Being Resentful
Stephen E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People

Originally written March 1971; Revised June 2000
In contrast to my feeling sad or joyful—which I can experience in solitude—my being resentful is specifically related to another person’s behaviour. In coming to resent you, I am already "horizontally" present to myself as someone I must not be, and how you are behaving is threatening to illuminate that unacceptable possibility. In other words,
you must be the person I would have you be
if I am to keep from being the unacceptable person I must not be.
In my coming to resent you, I’ve construed a "contract" with you regarding how you are to be with me; but I’ve done so without your participation, so it’s unlikely that you actually know what I expect from you.

I resent you when you don’t act as I expect (or, conversely, when you do what I expect you not to do)—when I believe you aren’t keeping your contract with me. For example: You’re visiting me for a couple of weeks. I think it’s only right for you to help me out in return for my hospitality—perhaps by making your bed, helping with my kids or washing the dishes after dinner—but you don’t offer to help. I find you to be at fault for this: In my view you should already know who I would have you be and, in failing to comply, it must be you who is at fault, who is uncooperative, rather than me.

I presume from your actions that you’re unwilling to cooperate with me, unwilling to share my world even though it seems evident to me that you could and should. In the face of this seeming intrusion and lack of reciprocity, I see you as cutting me down and cutting me off from you. You seem to be rejecting, condemning, dismissing me and my world. I conclude that you don’t care about me and that you’re wilfully imposing aspects of your world on mine, with no concern about the discomfort that this imposition might be causing me.

Although I need something from you, in the face of your seemingly uncaring behaviour and my belief that you’re choosing to behave this way, I feel helpless and powerless to resist your imposition. So even though you seem to be victimising me and placing me in an untenable position, I shrink from telling you what I expect and from asking for what I need—in other words, from acting assertively to ease my situation. I’m afraid that were I to do so, I would be exposing myself to you as the unloveable person (perhaps needy, hurt or scared) I believe I am and yet must not be.

As the situation unfolds, I continue to believe that asking you for what I want will reveal that I am the person I must not be. So even though I recognise my discomfort with your intrusion, the possibility of my asking for your cooperation keeps presenting itself to me as something unspeakable, as something to be avoided at all costs, and I continue to avoid making my desire explicit to you.

I thus maintain a "vacillating" stance in my struggle to maintain a sense that I am worth loving. But this renders me unable to engage in the dialogue that will resolve my conflict.

Resenting is a unique and specific disruption of my world. To the extent that I believe I stand to lose what I already possess (in this case, the status of someone loveable, acceptable), it is a mode of being afraid. To the extent that I believe I stand to lose a future to which I have committed myself (one in which I have succeeded in keeping you from finding out that I am unacceptable), it is a mode of being anxious.

I will continue to resent you until I accept who I might be for you by asking for what I want, expressing my resentment, or genuinely accepting that this is simply your way.

© 2000 Stephen E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People •