The feeling when you are treated unfairly. You got less than you deserve, or someone else got more than they deserve.

You feel resentment when you feel something unfair happened to you – you felt you deserved something, but didn’t get it, or someone else got something that you feel they did not deserve1. For example, when you did not get your fair portion of a shared pizza, when you have something important to tell but no one is listening, or when you feel that you deserve a certain promotion, but your colleague got it instead.

Many social interactions can be pictured as transactions, in which tangible things like money and material goods are exchanged, but also intangible things like attention, love, pleasure, influence, appreciation, and respect. Each of us has an internal, often implicit sense of how much of these things we are entitled to, and from whom we should get them. People want to receive love from their family members, attention from their friends, appreciation from their boss, and respect from their subordinates. When people feel that they are not getting their fair share of these social resources, they will feel resentment2.

Interestingly, resentment also works the other way around: if you feel that someone else is getting more than their fair share3. For example, you can resent the fact that the CEO of your company is getting a bonus of ten million. However, resentment can always (at least in part) be lead back to personal entitlement: you find it unfair that someone else is getting it, instead of you. You compare your own efforts for the company with that of the CEO, and wonder what warrants the difference in pay.

There is also a sense of pettiness involved in resentment. While other emotions concern themselves with serious wrongdoings (e.g., anger), or moral injustices (e.g., indignation), resentment can be triggered by relatively benign and more selfish motives of entitlement4. For this reason, resentment is often minimally expressed in most cultures.

People who feel that life in general is treating them unfairly, because they don’t have the material possessions, attention or influence they feel they deserve, can develop a kind of general resentment against the world.

In the comic, Murphy feels resentful because his colleague runs off with the idea he just proposed.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“I should have gotten that…”

“This is not fair!”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Resentment & Indignation

Resentment and indignation are both anger-type emotions that respond to injustice. For example, if someone swindles you out of your savings, you will probably feel both indignation and resentment. The difference between the emotions is that indignation responds to social injustice, while resentment responds to personal injustice. For example, you may feel indignation when you read that a CEO of some company is making a million times more than the lowest paid employee, but feel resentment when you find out that your colleague, who is doing the same work as you are, is making 25% more than you. In the resentment case the pay difference is a lot smaller, but it involves a direct comparison with yourself. A consequence is that people who feel indignation tend to speak out about the injustice, as it concerns everyone, whereas people who feel resentful tend to keep their feelings to themselves, as the injustice is strictly personal, and your concerns are perhaps more selfish.

Resentment & Envy

Resentment and envy are both emotions about what you have in relation to what other people have5. Envy can be divided in benign envy and malicious envy (see envy explanation). Benign envy simply means “I wish I had what you have”. There are no judgments involved whether this situation is fair or deserved. Resentment, on the other hand, concerns itself specifically with this judgment: “You don’t deserve this” and/or “I do deserve this”. Malicious envy is subsequently a combination of these two feelings: “I wish I had what you have, because I deserve it and you don’t”. Compare three situations in which a colleague gets a job promotion. In situation 1, you were also interested in the better job and you consider the colleague a competent worker and a friend. In this situation, you may feel benign envy: “I wish I had the better job, but I also think you deserve it”. In situation 2, you are not interested in the job, and you dislike the colleague and consider him incompetent. In this situation, you are more likely to feel resentment: “You don’t deserve this job”. In situation 3, you are interested in the job, and you dislike the colleague and consider him incompetent. In this situation, you are most likely to feel malicious envy: “I should have gotten this job instead of you’.

Sources and further reading