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Resentment: The Quiet Enemy Within

Its 2am and Sophie can’t sleep. She’s cross, thinking about something that happened six months ago with her friend Lucy. She’s convinced she can’t talk to her about it – she wouldn’t understand, it would damage their relationship, its better to work around the problem. Next time they meet, Sophie feels subtly distant from Lucy despite, in other ways, having a reasonably nice time. Then Lucy does something small which reminds Sophie of the original problem – she feels more annoyed and let down, thinking about both incidents together. She feels she can’t say anything because she knows her reaction to the current situation is disproportionate and if she was bothered so much by the first situation, then why didn’t she say something at the time? This kind of cycle is simultaneously understandable and toxic. Lucy is unaware that she’s upset Sophie but is dimly conscious that they don’t connect in the way they used to; and finds herself less inclined to confide in her. Gradually their relationship becomes more distant, despite having once been very close friends.

Resentment often starts when you feel you can’t express your feelings, preferences or needs; or you won’t be heard if you do. Sometimes we’ve grown up to feel that its bad to disagree, or that its our job to be accommodating. For some who’ve experienced a lot of conflict in their lives, disagreement can feel unsafe and they want to avoid it at all costs. By contrast, for others, there has been very little open argument and it feels completely unfamiliar and disconcerting. Resentment can have a particularly fertile breeding ground in cultures where a high value is placed on emotional restraint and being polite, over and above being more open and direct.

Therapy can be very helpful in understanding the source of your resentment – be this a particular pattern in a close relationship; or a more general avoidance of conflict. People often discover that expressing their needs and feelings can have surprisingly good results as, even if it feels risky at the time, the other person has a chance to understand, repair and potentially change.


Gill Heath, Clinical Psychologist, Become Psychology.