How Introverts Can Work Through Feelings of Resentment

An introvert who is upset with her friend

For us introverts, holding on to resentment can add weight to our already heavy (and overthinking) minds. 

A former housemate and I once got into a disagreement after she’d borrowed my bike, broken it, and never fixed it — even after I’d asked her to. 

Months later, this situation still bothered me — because she never took ownership for what she’d done.

With resentment, a person does something to betray our trust. Maybe it takes us a while to let go of the negative feelings. One day, though, it seems like we finally have. We feel recovered. We decide we’ve forgiven them, and we feel ourselves moving on.

Then one day, an incident brings the negative feelings right back. All of the sudden, we’re thinking about the incident again. Maybe we catch ourselves and say, Hey, this isn’t totally fair. This happened in the past.

Try as we might not to let it, at times, resentment lingers beneath our conscious awareness. As an introvert who’s experienced this, I’m aware of the weight it can add to our already heavy (and overthinking) minds.

In my quest to understand why we experience resentment, as well as how we can stop it from derailing us, here’s some of what I uncovered.

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Why Resentment May Linger

In some cases, resentment lingers because the person never made amends for what they did. Maybe they said they were sorry, but you didn’t really feel them meaning it. Maybe they apologized, only to repeat a similar behavior shortly after. Maybe the behavior is a pattern.

Still, this explanation ultimately places all the power in another person’s hands. Conversely, The Gottmann Institute recommends accepting responsibility for the part you played in the situation, as well. 

What about those situations in which the other person did make amends, and we still harbor resentment?

According to the University of New Hampshire’s Psychological & Counseling Services, other reasons we may continue to hold onto resentment include that it gives the illusion of power and control, provides energy and impetus to get things done, and is a way to avoid uncomfortable communication.

The site goes on to say that resentment seems to offer a way to feel safe — protection from being vulnerable and to avoid the feelings under one’s anger. 

So, once we recognize we are carrying resentment, especially as an (overthinking) introvert, how can we work with it? Here are some ways.

4 Ways Introverts Can Work Through Resentment

1. Let it go — and understand why you are letting it go.

I’ve heard people vow to “just let it go” — but without attempting to understand why the incident happened. I myself have done this. I’ve found, though, that if conflicts are repeatedly dealt with in this way, it can lead to a build-up of resentment.

It’s important we ask ourselves: Are we letting go because we took the time and cleared some head space to consider the other person’s perspective? So we now understand the feelings that led to their behavior? 

In other words, did new knowledge lead to empathy that made letting go easier? Or are we just suppressing the negative feelings brought up by reminders of the offense? 

As introverts, we tend to be reflective, and might therefore more easily consider another person’s perspective. We can use this to our advantage when it comes to letting an incident go.

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2. Deal with the underlying emotions.

In a PsychCentral article, which was reviewed by Antonieta Contreras, LCSW-R, resentment is described as a tertiary emotion, which arises after experiencing a secondary emotion. As a tertiary emotion, resentment comes after rage (secondary), which comes after experiencing anger (primary).

With this framework in mind, dealing with primary and secondary emotions beneath the surface could help dispel resentment.

So, as a first step, ask yourself what else you might be feeling — whether that’s fear, shame, guilt, sorrow, or grief. As a second step, act on the motivations of the vulnerable emotions.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., gave examples of this in a Psychology Today article. In summary, he said if he is:

  • Afraid, then he’ll choose to act cautiously and ensure his safety
  • Ashamed, then he’ll try a different tactic to be successful in love, work, or social contexts
  • Guilty, then he’ll aim to be true to his deeper values and make amends for his mistakes
  • Sad, sorrowful, or grieving, then he’ll create value (hold someone or something as important and worthy of appreciation, time, effort, and sacrifice).

He also recommends “building habits of validating what lies beneath them” in order to escape the anger-resentment whirlpool. He also suggests acting “on the self-correcting motivations of vulnerable emotions, rather than denying, avoiding, or blaming them on others.”

Since we introverts tend to be good at looking inward, we can use these skills to our advantage when it comes to dealing with underlying emotions.

3. Try to understand why the person did what they did.

Whether or not the person has made amends, it could also be helpful to try to understand why they did what they did. Consider their past. For example, what might have stood in the way of your parents meeting your needs? Lack of education? Insufficient resources? Unresolved trauma? An illness that demanded significant energy?

Exploring answers to these questions can soften the anger that occasionally underlies, and precedes, resentment. To keep negative emotions from weighing you down, you can make a habit of periodically asking yourself these questions.

This shouldn’t be too difficult for introverts — we tend to be empathetic, and can channel that empathy appropriately when we set our minds to it. If the person hasn’t provided you with their story, we can come up with our own imagined scenarios. 

For instance, many of us introverts love writing. So this reimagining of a person’s past could occur through the form of a written exercise, like a letter to ourselves or to them (that you don’t have to give them; it can just be an explorative, healing exercise).

4. Practice forgiveness (even if it’s difficult).

Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine describes forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” However, they note to not gloss over the seriousness of the offense: “Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.” 

I appreciate the distinction: that forgiveness is not the same as condoning or excusing hurtful behavior.

As introverts, spending time in our heads means more opportunity for considering others’ perspectives (and, in turn, giving them the benefit of the doubt). We may find tremendous relief in practicing forgiveness, as difficult and stressful as it may be. Yet if we decide to forgive someone in person or over the phone, it may be even more nerve-racking for us. But practice makes perfect…

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