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Resentment and Self Pity

by Ken Manheimer last modified Jun 22, 2023 11:45 AM
resentment and self pity are anger misdirected, in ways that are not helpful and often harmful.

resentment and self pity are anger misdirected, in ways that are not helpful and often harmful. being misdirected, action taken based on them usually fails to address what actually needs addressing. i think we all sense, at some level, that actions based on them are not helpful. it's useful to look at why.

i struggle most with resentment when someone unfairly stretches an agreement beyond the the agreement's terms. when i don't identify my anger at the unfairness - maybe out of fear of confrontation, or over-accommodation, or self denial - i miss the opportunity to do something about it. that leaves me with crap: an unfair situation and anger at myself for having failed to address it. it is when i take that anger at myself and blame someone else for it - whether they are responsible for the original unfairness or just a convenient surrogate - that i lose track of what actually needs doing.

similarly, self pity masquerades as resentful sadness. it is actually anger at oneself that is misdirected at others, in the guise of victimized helplessness.

i tend to indulge self pity during misfortune, like illness or loss, when i fail to realize my sadness about the situation. whatever the avenue, i can substitute a thwarted kind of anger that appears to the world as a defeated, moping unwillingness to connect. it doesn't help anything, precludes connection (with myself and others), and i'd rather not do that.

(i suspect that release-oriented practices, like "discharge" in co-counseling, can help because they can direct back to the initial sadness or anger, which illuminates the cause and, potentially, some settlement of the cause, rather than bottling it up in deference to the urge to misplaced anger. seems like there's a danger, though, in becoming occupied with the emotions only, and losing sight of the concerns behind them. [falsely])

what i find helpful to avoid this kind of pitfall is to distinguish the original provocation from my anger at myself for failing to effectively handle the original provocation. even if there's nothing i can do about the original provocation, i don't foul the picture with misplaced lashing out, and i might even be able to clearly confront the original issue.


We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

-- Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man

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