We’ve all had that moment: we’re tired, frustrated, and someone says the one wrong thing. We sometimes say that we “just snap,” and a flood of complaints about a thousand tiny things come pouring out of us. Suddenly, we find that we were angry about so many things that we have barely talked about.
That’s resentment. Steven Stonsy once defined resentment in Psychology Today as “…a derivative of innate anger…Inherent in resentment is a perception of unfairness–you’re not getting the help, appreciation, consideration, affection, reward, or praise you deserve.” Some people call it “holding a grudge,” and others call it arguing in your head. It tends to be more a slow burn than being angry with someone, but lingering resentment is no less damaging to your life in the long run.
The good news is that you don’t have to be shackled to your old resentments. You can choose to make peace with the past, and move forward into a new and lighter future.
First, we need to understand what resentment really is. Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts calls resentment: “the mental process of repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, that goads or angers us.” Alcohol Rehab calls resentment: “Resentment is a type of negative emotion that people experience when they feel they have been wronged in some way. This feeling of being harmed may be in response to actual events or it may be purely imagined.”
When you look at the person in your life that you resent, it may or may not be that they have actually harmed you, or that whatever they did may or may not have been intentional. The hard truth about resentment is that it’s nurturing your own anger. Many famous psychologists and therapists have suggested that resentment is like drinking poison, and waiting for the other person to die. It doesn’t change the relationship you have with the person. It doesn’t heal the old hurt. In fact, it keeps it alive, keeps you in a state of upset and stress, and keeps you from living your life to the fullest.
It should be noted briefly that we are not talking about how to forgive someone who is actively, currently abusing you. If you are in a relationship, family or otherwise, which is abusive, seek help to remove yourself from it. When we talk about healing resentments, we’re talking about old wounds that need help healing.
So how do we heal from resentments? After all, over time, resentment can become a way of life; you can start looking out for all the negative things that come to you in life, all the ways in which life is unfair. It can lead you to neglect the good things in your life, and damage the positive relationships that you have.
Relief from resentment is found in the literature on resilience.
Feed Positive Emotions
When you focus on resentments, you’re building neural pathways that direct your thoughts in that negative direction. It’s hard work to focus on the positive side of things, to look for the good in people and their actions. It’s work worth doing.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
One of the benefits of meditation is that it focuses on paying attention to your thoughts. A big part of gaining control of your reaction to emotions like anger is being aware of what you’re thinking without reacting to it. When you meditate, you let your thoughts happen in a safe space, where you’re focused on your breathing and your body.
Learn Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is often called the most successful therapy type in terms of dealing with emotions and your reactions to them. The goal of CBT is to put a thought between your emotion and your reaction, giving you space to manage your reaction in the best way possible. Many therapist are trained in CBT, and can help you understand how to apply the techniques to your situation.
“Let go” and Move On
Depending on what your relationship is with the person you resent, you may or may not be able to sit down with them to air your feelings. If you can’t some people find release in writing letters and burning them, or having someone else “play” the role of the person who hurt you. The goal is to get your feelings out, with a focus on letting them go. You try to forgive the person in the past for what they did, especially when it may not have been your fault. And you focus on living your life for yourself.
Many people feel that forgiving someone who has been hurtful in the past is “letting them get away with it.” But if you look at your life, really study it, you have to wonder if your resentment is hurting that other person in any way. Most of the time, you’re just making yourself miserable.
Stop thinking about forgiveness as letting the other guy off the hook, and start thinking of it as letting go of the resentment that is poisoning your life. Acknowledge whatever role you had to play in what happened in the past, forgive yourself for it, and start living your fuller, freer life, resentment-free.
Wilma Derksen, C.E.C., O.M.