhealty for us and toxic for us to spread around. We could even say it is contagious and we are spreading around unhealthy emotions. Or we could say we are spreading emotional pollution. David lives, by the way, in a country which I suspect already has one of the world's highest levels of this "emotional pollution". I have no doubt that it is partly a result of this emotional pollution that David has started feeling regret, resentment and defensiveness. These feelings are all contagious and are widespread in the USA. I think it would be fair to say they are found in epidemic levels, in fact.

But getting back to the three possible effects of resentment...

The second effect of, or we could say, purpose of, resentment may be to teach us something. If I feel resentful about something and I look for a lesson from that experience my resentment will diminish quickly. But let me clarify that. Let me say "If I look for a positive lesson." I say this because David could be telling himself, "I learned not to trust Steve Hein" or "I learned not to invite people I don't know into my home." But I would say that these are not particularly positive or helpful lessons. I suspect that these kinds of lessons will not do much reduce David's feelings of resentment. In fact, they might just add fuel to them. And at the very least, they will stop David from feeling open to learning from me in the future.

This is one of my biggest sources of pain, actually, from this whole situation: the knowledge that David will now be less likely to learn from me, first of all, and second, that he will be less likely to support or endorse my work. But my work is doing alright by itself, so what hurts me more is knowing that I have lost, perhaps, my ability to influence David in a way which I truly believe is a) healthy for him and b) helpful to humanity.

The last of the three effects or purposes of resentment is to help others. For example, when we see injustice and it bothers us and keeps bothering us and we keep seeing it again and again, our feelings turn to resentment. This resentment could drive us to take some action to try to correct the injustice, which would be a positive thing for everyone.

There is something else I want to say about resentment. Resentment itself is a secondary feeling. The first time we feel something which pains us, we don't feel resentful. We feel the original pain. For example, the first time someone insults us, we feel insulted. If that person had never done anything to cause us pain, and if we had never been insulted before, and the person quickly apologizes, we are not going to feel resentful.

Resentment is something which builds up. It is therefore a higher level feeling, and thus more powerful. Resentment can lead to hatred and the hatred can then lead to motivation to kill and destroy. What is needed for this emotional chain of events is repeated feelings of injustice and other forms of pain without any relief or personal self-growth. And this is exactly what has happened in the case of terrorism.

If we learn to manage resentment, we will prevent hatred and its natural consequences: death and destruction. We will, in other words, learn to prevent terrorism and the killing which follows by those who believe they are a fighting a justifiable "war on terrorism."

So I would suggest that when we feel resentful it is a sign that we need to keep studying resentment, and keep studying how to manage it so we can prevent it from building and leading to even more toxic emotions. We also need to study how we can stop creating more of it. I want to emphasize that the best time to study resentment is when we are actually feeling it. As I have written, true understanding requires feeling. We can't just read about resentment. We have to feel it, and while feeling it, look deeper -- look for the underlying feelings, the primary feelings. Then we have a chance to learn from it and become wiser with our new knowledge and understanding. And with this new wisdom we can help ourselves and others, while preventing the resentment from poisoning either us or those around us.

Trying to find or envision something positive

I am thinking about the situation with Jerren I had in Peru. To give a summary, he came down to help me work with the teenagers. Or that was the basic idea anyhow. We both had various needs we were trying to fill. Anyhow, after about three months I decided I needed time away from him. He and I were both feeling resentful at the end of our time together. I have been trying to figure out ways to help myself work through the resentment on my end. One thing I felt resentful about was the possibility that him coming to Peru helped contribute to my losing my partner Laura and to her getting pregnant by a person who is very unlikely to be a good father or good partner for Laura, which means she will be a single mother with no means of economic support at this point.

... incomplete

See also this list of Idiomatic (and often potty-mouth) Ways of Expressing Resentment (which obviously don't identify the underlying emotions)  
Resentment In Society

Just a note - I talked to a Chinese man fishing in Penang, Malaysia. He was obviously resentful about discrimination against Chinese. How much resentment can a society take before there is an explosion/ revolution etc? It would be helpful to have a measurement of resentment.

Resentment Outlasts Appreciation

It seems true that resentment outlasts appreciation. In other words, we feel resentful from a negative feeling longer than we feel appreciative of a positive feeling. For example if someone hurts us we remember and feel the pain longer than if they help us. This is probably a function of our survival instinct to help us remember to avoid threats to our safety and health.




Measuring Resentment In A Group

Some notes.

We need a way of measuring resentment in group, society, culture or country. For example, I am convinced there is so much resentment in America that there will be some kind of explosion. There is too much control and not enough caring. If we were measuring resentment and tracking it we could predict and possibly prevent a lot of killing, etc.

Feelings predict behavior.

Measure actual feelings rather than trying to change them and change behavior.