6 Surprising Causes of Resentment (And How to Neutralize Them)

I could feel it starting to rise in my belly like a yeasty dough set upon a counter in the sun. My reaction was stronger than the action which prompted it, a sure sign that there was more beneath the surface.

Last fall, I had reached the conclusion that we would not be doing any winter trips this year for a variety of reasons. When I mentioned this to my husband, he brought up the possibility of doing a ski trip in February.

And there is where the roads diverged. In his extroverted way, he was talking through options. In my, “I don’t say it until I know it to be true” manner, those words were gospel. Especially because I’m dire need of a smile on the calendar as well as a few days away.

And when I found out that his work schedule would not allow for the trip, I was devastated. The building anticipation squashed flat, oozing acrid emotions. Part of this was a natural reaction to disappointment.

But there’s more to it. In my former life, I put too much on hold – work now, play later executed to perfection. Only there was nothing good about it. Furthermore, betrayal has this weird trick it plays on you. Disappointment is misread as a breach of trust, a failing to follow through. So my response to the wet towel thrown on my hopes was out of proportion to the event.

I threw a pity party for evening, partially fueled by hearing about other’s trips and seeing spectacular vacation photos on Facebook. I allowed myself to become frustrated with the differences my husband and I have in our pull towards travel. And that’s when the resentment began to grow in my belly, a nascent being that, if nurtured, would soon have a mind of its own.

So I worked to starve the budding grudge, to commit to finding a way to travel regardless. I tried on a few options, but nothing seemed to fit both my mood and my budget. And then, upon entering my yoga studio the other day, I saw a posting for an upcoming weekend yoga retreat, scheduled just a couple weeks after the hoped-for ski trip.

I smiled. This felt right.

The irritation and dismay were immediately replaced with excitement.

And a conviction that I WILL travel. I will be pleasantly surprised when that can happen with my husband, but I will not assume (nor wait on) that possibility. Because putting your life on hold while waiting on another is a sure-fire way to fuel resentment.

We have a tendency to lay blame for our resentment at the feet of another. We claim to feel that way due to another’s actions or inactions. But the funny thing about resentment is that it is less a response to another and more a response to ourselves.

Resentment happens when we allow ourselves to get caught up in somebody else’s web. It grows when we operate under the assumption that another is responsible for our well-being. It spikes when we permit others to cross our boundaries or when we neglect to erect boundaries at all. We set the stage for resentment when we do something for another with the anticipation of reward or gratitude.  And it feeds upon our own dissatisfaction with our own choices.

And resentment is poison ivy in a relationship. Once allowed to root, it becomes almost impossible to fully eradicate. It’s best to pull it out by the roots while it is still tender and unformed.

Resentment is a sign that you’ve shifted responsibility to another person’s shoulders. In order to release the acrimony, take back your own power.


How it presents: “I’m tired on waiting on them to make up their mind or move forward on some promised action.”

What it means: “I’m waiting on them to decide my life so that I don’t have to face the responsibility of the outcome.”

How to neutralize: When possible, choose to move forward regardless of their participation. You do you and they’ll either decide to get going or they’ll stay behind. The resentment builds when you feel as though you’re sacrificing and sacrificing for some promised,but as yet unseen, action. So focus on making conscious choices and compromises rather than sacrifices.

If you truly are stuck waiting (which happens way less often than we believe), ensure that waiting is not all you’re doing. Fill your space with as much life as you can while you are on hold.


How it presents: “This is not what I signed up for.”

What it means: “I’m having trouble adjusting to this new life script and dealing with the change.”

How to neutralize: Life is a series of readjustments. And change is hard. Sometimes very hard. When the change presents itself in a person or relationship, we can grow resentful because it requires adaptation on our part. Yet, that’s life no matter who we surround ourselves with.

Strive to eliminate the daydreams of, “what if.” Life is not a choose your own adventure book. Once some choices are made, you cannot merely turn back a page and make a new one. Work from where you are.

When presented with change, we can adapt or we can dig in our heels and refuse to accept what we’re facing. Guess which one breeds resentment?


How it presents: “I’m putting in more effort than you are.”

What it means: “I’m struggling to set and enforce boundaries about what I am and am not willing to tolerate.”

How to neutralize: First, be honest with yourself. Are you attracted to people who depend upon you? Do you willingly take up the role of caretaker in the beginning only to become resentful as fatigue sets in? That’s coming from fear, a fear of being alone or of being dispensable.

It is your responsibility to identify, communicate and enforce your boundaries. You can’t get upset when their crossed if they’re constructed merely of whispered wishes. When you hold to your beliefs and borders, you won’t have the emotional response to any transgressions.

Remember this – it’s not fair to get angry at someone for taking what you’re freely giving by putting other’s needs above your own.


How it presents: “I’m tired of being the ‘bad guy’ or the responsible one.”

What it means: “I’ve learned somewhere along the way that I am supposed to take on the heavy lifting.”

How to neutralize: This is one of those roles us Type A super-responsible people tend to end up in. We’ve learned (usually in childhood) that it’s our job to take care of things. And then, as adults, we’re often attracted to people that are more carefree in order to balance our sensible natures. And then we grow resentful for the very thing that attracted us in the beginning.

By all means, communicate your needs. Explain your nature and express what you would like to see from them. At the same time, accept that you picked them as they are and they are not yours to change.

Try taking two steps towards the center. Let some things go. Release some of the responsibility. The other person may pick up the slack. Or they may not. But you also may be amazed at how much you can let go of and the world will still go on.


How it presents: “I resent them putting more time, energy and attention in other directions.”

What it means: “I’m feeling unbalanced and unappreciated.”

How to neutralize: When our lives are full, we have little energy or care about what others are doing. It is only when we face some void that we concern ourselves with the plates of others. So start by filling your own plate. Put your time, energy and attention into something other than the lack of time, energy and attention they’re directing towards you.

Identify why you’re feeling unappreciated. Are you performing with the hope of reward and you’re upset when it doesn’t materialize? Are you biting your tongue until it bleeds and allowing your anger to bloom? Are you not recognizing the signs of appreciation when they are presented? If you are being taken advantage of, seek to understand why you’re allowing that to happen.


How it presents: “I feel jealous and bitter about their life and options.”

What it means: “I’m feeling unfulfilled and stuck in my own life.”

How to neutralize: We are at our unhappiest when we compare ourselves to others. We try to measure life against life as though they are calculated in some standard unit. But that’s a false reading. Each life has its own treasures and its own tarnish. And they don’t easily match up.

When resentment anchored in envy presents, turn your energy away from the object of your ire and into yourself. Where are you feeling stuck? Are you feeling afraid to make the necessary changes to get to where you want to go? It’s amazing how often we covet what we’re afraid to seek on our own. Rather than resent them for what they have, be brave enough to seek what you want.


Thank you for sharing!

4 thoughts on “6 Surprising Causes of Resentment (And How to Neutralize Them)

  1. Another factor, when people agree to some plan, is the “J” / “P” continuum on the Myers Briggs assessment. Those who are “P” mean it in the moment, but frequently shift later to other thoughts, and shift again, and shift again…..Those who are more “J” natured make plans, think and plan on them as certain, and follow through on them. High J natured people find high P natured “flaky / undependable”, whereas P’s themselves see themselves as “flexible / spontaneous”. High P natured people see high J’s as “rigid”, whereas J’s describe themselves as “dependable / reliable”.
    This continuum is how a person works with time. J’s make plans for future and follow through. P’s are more in the moment and shifting as other things shift.

    Challenging for couples— who are usually by nature in different places on the continuum. Both approaches to life are needed— neither is right or wrong—- just different. This can be a very frustrating area for couples to learn to navigate and be sensitive and considerate to each person’s needs in this area.

  2. emje – driftless wisconsin – my shadows are part of who i am. without those dark spots you wouldn’t be able to see my bright colors & beautiful light…. without my dark bits i think life would be much more dull.... i am sad & silly. i am fierce & fantastic. i am passionate & magical. i am a fucking unicorn.
    em4mighty says:

    i’m going to bookmark this for future reference. thank you!

  3. I have felt every one of those scenarios in my life with my ex and even since the break up…UGH. Life is difficult. Or rather I make my life more difficult than I should.

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