Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Resentment

What is resentment, what causes it, and what are its consequences?


Figure 1. Image of man expressing the emotion Anger.

Emotions are experienced by everyone. With the basic emotion of anger, you feel a wave of heat rush over your body and your blood pressure increases, your heart rate goes up and your skin starts to perspire due to the appraisal of a controllable injustice (see figure 1). Within the emotion family of anger is resentment, with these same physiological responses occurring, however resentment is identified as an emotion of invidious social comparison, meaning those who view their group as lacking what they deserve, be it resources, opportunity to work, living conditions, then a sense of relative deprivation is developed, leading to “angry resentment” according to relative deprivation theorists (Feather, 2015).

Resentment has been described as a tertiary emotion thanks to Robert Plutchiks Psycho-evolutionary model of the primary emotions (see figure 2), with resentment consisting of Anger + Disgust + Surprise (TenHouten, 2018). However, the cognitive perspective identifies the use of cognitive appraisals to understand how emotions are formed.

Resentment is a sociomoral emotion that allows for the collective action of groups to occur and social action to arise, and it is an emotion that is a moral sentiment capable of motivating a forceful behavioural response to wrongdoing and inciting change (Feather, 2015).

Focus questions
  • Why is Resentment important?
  • Is it bad to feel Resentment?
  • How can I reduce feelings of Resentment?
Case Study

Jenny decides to conduct a survey at work where she asks how much people are getting paid at her workplace. First, she starts with the women and then with the men. Jenny notices a large difference in pay among women compared to men within the workplace. She feels a flash of anger fall over her and decides to confront her boss about the pay. He states that it is a coincidence and nothing will be done. This initial emotion of anger transforms into resentment due to the unfairness and injustice of the situation.


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Resentment is an emotion that is viewed as typically negative and defined as a feeling of bitterness, animosity, or hostility elicited by something or someone perceived as insulting or injurious (APA, 2022). There seems to be no single cause of resentment, however, most cases have the sense of mistreatment and wrongdoing from another person, group or organisation associated with it. Resentment is multilayered and is a mix of many different emotions such as anger, disgust, shock, and envy. So how is the emotion of Resentment conceptualised and formed?

Figure 2. Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotion

Psycho-Evolutionary PerspectiveEdit

The Psycho-Evolutionary perspective of emotion distinguishes emotions into three categories:

  1. Primary
  2. Secondary
  3. Tertiary (Sloman, 2001).

The primary emotions, as identified by Robert Plutchik, are anger, joy, anticipation, sadness, fear, trust, disgust, and surprise. These are identified as primary and basic emotions as distinguished by Charles Darwin, then expanded on and confirmed by psychologist Paul Ekman and colleagues using the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, with Ekman establishing six primary emotions that are understood cross-culturally, cutting out anticipation and trust from Plutchik's core emotions. (Coles & Larson, 2019).

Tertiary EmotionsEdit

Resentment is identified as a tertiary emotion which is a combination of both primary and secondary emotions. Resentment is the combination of Anger + Disgust + Surprise, which are all considered primary emotions. However, these are not the only combinations that lead to resentment. Many different combinations of primary and secondary emotions can form pathways to resentment. This method of combination are how emotions are formed thanks to the psycho-evolutionary perspective. For example, the secondary emotion of contempt is a combination of both anger and disgust, and by substitution resentment = contempt and surprise, a mixture of both primary and secondary emotions (refer to table 1). This type of resentment is triggered by another’s contemptible breach of normative boundaries (TenHouten, 2017).

This concept of emotion combinations can be difficult to follow and is considered an unsatisfactory explanation of the intricacies of emotion (Reeve, 2018). However, the psycho-evolutionary perspective has provided a large amount of research into the more primary and primitive functionality of emotions and tried to explain the development of these emotions. Additionally, it has provided a theory into how the emotion resentment might be formed through these combinations, and by using Plutchik's wheel of emotion and this combination technique, we can attempt to explain how resentment is formed. Although, it is a perspective that is not seen as being able to truly explain the complexities of emotion and the limitless number of emotions humans experience (Reeve, 2018)[grammar?].

Table 1.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Emotions (TenHouten, 2018)

Primary Emotions Secondary Emotions Tertiary emotions
Anger Outrage Resentment
Disgust Contempt Revulsion
Sadness Shame Grief
Fear Nervousness Anxiety
Joy Pride Contentment
Surprise Shock Amazement

Example: Combining emotions

Primary emotions combine to create secondary emotions such as outrage, which is the combination of anger and surprise. When outrage (Secondary emotion) is combined with disgust (Primary emotion) a pathway to a type of resentment is formed, with this type of resentment being related to disgusting and outrageous violations of social morality and ethical norms. So if shock (Secondary emotion) = surprise and disgust (Primary emotions), and resentment = anger and shock, then this is a combination of primary and secondary emotions to create the tertiary emotion of Resentment. (Confusing right?)

Cognitive PerspectiveEdit

Figure 3. Image of the brain to represent cognition.

That role belongs to the cognitive understanding and perspective of resentment (see figure 3)[grammar?]. The cognitive perspective of emotions acknowledges the work done in terms of primary emotions and the Psycho-Evolutionary approach to emotion, however the cognitive perspective focusses on a variety of different cognitive appraisals to generate emotion, also known as the Cognitive appraisal theory (Reeve, 2018).

Extremely relevant to this perspective is significant life events and their influence on the person's well-being and concerns ‌(Schmidt et al., 2010). A split second after this life event occurs, an informed response based on previous learning follows and the event is cognitively appraised (Reeve, 2018). What would this look like? A cognitive appraisal consists of the life event's consequences on well-being, whether that life event obstructs or helps achieve a person's goals or plans, and the ability to cope with the life event and the consequences (Schmidt et al., 2010). Resentment would initially be cognitively appraised by using the primary emotion of anger and whether there is an act of injustice that has been perpetrated against you, which would then change into resentment after further cognitive change and reappraisals.

Klaus Scherer (1997) identified in a study [missing something?] the role of culture in emotion-antecedent appraisal where he identifies the universality of the appraisal mechanism. In this study he discovered that a majority of participants reported the following appraisals when recalling an anger life event: unexpected, unpleasant, goal obstruction, perceived unfairness, external causation, perceive that one does not need to cope, slightly immoral, and no change in self-esteem (Scherer, 1997) This was discovered to be cross-culturally accurate. After the event is appraised that there is a perceived unfairness and immoral behaviour that is enacted against someone, that is when resentment starts to form.

Example: Cognitive Appraisal

We might hear a gunshot and experience fear, which is then followed by cognitive appraisals of unexpectedness and ability to cope.[Consider using a resentment example instead.]

What Causes Resentment[grammar?]Edit

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General CausesEdit

Resentment can be caused due to a variety of different situations, events, and reasons. A typical situation that brings forth resentment is the perceived wrongdoing from one person, or group, to another. This is consistently sparked by demonstrations of humiliation and injustice. A common example of resentment entails publicly humiliating events. Imagine you are at work and your boss consistently and continuously belittles you in front of your coworkers, taking the mick out of you at your expense. You must accept this negative treatment without expressing any sort of protest as he is your boss. You start to resent your boss, and this feeling of resentment starts to be maintained by ruminating and focusing on past grievances you've experienced at work. This is an example of the causes of resentment and how it is sustained and maintained.

Relative DeprivationEdit

Figure 4. Example of Poverty (Relative Deprivation).

Resentment is deeply embedded in social comparisons and the unfairness and injustice these comparisons bring (see figure 4). Warren Tenhouten (2018) explores this notion of social comparison and ascertains that "if, in comparison to other people, to groups, or even to themselves at different points in time, individuals who believe that they lack what they or their group deserve, and feel at least relative deprivation, will react with anger and resentment."

Relative deprivation is a term that involves feeling and understanding that you are worse off when compared to some standard and accompanied by feelings of anger and resentment (Smith, 2012). There are two conceptualisations of relative deprivation:

  1. Egoistic Relative Deprivation
  2. Fraternalistic Relative Deprivation.

Egoistic deprivation refers to the self and our comparisons to others. Fraternalistic deprivation refers to a collective group (in-group) identifying that they have less than they are entitled to, compared to the relevant out-group (Smith, 2014). This disparity that is identified due to social comparisons leads people to form a resentment towards the other, thinking, "why do they deserve to have (insert object of resentment) while I don't? It's not fair and I resent them for having it."

So, resentment is related to sociomoral issues of being disadvantaged and violated, and can involve collective groups which foster the sentiment of resentment towards another group, due to social inequality (Abts & Baute, 2022). And so, sociology comes to the forefront of many researchers' minds when discussing resentment, as the majority of our emotions are felt as a consequence of interacting with others. A collective resentment (fraternalistic deprivation) between groups is formed, with Smith (2014) identifying that compared to egoistic deprivation, fraternalistic deprivation best predicted collective action measures, for example, political protests and even increased prejudice towards out-group members. This leads to the widely researched phenomenon of Collective Resentment, which is an extremely important consequence that occurs due to resentment, but more specifically, collective or group resentment.

Case Study

Egoistic Relative Deprivation: David has been working very hard at his job for the past 6 months hoping to get a promotion and a nice pay increase. However, his work rival Bob instead receives this promotion. David feels as if he was deprived of the promotion.

Case Study

Fraternalistic Relative Deprivation: Living conditions in Sara's neighbourhood are low and lives in a mostly African-American community. Compared to a neighbourhood of White Americans, there is a clear disparity in living standards and conditions and this is felt throughout Sara's community. This causes Sara and her community to feel a sense of Fraternalistic relative deprivation and resentment as they believe there is a disparity in resources, and a clear sense of injustice towards their ingroup (Sara's Community) compared to the outgroup (White Community).

What are the Consequences of ResentmentEdit

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Collective ResentmentEdit

Figure 5. Protestors engaging in collective action.

Collective resentment is resentment that is felt and expressed by individuals and is grounded in reasons that could be reasons for all members of the collective to experience this emotion (Stockdale, 2013). Collective resentment is a consequence of relative deprivation, where an in-group compares themselves to an out-group, and identifies a social inequality between them along with a sense of unfairness. This causes a flurry of different emotions and leads to resentment which is felt amongst a collective.

An example of this is Indigenous Australians. They have experienced many past moral injustices and even persistent injustices now[factual?]. Their rights, ways, and traditions have been violated by colonialists, as well as, the structures that have upheld Australian society[factual?]. The object of their resentment can be related to the political and social structures that existed in Australia up until recently, which caused systemic racism towards their people (Stockdale, 2013). They have been left extremely disadvantaged due to the injustices committed upon them and so many protests, rallies, marches, and other acts of collective action have been taken to ensure that this feeling of relative deprivation and resentment is eased and their needs are met (see figure 5).

Collective resentment is a tool used by many groups to bring about some sort of change that will help close the disparity between their in-group and an out-group and bring parity. A great way this is being done in Australia for Indigenous Australians is by applying funding to improve services in rural Aboriginal communities and providing scholarships and funding to schools to help improve the rates of Indigenous children getting an education (Clarke, 2022).

Although resentment is typically seen as a negative emotion, some positive things that can be brought about due to the collective, and the emotions that motivate this collective action. Both collective resentment and collective action are a consequence of resentment, which is typically on the more positive side, due to the sociomoral nature of resentment which helps identify social injustices and inequality, which then motivates people to act upon these feelings (Li, 2019). Ressentiment on the other hand is an individualistic conception of resentment that is darker and holds more bitter feelings, which can impact others quite negatively due to the spiteful aspect this type of resentment forms.


Figure 6. A bitter man living with pent-up negative emotions.

Friedrich Nietzsche proposed the theory of Ressentiment which is, as he describes "a form of resentment arising out of powerlessness and the experience of brutalisation neither forgotten nor forgiven" (TenHouten, 2018). There is a large emphasis placed upon the unforgiving and unforgotten nature of ressentiment due to the inability of people with this type of resentment to feel resignation as a result of their incapabilities[Rewrite to improve clarity]. The term Ressentiment originates from France and comes from re-sentiment, or to re-feel (Ciulla, 2020). It is a feeling that focusses heavily on social comparisons, but also the sense of weakness and inferiority this produces.

With collective resentment, there is more intergroup action taken to bring forth change and is more forceful in its approach (TenHouten, 2018). Ressentiment is more of an underhanded and damaging type of resentment that does not motivate to create positive change, but rather is more envious in its formation. Typically, this feeling of Ressentiment leads to people joining groups that feed into their resentment. These people do not care about the content of what the group has to say and what it stands for, but rather if they are denigrating or harming their objects of resentment, which ultimately eases and helps them cope with their negative emotions (Ciulla, 2020).

Soon these individuals start to despise what they once wanted and slander the unobtainable values that they could not acquire. Even if they understand that these values are good (such as wealth, education, etc.), individuals with Ressentiment will compensate or cope with their feelings by lowering the values of things, ideas, objects, people, and groups, to the level of their abilities and desires, this is known as the inversion of values (Fassin, 2013; Ciulla, 2020). As you can see this creates a very toxic way of living life as people do not allow themselves to feel resigned to the fact that they are unable to achieve something. This causes extreme bitterness and resentment that generates many negative emotions such as envy, contempt, retaliation, and apathy which is pent up and is expressed upon others when these people lash out (see figure 6). This is an extremely negative consequence that resentment can induce in people, and differs from collective resentment due to its lack of morals and positive action, instead promoting extreme feelings of bitterness and resentment. They allow themselves to be consumed by resentment and try to cope with these feelings by projecting their inversion of values onto others, thus trying to bring them down in some way so they can feel a sense of superiority and ease these detrimental feelings.

Example: Inversion of Values

The process of ageing can only be positive and satisfactory if people freely resign themselves to their abilities and values that are appropriate to their stage of life. Resenting the young or the fact that you cannot do the things that you did when you were young, keeps one from having fond memories.

Lessening ResentmentEdit

Resentment is not something that people should have to carry throughout their lives as it can have a detrimental impact on the individual's mental health, but also the relationships that they hold close to them. There are many ways to help reduce negative emotions with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) being an exemplary method for reducing negative emotions (Lei et al., 2021). CBT is a psychotherapy technique that is short-term and combines behavioural and cognitive techniques to adapt thinking, beliefs, and behaviours via cognitive restructuring and behavioural training. This will ultimately reduce negative cognition and attempt to eliminate negative emotions and behaviours ‌(Lei et al., 2021). CBT is an extremely useful way to try and reduce feelings of resentment and anger.

Another method that can be used at home is emotion regulation, which is considered a cognitive perspective technique which utilises cognitive appraisals. Being aware of one's emotional state is essential to emotion regulation as well as utilising reappraisal strategies to help alter negative emotions and alter how they perceived the negative event into something positive is an extremely helpful strategy. Wang and colleagues (2017) identified that emotional regulation and cognitive reappraisal change emotional experiences successfully by modulating cognitive processes, involving the re-interpretation of emotional events and emotions. Within emotional regulation, Wojnarowska et al. (2020) identified that acceptance is an important part of coping with these feelings. Acceptance is utilised as a coping skill either by using acceptance to influence attention or as a way of understanding the whole emotional experience. Regardless, many techniques and methods that can help us cope with negative emotions such as resentment either by cognitive restructuring or emotional regulation strategies.


Perhaps this is not what you imagined you'd learn when deciding to take a look at the emotion of resentment. Typically, we presume we know about resentment because it is something we see in everyday life, and is an emotion experienced by the majority of the population. We understand the sense of anger this emotion brings and the feeling of wrongdoing done by another person, however, it is more than just an emotion. It is a tool that is used to bring about social, political, and economical change.

Collective resentment is the theory that conceptualises this formation of a collective feeling into collective action and puts forth the sentiment that resentment is an emotion that is sociomoral and morally grounded. It allows people to express their grievances and stand up for what they believe is right.

Ressentiment expresses resentment in a darker light, one that brings out an ugly nature within people that is detrimental not only to others but also themselves. It is a variety of pent-up negative feelings that focusses on social comparison and the inferiority social inequality causes. Ressentiment turns people bitter and these negative feelings are projected onto others.

Resentment is a complex emotion that can be understood better in the sociological dimension of understanding and gives an answer as to what drives change around the world, and why you might see people engage in extreme rallies and take on extreme ideologies, to soothe and cope with these feelings. But do not fret, there are ways you can reduce negative emotions such as resentment. You can use CBT and Emotion Regulation strategies such as cognitive reappraisal to try and restructure thinking, feelings, and beliefs to lessen negative cognition and emotions such as resentment so you can live a mostly resentment-free life.

See alsoEdit


APA Dictionary of Psychology.

Abts, K., & Baute, S. (2022) Social resentment, blame attribution and Euroscepticism: the role of status insecurity, relative deprivation and powerlessness, Innovation. The European Journal of Social Science Research, 35(1), 39-64,

Carlsson, U. (2017). Tragedy and Resentment. Mind, 127(508), 1169–1191.‌

‌Chen, X. (2015). Relative deprivation and individual well-being. IZA World of Labor.

Ciulla, J. B. (2020). Leadership and the power of resentment/ressentiment: Leadership. Sage Journals.

Clarke, M. (2022). What is the Australian Government doing to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in schools? - Department of Education, Australian Government. Department of Education.

Coles, N. A., and Larson, J. T. (2019). A Meta-Analysis of the Facial Feedback Literature: Effects of Facial Feedback on Emotional Experience Are Small and Variable. American Psychological Association 145(6), 610–651.

Fassin, D. (2013) On Resentment and Ressentiment : The Politics and Ethics of Moral Emotions. Current Anthropology 54,(3),

‌Feather, N. T. (2015). Analyzing Relative Deprivation in Relation to Deservingness, Entitlement and Resentment. Social Justice Research, 28(1), 7–26.

Lei, Y., Zhou, Y., Wang, N., Zhu, L., Sun, Y., & Cui, X. (2021). The effects of cognitive behavioral therapy on negative emotions in nursing students: a meta-analysis. Life Research, 4(3) 28.

Li, K. (2019). Social Class, Group-Based Anger, and Collective Action Intentions in China. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology.

Nash, R. A. (1989). Cognitive Theories of Emotion. Wiley, 23(4), 481.

Panksepp, J. (2010). Affective neuroscience of the emotional BrainMind: evolutionary perspectives and implications for understanding depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(4), 533–545.

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. Wiley Global Education US (7th ed.) p

Scherer, K. R. (1997). The role of culture in emotion-antecedent appraisal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), 902–922.

Schmidt, S., Tinti, C., Levine, L. J., & Testa, S. (2010). Appraisals, emotions and emotion regulation: An integrative approach. Motivation and Emotion, 34(1), 63–72.

Weiner, B. (1986). An Attributional Theory of Achievement Motivation and Emotion. An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion, 159–190.

Sloman, A. (2001). Beyond Shallow Models of Emotion. Cognitive Processing, 2(1), 177–198.

Smith, H. J. (2012). Relative Deprivation: A Theoretical and Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Smith, H. J. (2014). Relative Deprivation: How Subjective Experiences of Inequality Influence Social Behavior and Health. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

‌Stockdale, K. (2013). Collective Resentment. Social Theory and Practice, 39(3), 501–521.

Stoertebecker, B., & Hons, R. (2016). Differentiating Anger and Resentment: Implications for Forgiveness and Psychological Distress. Griffith Unviserity.

Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior. Annual Review of Psychology, 58(1), 345–372.

TenHouten, W. D. (2018). From Ressentiment to Resentment as a Tertiary Emotion. Review of European Studies, 10(4), 49

‌TenHouten, W. D., & Tenhouten, W. D. (2018). From Primary Emotions to the Spectrum of Affect: An Evolutionary Neurosociology of the Emotions. ResearchGate; unknown. https:// \ 323497402_From_Primary_Emotions_to_the_Spectrum_of_Affect_An_Evolutionary_Neurosociology_of_the_Emotions

Wang, Y. M., Chen, J., & Han, B. Y. (2017). The Effects of Cognitive Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression on Memory of Emotional Pictures. Frontiers in Psychology, 8

Wojnarowska, A., Kobylinska, D., & Lewczuk, K. (2020). Acceptance as an Emotion Regulation Strategy in Experimental Psychological Research: What We Know and How We Can Improve That Knowledge. Frontiers in Psychology, 11

External linksEdit