How Resentment May Stop Trauma But Propel Alienation and Violence
Facial Feedback Theory of Emotions
Resentment doesn’t show in our facial expression in a generalizable way (like primary or basic emotions do) even when it is rooted in anger’s strong facial emotions, which are universally experienced . I have observed many people manifest resentment in an almost imperceptible way as if they are “hiding” what they feel. I wonder if resentment is really an “emotion” or an emotional process in its own right, since it needs to be uncovered and dissected before it can be dissolved.
Expressive Suppression Theory
Warren D. TenHoutenwrote –who has written a lot about resentment since the beginning of the century– wrote recently (2018) that resentment “is the result of being subjected to inferiorization, stigmatization, or violence,” and that it responds to acts that have created “unjustified and meaningless suffering.”
Further back, Nietzsche developed a broader notion of resentment and considered it something that arose out of powerlessness and the experience of dehumanizing abuse. Historically, resentment has been connected to frustration, contempt, outrage, animosity, and ill will; and it has been linked to “relative deprivation” which refers to the perception that someone is worse off than other people one compares oneself to, leading to feelings of frustration and obliteration.
If someone is forced to suppress an emotion because of disadvantageous circumstances, “expressive suppression” is the act of masking the facial indications of feeling in order to hide an underlying emotional state that could put the person at risk (Niedenthal, 2006). It’s not hard to imagine that experiencing resentment, merged with the need to suppress the expression of affect –as part of the imposition of subjugation– produces internal experiences like outrage, fury, wrath, hostility, vengeance, etc, that are hard to handle.
The level of arousal and the sustained experience of the emotion become taxing. How exactly do those extreme experiences impact the resentful person’s system?