Resentment is an unhealthy emotion. While many people believe resentment is simply a lack of forgiveness, it's a much more complicated emotion. The reasons people hold on to resentments vary based on the reason for the resentment.
And because everyone experiences hurtful situations, resentment is more common than people realize. However, scientists believe that you can choose forgiveness over resentment and improve your mental and emotional health.
- Disregard and Disrespect
In a series of essays and studies published by Routledge Press, researchers found that people expect to be treated with some degree of goodwill and kindness by others. When someone doesn't treat you this way, resentment against them begins to form. The perception of being treated with outright disrespect also breaks this social contract of kindness. When the situation isn't resolved, resentment grows, and some people may continue to feel the resentment indefinitely.
People perceive disregard and disrespect differently, depending on their level of self-esteem and their belief in where they are in social status. Psychologists have found that people with low self-esteem are generally more resentful of others.
People who believe they are in a lower social class will often resent those they feel are above them but may accept being treated with disregard and disrespect as inescapable because of their status. However, repeatedly being treated poorly only adds to feelings of resentment.
Ancient humans evolved their emotional understanding of acceptance based on the benefits of belonging to a group, especially safety and support. In a study published in Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that the need for acceptance evolved as a fundamental aspect of human nature. When a person doesn't feel accepted by a group, they may resent being excluded. This resentment is based on the fear of losing the benefits of a group membership.
In modern society, social and networking groups provide advantages in business, for a person's career, and to raise someone's social status. When a group does not accept a person they believe they deserve to belong to, they may resent that group and similar groups that they think might exclude them.
Holding on to resentment of these groups keeps them from needing to examine their skills, abilities, and whether they truly deserve to be accepted. Instead, they protect their low-self-esteem by placing the blame on others.
Severe trauma, such as physical, emotional, or mental trauma or abandonment, often leads to resentment of the person or type of person who committed the traumatic act. According to psychologists, until a person resolves the trauma they have been through, bitterness may help them protect their ego, self-esteem, and emotions. However, these benefits are short-lived, and unless a person processes their trauma, resentment will become an unhealthy mental and emotional outlook on life.
Injustice is another trigger where resentment offers short-term benefits. When a person perceives an injustice, bitterness may give them the courage to stand up for themselves and others. An initial feeling of irritation can cause someone to be assertive in their behavior and demand a level of respect from others. But when a person can't resolve a conflict to their satisfaction through assertiveness, continued resentment may make them aggressive in their behavior.
According to researchers at Psychology Today, the feeling of courage and satisfaction a person feels when they are assertive can also cause someone to hold on to resentments. If a person doesn't have other ways to build their self-esteem, feeling resentful and then remembering their response may become their way of boosting their courage. Over time, resentment spreads until a person feels the need to resent almost everything to feel control and satisfaction.
According to a Stanford University study, people have more control over their emotions than they know but often release that control to a group. If everyone around you is resentful of someone or something, you may start to feel resentment, too, even if you haven't been personally harmed. Additional research is needed to determine if this "group think" is based on the general need for respect and acceptance.
People hold on to resentments because sometimes, the initial feeling of resentment helps them cope. They may also feel disrespected or rejected. If the situation isn't resolved, resentment can grow into a long-term outlook and feeling.