8 Subtle Sources Of Resentment That Sabotage Your Happiness & Your Relationships

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couple embracing in the sunlight

Have you ever been so wronged, in large ways or small, over such a long period of time (eons, perhaps) that you could taste the bitterness with every subsequent injustice?

The situations that trigger resentment could be prior interactions with loved ones, or unfortunate circumstances lingering from your past. The pain of resentment is personal — the rain may inconvenience you and yet you don’t resent the rain because rain isn’t personal.

Maybe you didn’t get the mother you wanted or deserved — somebody who always understood and loved you.

Maybe you did your best work, pleased with its quality, and your boss had a different opinion. He humiliated you in front of the whole staff. And it wasn’t the first time.

It could be that you’re broke. Always have been and always will be. You know your finances will never improve.

It’s obvious that other, undeserving people are living high on the hog. They lied and cheated their way into fame and fortune, just like liars and cheaters always have and always will.

Bottom line is that you, in your heart of hearts, know absolutely that you have been treated unfairly and deserve much, much better than people and situations are offering you. Life is just not fair. Other people are so high and mighty. So not fair.

Welcome, my friend, to the disenchanted land of resentment.

RELATED: How To Know If You’re Struggling With Resentment — And How To Stop Before It Destroys Your Relationship



Circumstances and interactions tend to linger from the past and barge their way into your life today. We all have emotional baggage in the attic (because, you know, that emotional baggage is meaningful and significant to us) and what could be a minor annoyance or inconvenience builds on and adds to your history of resentments. Injustices experienced in the past keep reappearing and adding to the suffering you experience today.

It’s enough to make you crazy and resentful. And it’s not fun.

RELATED: Why Anger Is A Secondary Feeling Masking Much More Complicated Emotions

Here are eight things we do that invite resentment into relationships (and what to do instead):

1. Using finite words like "always" and "never" 

Instead: Carefully listen to yourself whenever you’re inclined to use the words “always” and “never.”

Both are quicksand — say either and you place yourself in your history, from which there are limited means of escape. “It’s always the same.” “He’ll never change.”

2. Saying words like "should" and "shouldn't" 

Instead: Carefully listen to yourself whenever you’re inclined to use the words “should” and “shouldn’t”.

Both are also quicksand and, whenever you use either, you’re digging yourself deeper into an absolute sand trap. “Things should be different.” “She shouldn’t have done that.”

“Always” and “never” are two sides of a single coin. “Should” and “shouldn’t” form a coin with similar construction. All four faces represent hopelessness. There’s no need to play the role of helpless victim when you might otherwise pick yourself up and carry on in the direction you choose for your life.

RELATED: Life-Changing Anger Management Techniques To Use When You Feel Like You're About To Explode

3. Pushing away and ignoring your personal "triggers" or circumstances that enrage you

Instead: Identify your personal triggers, those personal interactions, and circumstances that “engage and enrage” you.

Many of us hold our strongest resentments against family members and mothers tend to suffer the brunt of that. Growing up, you remember, your mom just wasn’t there for you in the way that you needed.

Sure, she fed you and clothed you, attended countless parent-teacher conferences, and remembered your birthday. And yet, in your opinion, she failed you as a mother — threw away your blankie when you were a toddler, prevented your teenage-and-so-grown-up self from going out with your friends, and imposed rules and restrictions.

Something similar can happen with your child, siblings, or anyone close to you whose affection or approval you seek. You, as the parent, know in your heart of hearts that everything you did, you did with your child’s best interests at heart. And your sacrifices went unnoticed and unappreciated.

Same with siblings. From the earliest you can remember, they always took what you said or did the wrong way, no matter how hard you tried.

4. Reacting without thinking to triggers and your "buttons" being pushed

Instead: Notice that your hot buttons are being pushed, and take a minute or two to acknowledge your automatic reaction.

It will be fast. It will be furious. It may momentarily blindside you. And it will offer only an inappropriate response to your immediate circumstance.

RELATED: 5 Signs You Might Have Anger Issues & What To Do About It

5. Seeing yourself as a victim in every circumstance

Instead: Recognize that you have agency.

You’re not the victim here and you have the choice of responding to the small injustice facing you right now or railing against a long history of small, cumulative injustices. You could throw today’s injustice onto the heap of your historical injustices and your heap will continue to grow.

Alternatively, you could confirm for yourself that you are uninjured, realize that the extent of the hurt was unintentional, or see that the pain you experienced was the result of a misunderstanding (yours or theirs). There are fruitful explanations that lead away from resentment. Find yourself another path that doesn’t add to your misery.

6. "Letting go" when you should be forgiving or solving problems

Instead: Distinguish between “letting it go” and forgiveness.

Letting it go involves deciding that you won’t fling today’s injustice onto your heap of injustices. You might think with resignation, “It’s always going to be this way. Better to just get along.” Or “That person is a jerk. When will I ever learn not to expect better?” In some real sense, letting it go is a means of postponing future resentments.

Forgiving yourself and those you resent involves understanding that we’re all simply human. We misunderstand ourselves and each other more than we realize. Sometimes we unknowingly contribute to the circumstances we resent. For instance, when your finances are shaky and yet you remain unwilling to take a good, hard look and establish a budget.

Sometimes we set others up so that we can continue to interact with them in the same awful, cyclical manner.

RELATED: 5 Questions To Ask When You Just Can't Bring Yourself To Say 'I'm Angry'

7. Focusing on the negative (in yourself & in your partner!) 

Instead: Express a little gratitude and be kind.

Your life is so much greater than your resentments are petty.

Appreciate your abilities and powers as a grown human being. You are capable. You are masterful. Look to yourself for validation, not others. Put aside any feeling of entitlement and any expectation that life will be fair because, truthfully, none of us is entitled to anything and life isn’t always fair.

8. Letting resentment bloom 

Instead: Choose forgiveness and a happy life.

Resentment is the poison we intend to damage others with while we’re simply choosing to drink it ourselves.

Few of us intend to be jerks — whether to ourselves or others — or to be the cause of resentment — toward ourselves or others. In the background, resentment can bloom like algae fed by fertilizer runoff. Recognizing an absence of malice and forgiving the humanness of us all is the means of unchaining yourself from the injustices you’ve experienced and treasured up until this point.

Welcome, my friend, to the enchanted land of forgiveness.

RELATED: Are You Angry All The Time? How To Calm Down Before You Say Something That Breaks Your Partner’s Heart

Susan Kulakowski, MBA/MS, is a writer pursuing personal and professional development since 2017 with a focus on making personal development courses available for children and their families. More information is available via The Relationship Mastery Institute.