Center for Shared Insight, PC

Decoding Your Feelings of Resentment and Guilt

June 30, 2020
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

Resentment and guilt are two sides of the same coin, and it might be hard to clearly understand which feeling you are experiencing, and how to overcome it. At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we work with clients who are working to better understand how and why these feelings show up and how to find balance between the two opposing, yet related, experiences. In this post, we’ll dive into what these feelings mean, how to decode the specifics, and how you can overcome them.

Resentment and Guilt Defined

What is the difference between these feelings? Resentment is a bitter feeling you experience when you perceive that someone did something wrong to you. It’s often a heavy, often painful feeling. It’s more externally focused and can even result in you feeling like the “victim”. It goes hand-in-hand with blame

Guilt is self-blame for your actions or lack thereof. It’s a feeling of responsibility or remorse. It’s more internally focused and can result in negative self-talk and taking too much personal responsibility for a situation. It goes hand-in-hand with shame. Shame, as it is differentiated by social worker and famous author Dr. Brené Brown in her books on shame, vulnerability, empathy and courage, is a reflection of you feeling like you are bad, whereas guilt is the feeling that you did something bad.

Guilt is much easier for your body to handle than resentment. The latter results in higher cortisol levels (which creates a feeling of stress). This might be because resentment is more external, and therefore you feel like you have less control over the sensation. Whereas guilt is more internal and therefore the perception is that you have the power to overcome the feeling, even if that means you take on too much of the emotional burden.

Origins of These Feelings

Once you have the ability to understand and name what you are feeling, you can go one step further and define why you might feel the way you feel. In The Mind Body Code, author Dr. Mario Martinez shares her research on this topic, as well as how you can heal wounds of shame, abandonment, and betrayal related to better understanding these feelings. Simply put, if you feel resentment, then you are likely over-responding or giving/doing too much. And, if you feel guilt, you probably believe you are not putting enough energy into a situation. 

For example, perhaps you feel a long-term relationship slowly falling apart. You don’t feel the connection you once felt and you can see the “writing on the wall” that it’s just a matter of time before you and your partner go your separate ways. If you feel resentment about the relationship, you likely have tried everything you can to rekindle the romance, and have gone out of your way to show your love and affection to your partner. This might also be your tendency if you are more anxiously attached

On the other hand, if you feel guilty about the ending of this long-term romance, you might recognize that you didn’t do enough, and perhaps didn’t put enough focus and energy into fixing the issues that are driving your relationship apart. Guilt might be more natural if you are avoidantly attached because you tend to create more space in the relationship, rather than working to more fully connect. If you feel a combination of both guilt and resentment, your ambivalence about the relationship can be a result of these feelings. That uncertainty as you vacillate between these opposing yet related feelings of resentment and guilt can be what keeps you in the relationship, despite questioning the long-term viability of the partnership.

In addition, societal norms around gender play a role in these feelings. Women tend to feel more guilt and shame because of their historical role as a nurturing presence. Generally speaking, they tend to feel inferior, and therefore, put more of the responsibility on themselves to solve the problems in a relationship (or otherwise). They feel they can change the outcome if they just “try harder” based on feedback and messaging they have received throughout their lives around being the “inferior” gender. This is likely not conscious but is an underlying reality of the gender gap.

At Center for Shared Insight, we work with clients to understand and name their emotions, so they can better overcome them. Feelings of resentment and guilt can hold you back and prevent you from the most fulfilling life possible. If you are struggling with complex feelings or unable to let go of the past, contact our team to learn if therapy is right for you. Complete this form or call us for a free initial phone consultation with our coordinator to decide if therapy is right for you.

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