I'm trying to find a word for the feeling of holding onto anger or sadness because it seems the proper thing to do.

Examples may include having a friend that was wronged, and though your life is good, you feel to honor your friend you must be sad or angry. Or one may feel they must be sad or angry because of what is happening in the world. As if you owe it to the situation even if your corner of the world should be bringing you good feelings. Yet, I'm more concerned with the idea of being harmed in your past but later life is good but it feels wrong to be happy because it seems a betrayal to yourself to not hold onto sadness or anger for the "you" that was hurt or traumatized.

All words that I can think of don't quite fit: empathy, holding a grudge, contrition, and more. Nothing seems to encompass the feeling of my letting go of sadness or anger equaling betrayal and not giving due diligence or my duty/obligation.

Edited to add: It's not a fake emotion for the sake of reputation. Essentially it is not a "behavior". It is more of not allowing yourself to feel good or enjoy good things because it seems wrong to do so. The sadness and anger are real but it's in denial of good feelings out of a sense of obligation or requirement to be kind. "Catholic guilt" comes to mind but still doesn't seem right.

2nd edit: Because I can't yet reply to comments, I would like to add that this isn't affected by expectations of those around you. You can feel this way without telling a single soul. It can be an internal drive or value to be good or caring or compassionate and even have empathy. But you feel that you must sacrifice your ability to feel good in order to recognize and give credence to those who suffer. If they are sad or hurt you should feel that too. This can be completely internal with no outside influence. I may have made the mistake of using "must" in regards to the feelings. I like the arena of martyrdom and will look into that more. Thank you.

3rd edit: I think martyrdom may be the answer. I feel silly not thinking of it but it is odd to apply it to the self in regards to past trauma. It is different than victimhood because it's not a "poor me" feeling, but a feeling of always wanting to give a voice or credence to that hurt self...to not forsake and leave behind that hurt self. And this can all be internal. But I guess I can be a martyr forever for the part of myself that suffered then but not now. Or I could choose to let it go. I'm very grateful for the answer and it has helped me tremendously to put a name to the idea so that I can then work with it.

  • Can you provide an example sentence where the word or phrase would be used?
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jun 14 at 22:25
  • Based on the OP's additions, I'd venture "regret" is the word of the day...
    – user506571
    Commented Jun 15 at 5:30
  • Loyalty, a strong feeling of support or allegiance.
    – user97231
    Commented Jun 15 at 6:12
  • How about good old-fashioned guilt, with a side of masochism? Don Commented Jun 15 at 6:47
  • Nursing a grudge is an established expression but doesn't imply feeling obliged to do it. A few hits for "cultivating healthy anger", but likewise it suggests voluntary attitudes. There's also this question about similar expressions to "holding a grudge" which might help.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:15

2 Answers 2


This “hurting for a cause” could be characterized as a form of martyrdom . . .

martyrdom noun:
1.c. In extended use: sufferings and penalties involved in maintaining a particular (usually moral or ethical) position or point of view. In later use frequently: exaggerated self-sacrifice. 1703–
[selected attestations]
1703   It is as true a Martyrdom, to Suffer for Duty, as for Faith. —W. Burkitt, Expository Notes New Testament Matt. xiv. 11
1970   It’s just self-imposed martyrdom—she thinks it virtuous to be unhappy! —N. Bawden, Birds on Trees ii. 30
1989   A return to martyrdom..is another warning sign. This would include resuming the belief that we can’t enjoy life or have fun today, this week, or this month; life is something to be ‘gotten through’ [etc.]. —M. Beattie, Beyond Codependency ii. vii. 66

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

  • While the association is apparent, the martyr clings to the cause of their woes willingly. The OP seems to be looking for a term expressing "holding on to anger..." unwillingly but holding on "because it seems the proper thing to do"; i.e. "As valued by those in the environment." Real martyrs make sacrifices; fake martyrs seek attention/validation only.
    – user506571
    Commented Jun 15 at 2:20

Consider righteous indignation.

According to Wikipedia:

Righteous indignation, also called righteous anger, is anger that is primarily motivated by a perception of injustice or other profound moral lapse. It is distinguished from anger that is prompted by something more personal, like an insult.

While browsing other web pages to see how much variability there was among different definitions, I was surprised how many pages were of a religious (particularly Christian) context. So some readers may associate the term with religion.

I grew up hearing and using the term without a religious context; however, it did tend to have a slightly negative connotation, as if a person enjoyed holding on to anger because it gave them a sense of moral superiority.

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