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Blog Short #88: How to Get a Handle on Resentment

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Resentment is one of those pushy emotions that inserts itself into your psyche whether you like it or not. It’s unkind and stirs up other negative behaviors and emotions like judgment, anger, frustration, superiority, and envy.

Underneath it lies a layer of helplessness because when you feel resentful, you also usually feel paralyzed to do anything to change it. That’s why it’s so scratchy and irritating.

Today I’m going to break it down for you and tell you how to deal with it. Let’s start with causes.


The causes are varied. Some of the more common ones are:

  1. Unfairness or inequity
  2. Invasion of territory
  3. Feeling dominated or held hostage
  4. Being shunned, dismissed, demeaned, ignored, misunderstood, or belittled
  5. Being taken advantage of

For example:

  • Your co-worker regularly interrupts your train of thought with complaints and gossip.
  • You carry more of the workload than another colleague, yet that person gets more accolades from the boss.
  • You do more of the chores at home while your spouse spends time playing video games.
  • You only hear from a friend when she needs something.
  • You have no voice when it comes to work policies that affect you.

Not only do these situations lead to resentment, but they build over time because they’re repetitive, and you feel helpless to change them.

If we dig a little deeper, two primary issues lead to resentment. These are:

  1. Not being recognized or valued
  2. Envy

Not being recognized or valued

Any time you feel invaded, not taken seriously, taken advantage of, not considered or appreciated, or dismissed – you feel devalued.

There’s a sense of being less than everyone else, as though what you need is irrelevant while everyone else gets what they need.

It’s isolating and hurtful. And if this is an ongoing situation, it’s emotionally draining and damaging.

While resentment often creates anger and dissatisfaction, it can lead to depression when the causes are left unresolved.


I’ve been reading Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, and she made a great point when talking about resentment. She said that resentment isn’t so much about anger that someone isn’t doing what they should, but rather that they get to do what you can’t.

If you’re working harder, the other person is getting to relax. You would like to be able to do that. You would like to be the one who’s taken care of, who gets the accolades, or whose feelings are considered.

Envy and resentment are best friends!

So what can you do?

Two Options

There are actually three options, but the third one is not advisable. It’s doing nothing and continuing to allow the resentment to build. There are consequences for taking this tact because it eventually damages relationships, job performance, or sometimes even your health.

The viable options are:

  1. Do something to make a change
  2. Let it go and focus elsewhere

Things You Can Do to Make a Change

Evaluate the situation.

What exactly do you resent? You need to name it and understand what’s driving your feelings about the situation before you can tackle it.

  • Are you envious of something or someone?
  • Are you feeling helpless, and if so, about what?
  • Do you have expectations that aren’t being met?

In terms of this last one, you also have to ask whether or not the expectations are reasonable, including expectations of yourself or someone else.

The bottom line is to get clear on what it is you resent.

Set Boundaries

Once you know what’s driving the resentment, you’ll also see what you need to change if you want the feeling to resolve itself.

In most cases, resentment is related to a lack of boundaries.

This is particularly true when you feel taken advantage of, invaded, constantly interrupted, mistreated, or devalued. By not setting boundaries, you allow these behaviors to continue.

It’s hard to set boundaries if you aren’t used to or comfortable with voicing your thoughts and feelings. But there’s no other way, and setting boundaries is necessary at some point in everyone’s life. Once you do it and keep practicing, it will become second nature.

More importantly, when you set boundaries without hesitation, people won’t attempt to take advantage of you nearly as much. They can “feel you,” as the saying goes.

Tips for Setting Boundaries Effectively

To set boundaries doesn’t mean you have to go in trails blazing and erecting steel barriers. It means telling someone how you feel about what’s happening. To do that effectively, use those standard communication rules I’ve mentioned in past blogs:

  • Use “I” messages – “When you do this, I feel this,” or “When this happens, I react with {whatever the emotion}.”
  • Don’t attack – describe. Be specific. Say how you would like things to be. What do you need or want?
  • Stay calm and be kind, yet firm.
  • Ask how the other person feels about what you’re saying.

When you do that last thing, you invite the other person to add their thoughts and feelings to the discourse. It keeps you connected and helps to avoid things becoming adversarial.

You may find out something you didn’t know. Maybe the person doesn’t know they’re stepping on your toes. Not always, but sometimes.

It might take some negotiation or compromise if the subject is ongoing. However, you need to decide what’s negotiable or not and then make that clear.

Either way, just saying how you feel about something and what you need or want is very relieving, even if the response isn’t all you want it to be.

Letting Go

Sometimes you can let go of something without continuing to feel resentful. If so, do it.

In other cases, a situation may arise where there doesn’t seem to be a way to resolve the issue causing the resentment.

For example, you might have a co-worker who slacks on his work, and you take up that slack most of the time. If your boss isn’t willing to deal with the problem, and the co-worker is oblivious to your attempts to set boundaries, you might decide you can’t solve this problem. An alternative would be to let go of this job and find another that’s more suitable.

Sometimes you have to cut your losses because fighting the situation will not be fruitful.

In a case like this, it might take more time to make the changes you need to make, but deciding to begin working on a course of action will help you move away from the resentment and put your energy into your next steps. Taking action is pivotal in breaking through the feelings of helplessness.

The Takeaway

Resentment is an alarm to inform you that there’s a situation requiring some action on your part. When you feel it, don’t let it fester.

Always check first to see if the resentment’s misplaced. Are your conclusions about the situation accurate? Are you projecting some of your issues onto someone else and then resenting them for what’s actually your problem? It may be that there are issues on both sides.

Once you’re clear on that, decide what action you need to take. Write out steps if that helps. Talk to someone you trust if that helps determine how to go about it, but stop venting and do something. You’ll feel better!

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


PS – For more help with setting boundaries, click here to read

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