Resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness) is a complex, multilayered emotion[1] that has been described as a mixture of disappointment, anger, and fear.[2]

Resentment can be triggered by an emotionally disturbing experience felt again or relived in the mind, and is a compound emotion (including cognitive elements) elicited in the face of insult and/or injury.[3]

Robert C. Solomon, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, places resentment on the same continuum as anger and contempt, and he argues that the differences between the three are that resentment is anger directed toward a higher-status individual; anger is directed toward an equal-status individual; and contempt is anger directed toward a lower-status individual.[4]

The word originates from French "ressentir", re-, intensive prefix, and sentir "to feel"; from the Latin "sentire". The English word has become synonymous with anger, spite, and holding a grudge.

Comparison with other emotions

Resentment is considered to be synonymous with anger, spite, and other similar emotions. However, although it may incorporate elements of these emotions, resentment is distinct from them in several ways. Aside from sharing similar facial expressions, resentment and anger differ primarily in the way they are externally expressed. Anger results in aggressive behavior, used to avert or deal with a threat,[11] while resentment occurs once the injury has been dealt and is not expressed as aggressively or as openly.

Resentment and spite also differ primarily in the way they are expressed. Resentment is unique in that it is almost exclusively internalized, where it can do further emotional and psychological damage but does not strongly impact the person resented. By contrast, spite is exclusively externalized, involving vindictive actions against a (perceived or actual) source of wrong. Spiteful actions can stem from resentful feelings, however.

Philosophical perspectives

  • Scheler considered resentment as the product of weakness and passivity.[12]
  • Nietzsche saw resentment as an ignoble emotion underlying Rousseau-esque Romanticism - “for under all romanticism lie the grunting and greed of Rousseau’s instinct for revenge”.[13]
  • Philosopher Robert C. Solomon wrote extensively on the emotion of resentment and its negative effects on those who experience it. Solomon describes resentment as the means by which man clings to his self-respect. He wrote that it is in this moment when humanity is at its lowest ebb.

Modern culture

The Alcoholics Anonymous organization cites resentment as the number one offender, and one of the greatest threats to an alcoholic.[14] Several of the Twelve Steps (step 4 inventory, step 5 inventory review, step 6 asking the fear to be removed, step 7 asking the shortcoming to be removed, step 8 creation of a list detailing any wrongdoing done, and step 9 actively seeking to make amends) of AA involve identifying and dealing with resentment as part of the path toward recovery, including acknowledging one's own role in resentment and praying for the resentment to be taken away.[15] The inventory that AA suggests for dealing with recovering from resentments is to first inventory the resentment by identifying what person, organization, idea or thing is the source of the resentment, then to identify why it is that thing is causing the resentment and what fear is underlying the conflict. Finally, removing the other person entirely, one must ask himself/herself what is my own part in this play?[14] The book Alcoholics Anonymous then recommends following through with more action.

Resentment can also play a role in racial and ethnic conflicts. Resentment is cited as having infected the structure of social value, and is thus a regular catalyst in conflicts sparked by inequality.[16] It can also be one of the emotions experienced during class conflict, particularly by the oppressed social class.

Literary examples

  • The writer Norman Douglas confessed to a habit of borrowing money, like D. H. Lawrence; but unlike Lawrence Douglas was able to hide “the primary reaction: resentfulness…. We object to being patronized; it makes us resentful”.[17]
  • Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman discusses resentment: "Both Nietzsche and Scheler point to ressentiment as a major obstacle to loving the Other as thyself. (While they wrote in German, they used the French term ressentiment, the complex meaning of which is less than perfectly conveyed by the more straightforward English term “resentment.”"[18]

See also


  1. D M Marino ed., On Resentment (2013) p. 301-3
  2. TenHouten, W. D. (2007). General Theory of Emotions and Social Life. Routledge.
  3. W TenHouten, Emotion and Reason (2014) p. 20
  4. Solomon R. C. (1993). The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. Hackett Publishing.
  5. "Handling Resentment". Archived from the original on January 23, 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  6. Oatley, Keith; Keltner, Dacher; Jenkins, Jennifer M. (2006). "Studies of the universality of facial expressions". Understanding Emotions. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 88–90. ISBN 978-1-4051-3103-2.
  7. "How To Get Rid Of Resentment". Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  8. Murphy, Jeffrie G. (1982). "Forgiveness and Resentment". Midwest Studies in Philosophy. 7 (1): 503–16. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4975.1982.tb00106.x.
  9. Stosny, Steven (September 01, 2013). Living & Loving After Betrayal. New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 1608827526. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. Stosny, Steven (June 2008). "Emotional Abuse: Is Your Relationship Headed There? You Might be a Lot Closer than You Think!". Psychology Today. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  11. Moore, Zella E.; Gardner, Frank L. (July 9, 2008). "Understanding Clinical Anger and Violence: The Anger Avoidance Model". Behavior Modification. doi:10.1177/0145445508319282. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  12. Albert Camus The Rebel (Vintage nd) p. 17
  13. W Kaufmann ed., The Portable Nietzsche (Penguin 1987) p. 514
  14. AA Services. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 4th edition; 2002.
  15. "Twelve Steps to Live Without Resentment".
  16. McCarthy, Cameron; Rodriguez, Alicia P.; Buendia, Ed; Meacham, Shuaib; David, Stephen; Godina, Heriberto; Supriya, K. E.; Wilson-Brown, Carrie (1997). "Danger in the safety zone: Notes on race, resentment, and the discourse of crime, violence and suburban security". Cultural Studies. 11 (2): 274–95. doi:10.1080/09502389700490151. OCLC 222710414.
  17. N Douglas, Looking Back (London 1934) p. 349
  18. Bauman, Zygmunt. Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?. Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series in cooperation with Harvard University Press, Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt), and Znak (Kraków). First Harvard University Press paperback edition, 2009.

Further reading

  • Kinder, Donald R.; Sanders, Lynn M. (1997). "Subtle Prejudice for Modern Times". Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. American Politics and Political Economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 92–160. ISBN 978-0-226-43574-9.
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