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Releasing Resentment: Who You’re Really Angry With and Why

Couple Sitting

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ~Malachy McCourt

“Can I kiss you?” he asked.

I didn’t particularly want to kiss him, but it had been a benign first date, and I didn’t know how to say no without hurting his feelings.

We were standing by my car in broad daylight, and what could be the harm, right? So I rather unenthusiastically nodded my head.

He, on the other hand, was quite enthusiastic, more than I was prepared for.

As he leaned in, I closed my eyes and endured the kiss, which most definitely did not tingle my toes. And it went on longer than I wanted, because again, I didn’t know how to end it without hurting his feelings.

So I waited. And after enduring a second, even longer, more enthusiastic, and less-desired-on-my-part kiss, I finally managed to extricate myself, thank him for lunch, slip into my car, and drive away.

I was relieved to be done with that date, and I was quite honestly annoyed. No, strike that—I was resentful.

This perfectly inoffensive man had now acquired a downright unpleasant aura in my mind. Couldn’t he read that I wasn’t interested? Why did he have to pull me into a second kiss? Oh, how I resented him! 

As I navigated the waters of online dating in search of a compatible life partner, scenarios similar to this one played themselves out over and over.

After (I kid you not) 57 first dates in a two-and-a-half year period, I’m of the opinion that there may be no greater route to self-growth than dating, if you go about it with the amount of self-examination that I did.

One of the great gifts I got from my quest for a life partner was the realization that I needed to get clear in my own head where my limits were, before leaving my house for the date.

In fact, I needed to learn to set limits in a lot of areas of my life, and it was dating that taught me how! Before I gained this clarity, though, I got very familiar with the emotion of resentment. 

I remember one moment, as I stewed with resentment towards a thoughtful, considerate, perfectly wonderful man, that I had an epiphany.

I’d allowed him to go just a tad further than I really wanted, but when I thought about it, the guy had done absolutely nothing wrong. He’d been a perfect gentleman, and would no doubt be horrified if he’d known his advances had been unwanted.

His good intentions and obvious respect for me forced me to question what was really going on here. Why was I resentful at him, I wondered?

The only one who really deserved the brunt of my anger, I realized, was myself. The guy was just following my hazy lead, and would have backed off in a heartbeat, if I’d simply asked.

That was when the light bulb clicked on over my head.

That was the moment it became clear to me that resentment isn’t anger with someone else at all; resentment is anger with oneself, misdirected at someone else through the lens of victimhood. 

Everything changed in that moment.

When you’re trained to be a people-pleaser, like I was, setting clear limits is hard. It was easier to just go with the flow, and then get resentful and blame my dates when my true wishes weren’t magically honored.

It was easier to play the victim.

But playing the victim doesn’t lead to happiness or empowerment. And once I acknowledged to myself that this is what I’d been doing—playing the victim—I resolved to take responsibility.

When I realized that my resentment wasn’t serving any useful purpose, and that it was really me I was angry with for not setting clearer, stronger limits, I could release the resentment and work on making the changes I needed to myself.

The more I took responsibility for my desires—or lack thereof—and set clear boundaries with my dates, the less victimized I felt. And the fewer unwanted kisses I had to tolerate!

And of course, taking responsibility for yourself extends to every area of your life, not just first dates! Learning to set boundaries and communicate them is an essential tool for anyone looking for a happy life.

Resentment is anger with oneself, misdirected at someone else through the lens of victimhood. 

This simple statement was like a magic formula for me. It became my mantra for a while, helping me chart a less turbulent course through my dating days.

Time for a Recharge

Knowing something and always integrating it in your life are two different things, however. I recently discovered that I needed to remind myself of my resentment epiphany.

That thoughtful, considerate, perfectly wonderful man I mentioned above? He’s been my life partner for over three years now, and he’s still perfectly wonderful.

He does not, however, have any interest in physical exercise.

I, on the other hand, am rather more concerned with my fitness than your average Joe. But even so, I don’t always reach my goal of daily exercise.

I want to be fit, but I don’t always want to pull myself away from other things and get to the gym.

In a psychology class I was taking, I learned that low physical fitness is actually “contagious.”

Studies have shown that people are more likely to become sedentary and/or obese when people in their close social network are sedentary and/or obese, and I latched onto this data just the other week, as I was frustrated with myself for letting work get in the way of my exercise commitments.

It would be so much easier to go to the gym if my partner had any interest in being my workout buddy! And it was so much easier to resent him for not having such an interest, than to take responsibility for my own failings.

Thankfully, before I got too deep in the poisonous pool of resentment, I remembered my epiphany from years ago: Resentment is anger with oneself, misdirected at someone else through the lens of victimhood.

Yes, it would be easier to get to the gym if my partner were gung-ho to get there himself, but he’s not to blame for my lack of exercise, I am.

I was the one who chose to keep pounding away at the computer instead of going to the gym! The responsibility was mine alone, and any anger directed elsewhere was a pointless waste of energy.

Whew! I felt like I’d escaped a close call. Instead of stewing in resentment toward my sweetie, I was filled with gratitude for the lessons I learned during my dating days!

It was a good reminder. Now my antennae are back up again, watching for the niggling feeling of resentment so I can nip it in the bud before it blooms.

Whether it’s unwanted kisses or a visit to the gym, when you take 100% responsibility and realize your anger is really toward yourself, resentment melts away and makes space for greater happiness.

Photo by La Zenits

About Melissa Dinwiddie

Melissa Dinwiddie helps people turn their creative taps to "on," and transform their lives from grey to full color. She blogs and podcasts at Living a Creative Life, where you can get a FREE printable poster of her 5 reminders of why creative play is a world-changing act.

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  • Janine

    Just what I needed to read right now! Thank you 🙂

  • James

    Thanks for the post! I have a question though…it makes perfect sense that resentment comes from within you / as a result of your own actions / thoughts rather than the result of another person’s actions and that is clear in the examples you noted. But what about the resentment that occurs…say…when a partner lies or deceives; Or when someone has clearly done something that hurts you and that you in no way (seemingly) directly caused or acted in a way to cause. That is the resentment I have a hard time processing as caused by me. I realize I still own it and need to let go of it…but I don’t assign its source to me. But perhaps I am just not fully comprehending…thoughts?

  • Ever Here Now

    Enjoyed reading that. I really have to agree with you on just how important it is to know how and when to set your limits without taking on a sense of guilt into the bargain. Not everyone appreciates that but if we can make ourselves understood without hurting other peoples feelings then in the end this is by far the better choice to make.

  • I agree, James. I’ve wrestled with that myself. t would be helpful to have more than one word for resentment, because there are definitely different kinds: the resentment that comes from feeling victimized when it’s really you who’s responsible, and the resentment that comes from truly being victimized.

    My mantra has served me well, but it would be more accurate to precede it with “In many cases…” As in, “In many cases, resentment is anger at oneself, misdirected at someone else through the lens of victimhood.”

    My aim with this article was simply to get people thinking. Which it looks like it succeeded in doing in your case! Thanks for bringing this up.

  • Clear communication would eliminate a world of problems! And of course, we need the self-awareness to know what’s really going on inside in order to communicate it! 🙂

  • Aw, I’m so glad, Janine. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  • lv2terp

    FANTASTIC! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience, and life altering insight, it is much appreciated!!! 🙂

  • Thank you for the insightful post. I should add that anger is also projection – when you see in others things that you actually hate in yourself. But your post underlined what I learned is really the gateway to become a better human being: Taking responsibility for your actions and thoughts. It always takes me aback how few are those who are willing to do so.

  • Thinkgrowlive.com

    Isn’t awareness of oneself amazing when you finally get it? That is what this article hi-lighted for me!

  • Lorena

    What a perfect example! That´s exactly what I´m going through and you really cleared my mind. Great article. Thanks 🙂

  • Vid

    This so happened with me. I used to get annoyed and disgusted during physical make-up. I never understood why. Now I am no more in a relationship and i kinda miss it, but its very hard for me to get physical with a person. Sometimes I think I will never be able to marry even.

  • So glad it was helpful, Lorena! 🙂

  • Yes, my personal “golden formula” is self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.

    This has proven so true over and over again in my life. The more I practice it, the more it deepens.

  • So true, Elena, that what you hate in others is almost always what you hate in yourself.

  • Aw, you’re so welcome! 🙂

  • It’s so helpful to understand where our feelings are coming from, isn’t it? I hope your increased self-awareness helps you going forward, Vid.

  • mena

    James, I thought about what you wrote and here are my thoughts ….

    It occurs to me that my resentment towards someone who really has wronged me is mine to own. Why? For having expectations of how someone else should be in the world. I cannot decide that for someone else – I can only decide how I will be in the world. If I release my expectations of others, the resentment subsides. And then? I am left to decide what I tell people in my circle what I need from them. They can reciprocate or not and I am still left to choose the people in my circle ….

    Just one thought on resentment.

  • Mena, your comment made me think of the documentary _Forgiving Dr. Mengele_, about a Holocaust survivor who chose forgiveness as a way to reclaim her life. She decided that her hatred/anger/resentment, though totally justified, was preventing her from fully living.

    Her public declaration of forgiveness caused a huge brouhaha. I found her story fascinating and incredibly inspiring.

  • Mena

    What courage to forgive the cruelty she lived! I suppose her choice to forgive and release the hatred/anger/resentment was freeing. For those who protested her decision, may they consider this does not mean she gave up the right to say she was was a recipient of injury/hurt/cruel treatment by others nor keep her from seeking justice and the eradication of cruelty. Someone asked the Dalai Lama if he believed that criminals who injured others should be subjected to the justice system (not sure the exact phrasing) and he said sometimes the justice system serves to help the criminal himself – to keep him from injuring others and thus injuring himself and his own fate.

  • MathildaMoon

    James, I am so right there with you on this. (Well stated, BTW.) I just
    read Mena’s comment and it makes beautiful sense. For me, though, this will
    be a tough hill. The concept of letting go of resentment by releasing
    expectations sounds great in theory, but is incredibly difficult in
    practice. I’m sure I’m not alone on that one. 🙂 One other thing that I’m sure has crossed your mind, as it did mine,
    is okay, so you forgive, but when do you walk away? For example, I’m in a
    relationship with some heavy duty resentment that keeps building from
    negative comments, power struggles, stuff like that. So, let’s say I let
    go of the resentment, yay, me!, but when do I let go of the
    relationship…I mean, it’s one thing to be a forgiving person, but quite another to sit around and take it, right? I
    thought, maybe we’re responsible, not only for accepting the resentment
    as Mena said, but also for staying in the relationship that is breeding the resentment. Said plainly, perhaps I need to take responsibility for being in this relationship, as well as acknowledging that the resentment is something I’ve built on my end. In essence, taking the “victim” out of the lens of victimhood, as stated in the article. I’m sure this could apply to many other scenarios, not just my own. Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂

  • Kate

    Hi Melissa

    I was in a right old state just yesterday about something someone ‘should have done’ (!) and though I knew it was about me not having the courage to ask for what I want, just seeing your post has reassured me that I can go ahead and just do it! Thank you very much. All best wishes, Kate.

  • mroge

    I understand exactly what you are talking about. I was once embarrased into going on a date with someone I was not interested in. I had known him for years and he is shy so I didn’t even realize that he was asking me out! His friends teased me about it in front of him and I so I felt obligated to say yes. After our date he complained to his friends in front of me again that I did not give him a kiss!

    Is it possible that this kind of thing happens simply because we were never taught how to say no? I didn’t really resent this guy (except for his complaint in front of me and his friends) but I felt trapped into being polite and saying yes. Then I had to have a talk with him about how I didn’t think we had anything in common and that was why I was not interested.

    However I have been resentful about a so-called friend who took advantage of me by quitting his job, not looking for another one, spending all of his money recklessly and then landing on my doorstep insisting that I take him in. I had already told him that if he spent all his money that I did not want him moving in with me. He promised me that he wouldn’t do that but he did! He played on my feelings of guilt about not being a good enough friend. However the bottom line is that I allowed this to happen. Ironically I worked in a type of social services position for a while (and so did he) so I knew exactly where he should have gone to get housing assistance.

    Bottom line I do realize the truth in what you say in that at least in many cases it is about settijng boundaries so even if the other person is wrong it is still ultimately our own fault if we get taken advantage of.

  • RoseyQ

    Thank you for sharing your post. It’s so easy to have resentment towards someone else when we have our own internal issues going on. Letting go of resentment as well as taking responsibility for our own actions regardless of what others say or do, is the best way to go and makes us happier people.

  • Kimani

    Hi, I’m having a problem that I don’t know how to move on from. I have a friend who is probably the sweetest, nicest, most caring and understanding person I’ve ever met. I enjoy talking to her and sometimes just want to talk to her all the time. I’d also developed a crush on her, so I think that’s part of why I enjoy talking to her so much. There’s just one thing I don’t understand; sometimes she doesn’t respond when I call, text, Facebook message or email her (not all at once). Many times I didn’t say anything but I grew resentful towards her. And I think it’s because when she doesn’t respond I get confused and don’t know how to interpret her lack of response, or respond in return. I told her this about a month ago and she gave me a reasonable explanation, and even assured me that she wasn’t intentionally ignoring me. Since then, our communication has been pretty consistent. But in the last few days when I’d text her, either she didn’t respond for some time or not at all (and some of those times she’s the one who wanted to talk to me). So I don’t understand why she wouldn’t respond if she’s open to conversation or just hearing from me. I know she can be pretty busy at times, and I keep reminding myself of what she told me a month ago, but the fact that I told her how I felt and it happened again leaves me wondering whether there’s any more I could do to express how uncomfortable I feel and hope the situation changes. What’s more, she and are two out of three officers in one of the clubs at our college, and just yesterday I emailed her on club business. I texted her to let her know that I sent the email, because we’re going back to school soon and I felt it was pretty urgent. So far she has not responded to neither the text nor the email, and that bothers me, both in general and in different ways. Regarding the text(s) I feel rejected personally when she doesn’t respond. But in the case of emails about the club, I feel like she could be ignoring it and potentially not taking it seriously (especially considering I told her I’d send her an email the day before I sent it, to which she said “okay”). She’s also done the same with emails about the club, and just recently she’d told me that she would try to work on her commitment issues, but this was before she didn’t respond to yesterday’s email. I don’t know if I should say anything more, and I’m afraid of getting into serious conflict, or making her feel bad. If anyone can please respond, and help me figure out what to do about her lack of response and my resentment I would really appreciate it.

    P.S. Aside from what I told her a month ago, she doesn’t know how I really feel about her lack of response. Hi, I’m having a problem that I don’t know how to move on from. I have a friend who is probably the sweetest, nicest, most caring and understanding person I’ve ever met. I enjoy talking to her and sometimes just want to talk to her all the time. I’d also developed a crush on her, so I think that’s part of why I enjoy talking to her so much. There’s just one thing I don’t understand; sometimes she doesn’t respond when I call, text, Facebook message or email her (not all at once). Many times I didn’t say anything but I grew resentful towards her. And I think it’s because when she doesn’t respond I get confused and don’t know how to interpret her lack of response, or respond in return. I told her this about a month ago and she gave me a reasonable explanation, and even assured me that she wasn’t intentionally ignoring me. Since then, our communication has been pretty consistent. But in the last few days when I’d text her, either she didn’t respond for some time or not at all (and some of those times she’s the one who wanted to talk to me). So I don’t understand why she wouldn’t respond if she’s open to conversation or just hearing from me. I know she can be pretty busy at times, and I keep reminding myself of what she told me a month ago, but the fact that I told her how I felt and it happened again leaves me wondering whether there’s any more I could do to express how uncomfortable I feel and hope the situation changes. What’s more, she and are two out of three officers in one of the clubs at our college, and just yesterday I emailed her on club business. I texted her to let her know that I sent the email, because we’re going back to school soon and I felt it was pretty urgent. So far she has not responded to neither the text nor the email, and that bothers me, both in general and in different ways. Regarding the text(s) I feel rejected personally when she doesn’t respond. But in the case of emails about the club, I feel like she could be ignoring it and potentially not taking it seriously (especially considering I told her I’d send her an email the day before I sent it, to which she said “okay”). She’s also done the same with emails about the club, and just recently she’d told me that she would try to work on her commitment issues, but this was before she didn’t respond to yesterday’s email. I don’t know if I should say anything more, and I’m afraid of getting into serious conflict, or making her feel bad. If anyone can please respond, and help me figure out what to do about her lack of response and my resentment I would really appreciate it.

    P.S. Aside from what I told her a month ago, she doesn’t know how I really feel about her lack of response. Also, she’ll probably be very busy when classes start, so at first I thought I would just spend some time away from her if this continues (especially considering that I still kinda like her). But I’m not sure that’s the best way to deal with the situation. For one, I’m not sure if that’ll help me let go of my resentment, and I don’t want to risk hurting her feelings either.

  • Rich

    is there a website like this for adults?

  • Jessica Hitch

    James, I realized my resentment toward a person who mistreated me was also anger toward myself for falling for it. So the healing process involves looking at how I can prevent myself from getting in that position in the future. His actions were not right, but I chose to include him in my life and was part of the relationship as it unfolded. Maybe your resentment is something similar in the instances you mention. 🙂

  • Thanks for your comment, Kate! I’m so glad to hear my post reassured you to go ahead and do it! 🙂

  • I think this kind of thing happens exactly because we were never taught how to say no. In fact, as females, we are taught to be “nice” and accommodating. Setting limits is not part of what we teach girls, which is a real shame and a big problem!

  • You’re welcome, RoseyQ. Thanks for your comment!

  • It’s so easy to interpret other people’s actions (or lack of action) as having something to do with US. I get it — I have a friend who sometimes gets unresponsive, and it drives me crazy! What I’ve learned, however, is that HER way of dealing with stress is to get reclusive, and that triggers MY fears around losing a friend.

    What helped was having some clear conversations with my friend, so I could tell her how her lack of response makes me feel, and she could tell me how my reaction to it makes her feel.

    Ultimately, what I also learned is that my feelings about her reaction/lack of reaction are MY responsibility.

  • CCOI

    I feel resentful, but then I used to visit therapists for depression, and they told me it’s wrong to date/have relationships. I also feel resentful that everybody else got standard knowledge and I didn’t. I feel those therapists were used trying to gang up on me, and deny me, because they allow all of their other patients to have relationships. And there is some plot to deny me standard knowledge, and not anybody else, but I’ll end it soon…

  • Eric Schramm

    As an ‘Evangelical’ Christian, I may not share your specific religious beliefs, but You definitely have much wisdom. Thank you for that wisdom. I really needed to know this. I never noticed that resentment is displaced anger at ME for letting my family hurt me like they did on that day at the beach so many years ago. Now I need to find how to let it go.

  • Kader Barron

    What use to be no longer is …….

    its time to heal…..:)))

  • Kader Barron

    Stick to your boundaries always please …

  • Jessica Toussaint

    Thank you so much for this love. I finally get it. This anger I have bottled up is towards myself fully. What I’m doing now is taking a pillow, breathing in and breathing out four times, building up my anger, and then releasing it by violently throwing it on my bed. Is this a productive way to release resentment, and if not, are there any other ways to release my anger?