Overcoming Resentment and Bitterness

relationship difficulties: young couple having a fight
relationship difficulties: young couple having a fight

Overcoming Resentment and Bitterness

The word resentment is best understood as having bitter indignation at being treated unfairly or unkindly. Resentment can come when you are misunderstood, neglected, rejected, slighted, and mistreated.

This treatment is followed by bitterness, discontentment, and dissatisfaction. It can bring about ill will, animosity toward others, and feelings of envy and jealousy.

When we are resentful, we are not merely rehearsing the facts of a slight or argument. Instead, we re-experience and relive them in a way that affects us emotionally, physiologically, and spiritually in very destructive ways. Failure to let go of resentment will further disintegrate connections with others and damage intimate relationships.

Once you have been offended or an offense is perceived, it can lead to intense feelings of disappointment, disgust, and anger.  Robert C. Solomon, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, sees resentment, anger, and contempt as a similar feeling toward individuals that have different levels of status.

He argues resentment is directed toward a higher-status individual; anger is directed toward an equal status individual; and contempt is anger directed toward someone of lower status (Solomon, 1993)

The Infection

Years ago, I had a finger that began to throb. It turned pink and ugly and was highly sensitive to even the slightest bump. This extreme sensitivity did not occur because I was weak or unable to handle pain. I was not distorting or faking the intense and uncomfortable, painful feelings. This reaction occurred because the finger was infected.

I believe people who have been wounded in the past often carry emotional infections, not external wounds, but internal and emotional wounds that have gone unhealed and been allowed to fester.

Once that has occurred, it may result in an over-reactivity to even the slightest bumping. Mistakes, hurts, and slights are filtered through painful experiences of the past.

The current felt-pain is added to the pain of the past, and results in increased resentment. The original wound and the original wounder get mixed up with present day events and present day people. These inaccuracies and distortions cause further relational heartache.

Changing the Way You Think

The past cannot be changed. We can, however, change the way we think about it. Our perceptions can be altered. Rather than be bitter, angry, and resentful about what happened, we can change the way we think about it.

Although we cannot change the past, we can change the way we see ourselves because of what happened.

We do not need to see ourselves as inadequate, inferior, or incompetent. Resentment is fueled by rehearsing and ruminating over what happened. Continuing in this line of thinking will cause bitterness and resentment to grow.

Common Thoughts Behind Resentment

Examine the thoughts below. Check the ones that apply to you.

  • I don’t deserve this kind of treatment
  • They didn’t consider my disability
  • I was discriminated against because of my race, culture, creed, color
  • My parents expected more of me than they should have
  • I had to be more responsible than other people
  • I did the work and they got the credit
  • Other’s actions and words were disrespectful and made me feel inadequate
  • They broke their promises
  • I expected them to act like adults
  • I expected them to act like professionals
  • I could never please them, no matter how hard I tried
  • Even though I made my feelings known, they persisted in hurting me
  • I treated him fairly, but he betrayed and humiliated me anyway
  • My parents didn’t treat me fairly
  • They didn’t get caught, but I did
  • My life didn’t have to be this hard
  • I was teased, mocked, ridiculed, bullied, and made fun of
  • My sentence was unfair
  • I grew up underprivileged, poor, and deprived
  • My life was difficult, unfair, complicated, and unjust
  • I was often misunderstood in my feelings and my actions
  • The system owes me and I’m not getting what I deserve
  • Others got promotions and advancement, even though I deserved it more than they did
  • I was often overlooked and ignored
  • Other people did not do enough for me
  • I trusted them and they lied, deceived, and betrayed me
  • I was singled out, targeted, and profiled
  • Other people did not do what they should have done for me
  • They had no time for me
  • That person was selfish, self-centered, and self absorbed, with no time for me
  • This really isn’t my fault, they are the ones to blame
  • They didn’t acknowledge or appreciate my experience, knowledge, strength, or contribution

How it Works

Resentment often remain because we justify our right to be offended. Letting go of a resentment grates against our sense of justice. We were wronged, and therefore we are right to be hurt, angry and offended. With that attitude, resentment lingers and bitterness develops.

If you carry bitterness and resentment, you may be quick to blame others for problems as they arise. The person filled with resentment is often reluctant to admit responsibility or fault, and is resistant to being held accountable for future actions.

When we are injured by someone we are intimately involved with or close to, the wound will often have lasting effects. Injuries resulting in resentful feelings often occur by those closest to us. We feel betrayed and resentful because we expected better treatment and more love and affection from those closest to us.

Effects of Carrying Resentment

When resentment goes unresolved, it can have a variety of negative effects. You may feel easily irritated, touchy, or have a sense of edginess when you think about the person who hurt you. There may be a denial of anger on the surface, but inwardly, hidden damage is on the increase.

Focusing on past hurts may cause you to feel like a victim in every difficult situation. This will alter your perception of reality and make it difficult to have gratifying, rewarding, and positive interpersonal experiences. You will find what you are looking for. If you expect to be mistreated, slighted, and offended, you will surely find it.

It Gets Worse

Long-term effects of bitterness may include the development of a hostile, cynical, and sarcastic attitude. This may further damage relationships and thwart your own personal and emotional growth. It may become increasingly more difficult to communicate your emotions to others, trust other people, and you may lose self-confidence.

Future miscommunications may result, which only increase resentful feelings and make reconciliation increasingly more difficult and unlikely.

Let It Go

Carrying past resentment may make us thin-skinned. You may find yourself easily and often offended. Consider the game of hockey. The players on the team often get bumped, even by teammates. Thankfully, they do not become resentful, instead seeing it as part of the sport of hockey. Life is like that, too.

You are going to get bumped. Do not be surprised or shaken when difficulties arise, you do not get treated with respect, or you get bumped in life. Let it go, overlook it, and cover it over. Become a master at forgiveness.

Change Your Thinking

  • I am choosing to forgive
  • My thoughts about the past may be inaccurate
  • I can respect others, even though I’ve been mistreated
  • Commitment to my character drives my actions, not someone else’s treatment of me
  • I can quit repeating past mistreatment
  • I can make better choices today
  • I can be intentional not reactive
  • I can choose to love others for who they are, not hate them for what they’ve done

Resolving Resentments

  1. ​Gain awareness of the emotions you experience regarding your past hurt.
  2. Acknowledge how the action or past hurt affected you when it happened.
  3. Reflect on what you began to think and believe about yourself because of what you endured.
  4. Begin to alter what you think and believe in the present, rather than repeat the offending behavior or focus on the offender.
  5. Forgive the original wound-er, which enables you to not react to the current offense with the same intensity.
  6. Examine how your resentment may come from mentally confusing people in your present life with people from your past.Put a thought between your feelings of resentment and indulging in ruminating about them, such as “I am able to forgive,” or “that past pain no longer shapes my present or my future.”
  7. Think like a forgiving person. “I am able to forgive faults, cover over mistakes, and overlook an offense.”
  8. Focus on those things you can control. You can’t control the past, but you can make better choices today–begin by letting go of hurt feelings.
  9. Accept that people make mistakes and are imperfect. Choose to let go of their past mistakes and live your life filled with kindness, compassion, and understanding. Increasing your compassion for others will allow you to accept the imperfect actions and unfairness of the past. Use these things to become stronger, rather than seeing yourself as a victim.


Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!