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Embracing Bitterness: The Benefits of Resentment

Some resentment can protect us, help us heal, and boost self-worth.

Key points

  • Like many emotions, resentment can both benefit and harm you.
  • Resentment can promote your safety, self-worth, and emotional healing.
  • Relationship repair can be promoted by resentment.
Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio
Source: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

Like anger, resentment has a bad reputation. It’s often labeled as a "negative" emotion or is considered to be an emotion that needs to be fixed. Yet resentment can be a healthy emotion that has its benefits, such as the following:

Resentment can keep you safe.

If you never felt resentful, would you know that someone had wronged you? You might not. Think about a time you have been genuinely wronged or treated unfairly. Is not your perception of such a wrong always accompanied by a feeling of anger or indignation directed toward the party (or parties) responsible?

That’s just what resentment is, and it seems to be inseparable from our experiences of unfairness. In any case, it seems odd—even maladaptive—to acknowledge that a wrong or injustice has been committed against you and yet feel no negative emotion in response to it.

Imagine that certain people wrong you, insult you, and injure you, but you do not feel resentment. What’s to stop these people from continuing their actions? What relational consequences do they experience? What’s their motivation to treat you differently?

Resentment can help to keep you safe by making you aware that others are harming you so that you are able to take steps to assess and promote your safety or advance your best interests. For example, if a friend makes plans with you and cancels at the last minute multiple times, you may feel resentful. If you find out you’re being paid less than a coworker for performing the same work—or less than a coworker who performs poorer-quality work than you—you will likely feel resentful.

In such cases, resentment may motivate you to discuss these issues with your friend or employer; it can lead you to realize that you need to establish firmer boundaries with your friend (or perhaps cease making plans with them altogether) or advocate for fair compensation at work. Thus, resentment can help promote your emotional safety and material well-being, or even your moral, political, or legal rights.

Resentment is a part of healing.

Imagine that someone has harmed you severely or repeatedly. To heal from these experiences, you will need to process your thoughts and emotions. This processing can be done either intentionally or subconsciously and might involve many different thoughts and emotions, including anger, disappointment, fear, and resentment. Each of these emotions plays an important role in your healing and should be acknowledged and embraced. If you avoid or attempt to suppress feelings of resentment, you may hinder your emotional processing and delay or sabotage healing.

Resentment is an opportunity for relationship repair.

When someone wrongs you, there is a natural break in your relationship with them. This break can last for a few minutes or several days, months, or years, or it may never be repaired. Such breaks are often a natural part of healthy relationships. Resentment serves as a sign that you have experienced a break in a relationship.

For example, feeling resentful regarding a friend consistently canceling plans is a sign that there is a break in this relationship. What if you never felt resentment? You might not know that there is a break that needs to be repaired. You may not initiate or participate in mending the relationship, and either it will continue as it has, or it will end.

Resentment promotes self-worth.

Resentment is an emotional response to something you perceive as a wrong, insult, or injury. If you have been wronged, your resentment is a sign that you understand you've been wronged and that you do not agree with the perpetrator’s actions.

Here’s an example: If you believe that your time is valuable, you will likely feel resentful if a friend constantly cancels plans at the last minute. Your friend may not believe your time is valuable, but you do. Therefore, your resentment is a sign of your self-worth. In contrast, if you do not believe your time is valuable, then you may not feel resentful when others cancel plans because their actions align with your low self-worth.

Thus, resentment is often rooted in healthy self-esteem or the sense that one is worthy of respect, thoughtful consideration, or fair treatment. In addition, resentment may motivate you to advocate for yourself by establishing and maintaining boundaries with others that support and affirm your self-worth.

Resentment can both harm and benefit you. When resentment is severe and persistent it can lead to significant physical and mental health concerns. Yet, this is the case for other emotions as well: Anger, for example, can keep you safe and help to increase your motivation. It can also be damaging and debilitating. Resentment isn’t a bad emotion; it’s simply an emotion.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

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