The Function of Anger and Resentment | Psychology Today

To protect, they destroy.

In humans, the threat is almost always to the ego (how we want to think of ourselves and have others think of us). Anger neutralizes ego-threat by devaluing, demeaning, or undermining the confidence of the person perceived to be threatening.

Because anger is the most physical of emotions, angry and resentful people often get into trouble, especially in intimate relationships, without doing anything wrong, as their bodies and facial expressions devalue, demean, and express hostility outside their conscious awareness. Being around angry and resentful people makes us resentful, even when they say nothing offensive. This is something that politicians who exploit public anger don’t seem to realize. The short-term gain they get from stirring anger will eventually turn against them. Those who live by the angry vote die by it.

The vulnerability anger protects can be physical:

  • Diminished resources (tired, hungry, dehydrated, low blood sugar)
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Illness
  • Incapacity.

Or emotional:

  • Guilt (violating deeper values)
  • Shame (sense of failure or inadequacy)
  • Fear (danger)
  • Sadness, sorrow (loss)
  • Grief (loss of loved ones).

A form of low-grade anger, resentment is more defensive than its aggressive parent. It’s triggered by a perception of unfairness, of not getting the praise, reward, consideration or affection to which one feels entitled. It shares the physiological characteristics of anger but is less intense and of longer duration; it reaches lower levels of arousal than anger but lasts much, much longer. Where anger (when directed at others) is an aggressive exertion of power to get someone to back off or submit to what you want (either in reality or in your imagination), resentment is a defensive way of mentally devaluing and retaliating against those whom you perceive to be acting unfairly.

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