Understanding and Avoiding Resentment

In this post, Penni explores the uncomfortable feeling of resentment; what it is, what causes it and how it’s potentially harmful effects – physical, mental and emotional – can be avoided.

What is Resentment?

A pervasive feeling that creeps up on us when we feel we have been treated unfairly, resentment is an emotion that sits somewhere between anger and disappointment. As a stress inducing emotion, it can be damaging to us physically, as well as potentially being a highly destructive force within our significant relationships. Signs of resentment include being short-tempered, using passive-aggressive communication, having less empathy or emotionally withdrawing from the person we feel resentful towards. A variety of things can trigger resentment, but two key areas to explore are unfulfilled expectation and poor boundaries.

Unfulfilled Expectation

We all have an internal set of ‘rules’, acquired initially from our family of origin, but possibly added to through our continued life experiences. Internal rules are easy to spot as they tend to be statements that include words like ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘always’. These rules create the foundations of expectations. For example, we may expect others to switch the lights off in unused areas, because our rule is “Lights should always be switched off when not being used”. However, as each of our life experiences are unique, so are our rules, and we therefore can’t always know what others expect of us. When we assume others know our rules (or, if they don’t, they should!), our expectations go unfulfilled and resentment sets in.

Internal ‘rules’ are different for everyone

Poor Boundaries

When we feel others are walking over us, treading on our personal ‘territory’, we may start to resent them for doing this. However, if we are conflict-avoidant and lack assertiveness, we may not have adequately ring-fenced our ‘territory’, thereby signalling that it’s ok to be walked over. For example, you may have a friend who persistently calls very late at night, when you’re trying to sleep. Rather than ask they call at a more reasonable time, you continue to take the calls, even though you are exhausted and need to be up early in the morning. You begin to resent your friend for being so inconsiderate, putting the relationship under strain and possibly even losing the friendship altogether.

Better Boundaries = Better Relationships

What Can Help?

Learning to communicate our expectations effectively (and being willing to negotiate) and addressing issues as and when they arise, rather than allowing them to fester, can help prevent feelings of resentment from building up. Sometimes we can own our expectations too. Are we resentful because we are expecting to be noticed in some way? In this regard, we can honour ourselves – giving ourselves praise and gratitude rather than seeking it externally.

Practicing building better boundaries and being more assertive can also prevent resentment. Putting in boundaries is much easier when we are really clear about what the problem is, so taking time to sit with our feelings until it becomes clear what’s really bothering us, will help us feel bolder and more focused and therefore more able to assert ourselves.


Resentment is damaging to both our overall health and our relationships. Learning ways to both manage feelings of resentment and avoid them arising through the use of good boundaries and communication, is key to happy relationships and a happy self.

About the author
Counsellor Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn is a counsellor working at Anglia Counselling Ltd where she meets with adults, offering kind and compassionate help with anxiety, depression, CEN and difficult or overwhelming emotions, both online and in person. Penni also offers non-judgemental support and guidance for those seeking to explore their experiences in order to achieve enhanced personal growth, positive change and greater happiness.