The Psychology of Resentment: What Do Resentful People Hide?

The Psychology of Resentment: What Do Resentful People Hide?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Resentful people are always holding on to the things that hurt them like burning pieces of wood they can’t seem to let go of.

They do this to be able to throw those things back at the people who hurt them anytime they please. The funny thing is that, by doing this, they only end up hurting themselves. There’s nothing positive about holding on to that burning hatred and anger for so long.

Most of us know a resentful person. However, there’s one thing we must always keep in mind. More often than not, we think that those who experience this deep and self-destructive feeling are people who didn’t learn to forgive others. But this is actually a very complex subject that has many different nuances.

It doesn’t really matter what people say about this feeling. The truth is that it’s quite universal and recurrent and that no one is exempt from feeling it. A person who experienced traumatizing events such as abandonment or betrayal is very prone to feeling resentment.

A lot of resentful people have been victims of complicated and hurtful situations where they didn’t see any other way out than bottling everything up inside them as anger. When we see the reason behind this feeling, we might understand it. Nonetheless, it’s not a healthy feeling at all from a psychological point of view.

The first reason why it isn’t healthy is that it’s characterized by a highly harmful fact: chronicity. This is an anguishing state that tends to prolong over time, to the point where it can interfere with other aspects of a person’s daily life. It’s not uncommon for their mood to change. Also, it’s not uncommon for them to stop trusting others, have sudden attitude changes, and mistreat others. Resentment is like rust. It spreads and ends up debilitating an entire structure and identity.

Resentful people are capable of living a happy life as long as they make use of the correct psychologycal tools for self-improvement.

Characteristics and psychological profile of resentful people

Resentful people keep a safe inside them. Inside that safe, they hide the pain they felt during a betrayal, the pain a lie caused, and the sadness of abandonment. They keep this safe because they don’t want to forget any detail of those experiences. They pretty much turn this pain into anger. This anger then leads to hatred.

Similarly, another thing that’s usually a part of this dangerous formula is revenge. Although it sounds physically aggressive, it isn’t meant in a direct or violent way. All they want is the other person to get a taste of their own medicine and feel bad about what they did.

Here are some common characteristics of resentful people:

Inability to forgive

We all know that forgiving isn’t the easiest thing to do. However, we must keep in mind that it’s an important thing to do if we want to get closure and move on with our lives. Resentful people don’t want to forgive anyone. All they do is feed their pain by replaying the triggering event over and over.

By doing this, their feelings of despair and anguish intensify. In fact, the University of Pisa carried out a study that was published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience magazine that revealed that, while feeding resentment deepens the emotional wound, forgiving regulates a great number of neuronal structures, reduces stress, and activates areas in the prefrontal cortex related to problem-solving.

An angry girl looking through a glass.

Dichotomous thinking

You’re either with me or against me. Things are either black or white. You either help me or you’re betraying me. This way of thinking automatically causes cognitive distortion. The worst part is that resentful people don’t even realize they think this way since it becomes so natural for them. Going to extremes is their way of handling everything. They tend to push everyone away because of this.

Immense pride

Pride is a battle horse that invades and annihilates everything. Resentful people are always on the defensive. They’ll always find a way to get upset at you, no matter what you do. Even the smallest things make them feel bad about themselves. Thus, it’s not easy to coexist, have a conversation, or reach an agreement with a proud person because you know that, at the end of the day, they’ll take everything personally.

Inability to tend to emotional and psychological needs

We all get hurt sometimes. Having negative feelings about the person that hurt us isn’t frowned upon. It’s actually quite the opposite, we kind of have the right to. However, being permanently angry at them and not being able to detach ourselves from the event and the pain is not psychologically normal. Feeling like this on a daily basis will only cause bitterness.

We must digest the things that happen to us and move on. Now, moving on doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving everything. It means making use of psychological strategies to deal with our wounds and open ourselves up to new opportunities. Those who don’t give themselves the chance to escape from their frustrations will live a life full of grudges and spite.

A man with a black cloud over his head.

How to keep resentment from controlling us

A behavioral psychology article talked about an interesting study on this topic that was conducted in Ontario, Canada. In this study, the researches discussed the importance of giving resentful people appropriate psychological tools that would allow them to welcome emotional forgiveness into their lives.

There’s a very simple reason why this is such an important exercise. Basically, it allows us to get rid of our negative emotions in order to create a new psychological reality.

  • On the other hand, it’s important for resentful people to try to have flexible thoughts. With the help of this exercise, they’ll be able to start seeing things from a new perspective.
  • Likewise, it’s also convenient to offer them exercises that can help them manage their anger appropriately. Their distorted thoughts often cause an unhealthy physiological activation.
  • Last but not least, resentful people must learn to start focusing on the present instead of the past. Thinking only about past experiences keeps them from living a free life. To fight this, they should focus on starting new projects and relationships.

As a conclusion, we can say that resentment is a bottomless pit where no one deserves to live. We should take advantage of the escape routes that life offers us. There are plenty of paths that lead to freedom, happiness, tranquility, and dignity.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.