The Rules of Resentment

It starts with a pinprick of disappointment but it never stays there. Our ride to a party is late picking us up, the instructions for the project weren’t clear, our spouse forgot to put the bill in the mail…..we find ourselves feeling resentment; brooding, ruminating, often seething resentment. Resentment tricks us into thinking that someone else has to do something for us to feel better. My ride has to be on time and this feeling will subside. I need sufficient instructions and then I can let my boss off the hook. After my spouse puts the payment in the mail I’ll calm down. While the wrongs done to us are indeed painful and difficult to handle, our resulting resentment is no one’s responsibility but our own. Yes, I meant that. It is not anyone else’s job to take care of your resentment. It is yours.

You are the one having a ruined party, a horrible attitude at work, or a miserable marriage. Often, the person we blame for our resentment is oblivious or just confused by our sullen behavior. The unfortunate temptation that resentment brings is to mentally massacre another person. Doing the real work requires laying down our mind’s machetes and turning our attention to ourselves. So what do you do?

1—Ask yourself, “What are you so angry about?” Get very clear on it. Sometimes behind the anger with someone else, there is some anger with you. I counted on them to arrive on time even though I know them to be unreliable. I had a feeling the instructions wouldn’t be sufficient and I didn’t say anything….

2—Offer yourself some compassion for your part in it and consider offering some compassion for the person you resent.

3—There are two healthy paths from here.  ACCEPTANCE and/or ASSERTIVENESS.

Acceptance often begins with a painful wrestling with reality and human weakness, brokenness, and imperfection. And then….a willingness to embrace life, people, and the complications that come with both on a deeper level. Acceptance defuses resentment and enables us to tolerate being late, allow for the inadequacy in the instructions, or loosen our grip on the idea of an ideal spouse who remembers details. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else doesn’t owe you an apology. What it does mean is that you can take responsibility for yourself in the midst of accepting that things aren’t going to go the way you wish.

Assertiveness empowers you take responsibility for crafting a response to the situation that led to you feeling resentment. Assertiveness, simply put, is being direct in voicing one’s views.  With assertiveness, you resist temptations like manipulation, withdrawal, or aggression and you make clean requests and say the difficult things. That’s OK, I’ll drive myself. I’m a stickler for being on time so it usually works best for me not to depend on someone else for a ride. or Would you be willing to go over the instructions with me?  I have a feeling that I will need more detail for a portion of the work.

Acceptance with assertiveness might look something like this: I know my wife isn’t great with details and I can live with that. I will ask her if we can switch responsibilities or if she is willing to create a system that will help her remember the important things I can’t do.

The feeling of resentment can be a very effective alert system if we allow it to be. It tells us that we have a reaction to something that needs our attention. Doing the work resentment invites is at once liberating and courageous.

7 comments


  • Rob Zeigler

    Thanks Janice. A good read first thing in my morning. For me, I’ve discovered that most of my anger rises from an effort to “mask” some feeling of failure or inadequacy.
    My anger often dissipates when I ask myself what “fear” am I trying to avoid revealing by showing anger. When I “accept” that I can’t expect to always avoid failure and “assert”, to myself or a close friend, that I am feeling this sense of failure, both the fear and anger tend to disappear or at least be manageable.

    January 30, 2014
  • Shawn

    Thanks…I needed this!

    January 30, 2014
  • Jan

    Janice, I always appreciate your words, your thoughtfulness, and the wisdom God has given you. Working with your clients, students and your family has instilled you with very concrete examples to draw from and it speaks to the rest of us also involved in the rigors of everyday life. Now if only I could pause and take a deep breath… and then get on with it.

    January 30, 2014
  • Tina Teng-Henson

    Awesome content, Janice — I really appreciate your insight and perspective on this!

    January 30, 2014
  • Great post Janice. A wonderful reminder that I am always the one responsible for my own situation. I may not be in control of the situation as it arises, but I am the one responsible for accepting it and working to improve it and the improvements are made through positive and optimistic commitment.

    January 30, 2014
  • Great, practical post.

    February 1, 2014
  • Great, practical post.

    February 1, 2014

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