How to Determine the Message in Resentment

Resentment is a tough emotion to deal with.  It can show up in all kinds of situations.  And sometimes when we least expect it, resentment can lead to actions we may not want to take.  As with all emotions, resentment is showing up to deliver a message.  What that message is for you is very personal and can only be decided by you.  If you’re not used to seeing your emotions as messengers, here’s a guide to help you get started.

First, recognizing that resentment is at play is where you want to begin.  You may see it as anger or disgust.  You may not acknowledge it and instead avoid the person or situation altogether.

Next, you want to look at where resentment is coming from.  Is it another person who’s “making” you feel resentment or is it coming from inside?  If you determine it’s someone making you feel that way, are you reacting from the standpoint of victim?  Have you let go of taking charge of your life?

After determining its source, you then want to take some action to deal with it.  What do you do?  Do you shove resentment down deep and “let it go” or do you face it, feel it and find what it’s trying to tell you so you can really let it go?

The above steps sound simple but they take a lot of work and a lot of awareness.  And they may lead to other feelings you’re not prepared for.  Following is a guide on how to work through each step and what to do when working through it scares the crap out of you.

Step 1: Awareness

As with any situation that’s not working for you, awareness is always step one.  The more aware you are, the better chance you have of putting things in their place.  If you’re reading this article, you most likely have already accomplished that step and are waiting for me to get on with it already.

Here goes – Now that you’re aware that you’re feeling resentment, what is it you resent?  Is it a person or a situation?  Often, it’s the actions of another person that trigger your resentment.  Either you’re being taken for granted or you’re being used.  You may be upset at how that person treats you or at how that person treats someone you care about.  You may have a different reason.  Whatever the reason, put a name on it.  Once you can name it, it becomes more manageable.  It’s no longer a feeling wafting out there, it’s something more concrete that you can work with.

Next, what’s at the core?  What did that person do or say?  What is the situation you resent?  Where did it originate? How long has it been going on?  What have you done previously to deal with it?  These are all questions you want to ask yourself.  Do your best not to lay blame as you’re going through these questions.  Blame is counter-productive.  If you need to go in that direction short term, try replacing blame with responsibility.  As in, who’s responsible for what you feel?

Step 2: Analyze

After working through the questions above, you have a pretty good picture of what the details are.  Person A said or did action B and that upset you and now you feel resentment.  Let’s analyze that feeling.  And lets name A and B.  This is a very simplified example but put your own information in it and see where it takes you.

Steven said, in his sarcastic way, that he loves your big butt.  You, having been on a diet for months, exercising regularly and feeling proud of your accomplishments, resent that he went to the big butt and didn’t mention the weight you lost.  Here you are with the feeling of resentment.  You don’t say what you’re feeling but you hold on to that resentment and you carry it with you.  Steven, thinking he was being funny goes about his business completely unaware of what you’re feeling.

When you analyze the situation, what’s the origin of the resentment?  Is it Steven’s remark or is it something else?  You’re blaming Steven for being insensitive and not caring about your feelings.  If you go with the story in your head, you can take it to extremes and eventually get to Steven is a complete jerk who isn’t worth your time and you never want to see him again.  You may even get to the point of wishing bad things on him.  Is it possible the origin is somewhere deeper and Steven was the trigger to your feelings.

The Root Cause

Your resentment came from a misunderstanding in communication, you feel hurt. Not dealing with that hurt fuels resentment which then fuels other feelings.  Eventually you move into anger.  You feel like Steven isn’t the person he pretends to be.  He doesn’t care about your feelings.  You blame him for not caring about you.

Here’s the thing.  If you go back to what’s going on with Steven – Steven, thinking he was being funny goes about his business completely unaware of what you’re feeling. – who’s hurting here?  And who can do something about it?

What’s really going on is a combination of a few things.  First, you didn’t speak up for yourself.  The reason for not speaking up is your own.  It may be because you were surprised by his remark and didn’t think fast enough.  Or it may be because you questioned yourself about whether you were misreading the remark.  Was he being funny or was he being mean?  Another possibility is you’re not used to defending yourself.  Or you either haven’t yet set the boundary or you haven’t yet strengthened the guarding of your boundaries.  Regardless of the reason, this is about boundaries and what you allow into your life.

How to Change It

Do you remember when I said, don’t use the word blame but if you have to go there use the word responsibility?  Here’s where that comes in.  Without laying blame, I would ask you to take responsibility for what you’re feeling.  This can be the scary part.  As difficult as it can be, you get to choose what you feel.  We humans have been conditioned to push our feelings aside but we can learn to work with them.  And that’s what this is about.

So, if how you’re currently feeling is your responsibility, what can you do with that feeling?  Steven is a jerk.  He didn’t read your mind and say what you needed to hear from him.  What might you have done differently?  Without you telling him, Steven is completely oblivious.  And rightly so because it’s unfair to him to expect him to read your mind.  He may be a jerk but in this case it’s innocent on his part if you don’t tell him what he needs to know.

With practice, you can form the words that would let Steven know what you need from him.  And with practice, you can find those words and express them more quickly.  Eventually, you’ll say them on the spot rather than after the fact.  However, it’s important to say that no matter the timing, getting used to expressing yourself will improve your ability to set and safeguard boundaries.

Another thing to look at while you’re in this analysis stage is how do you allow other people to treat you?  Do you regularly speak up for yourself with some people and not others?  Often when we have emotional ties to someone we’re less likely to defend ourselves because we don’t want to make waves.  It’s something to consider.

Step 3: Action

Now that you’ve analyzed the heck out of things, where do you stand?  Is there an action you could have taken that would have given you a different result and gotten you to a better feeling than resentment?  In our example above, the answer is yes.  You didn’t speak up for yourself initially and you’re stuck with your feelings while Steven is going on his merry way.  What can you do now to deal with the feelings you have?  Tell Steven you need to talk to him about the remark he made earlier.  Depending on the relationship he may be willing to listen, he may ask what remark you’re talking about or he may say something along the lines of “here we go again” accompanied with an eye roll.

Regardless of how he responds, very calmly tell him that when he said he loves your big butt, it hurt your feelings.  Acknowledge that he may not have meant harm and tell him it’s a sensitive topic.  This may be news to him.  Tell him that you’ve been trying hard to lose weight and that a kinder thing on his part would have been to acknowledge your progress in that area.

Now What?

Where things go from there will depend on how he responds, the tone you both use to discuss the issue and the nature of your relationship.  There are so many variables it’s hard for me to predict for you. The thing you want to keep in mind is you have the right to speak up for yourself and you have the right to be heard.  Use a calm voice and stick only to the facts.  Be aware that digging up past transgressions is a pit you don’t want to jump into.  It will only muddy the issue.  Keep in mind that every relationship is a two-way street.  You have a right to expect respect from him and you need to show respect to him.

What Else?

Now, a word about boundaries.  The message in this particular scenario is about setting and guarding boundaries that honor you.  As I mentioned earlier, you have a right to speak up for yourself.  If that’s something you don’t do on a regular basis, take a look at what keeps you from doing that.  What are some circumstances where you allow comments or actions that are offensive to you without addressing them?  What can you do to address them?  These will be the boundaries that are important to you.

Another thing to look at is what mode are you operating from?  If you find yourself doing a lot of self-talk about how the other person needs to change something about him or herself, chances are the mode you’re in is that of victim.  The more effective mode is self-assured badass.  You may waiver back and forth between the two.  We all do from time to time.  The choice of which one you operate from is yours.

Still another question is how personal is this situation and how much control do you have over it?  I raise this one because sometimes we fall into righteous indignation about something that’s happening in the life of someone we care about.  We take it so personally that we feel what we believe the other person should be feeling.  If this is something you’re dealing with, I urge you to take a step back and relinquish control to the people actually involved in the situation.  You can give advice, you can teach but you can’t live someone else’s life.  It can be very hard but you have to let other people learn their own lessons.  And that’s an article for another day.


The messages being sent by your emotions can be in your face or they can be very subtle.  If you find you’re dealing with the same or a similar emotion on a regular basis, that in itself is a message that something is trying to get your attention.  Give yourself some space and set it down on paper.  Name it, analyze it and determine what action you need to be able to let it go.  Practice honoring yourself and guard some well developed boundaries and eventually you’ll be able to operate more regularly from your self-assured badass mode.  You know she’s in there.

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