Resentment has been a fairly regular companion throughout my life. However, I am starting to think I could really use a better travel buddy.
That’s why I did quite a bit of research on how to let go of resentment and tried most of the suggested techniques. Here are the ones that I found to be truly helpful, and I hope they could be of some use to you too.
Before we get into how to let go of resentment, we need to get a clear picture of what it is. Psychologists define resentment as the replaying of past events, conversations, or experiences over and over in our minds — sometimes to the point of obsession.
What’s crucial here is that we are not just remembering but also reliving the past and our feelings at the time. Needless to say, they are mostly negative.
What Causes Resentment?
While any situation may trigger resentment, there is a common theme that shows up each time we fall prey to it: reality failing to live up to our expectations. It could be:
- Something someone did to us that we perceive as unjust, mean, or hurtful
- Something that we believe someone should have done for us, but they didn’t
- Someone did something, but we think it was not enough
We can also harbor resentment toward life itself, especially when we have gone through traumatic experiences where no one person is to blame, such as natural disasters or health problems.
Resentment and Anger
In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, we typically feel anger. Anger is what psychologists call a secondary emotion. We unconsciously develop secondary emotions to deal with more challenging primary emotions, such as fear, hurt, or feeling inadequate.
In that sense, anger serves important functions. It shields us from our more painful and destabilizing primary emotions. In a traumatic context, that buys us time and gives us the inner strength we need to make it through until we are safe and out of danger. Anger also gives us a sense of control over the situation and helps us fight back any outward threats.
However, while anger is a perfectly natural and often healthy and appropriate emotion, if we don’t examine and deal with it in the short term, it often backfires. Instead of giving in to the raw vulnerability of our primary emotions and doing some difficult but much needed inner work, we may be tempted to mask them with anger. This bottled-up anger, over time, develops into chronic resentment.
Why Is Resentment Bad for Us?
If we don’t find a way to let go of resentment, it can take a terrible toll on our physical and psychological health. What’s more, it can wreak havoc on our relationships — including those with people who may have nothing to do with our past traumas.
In some cases, resentment may even consume us to a point where we are unable to focus on the present. That, in turn, could negatively impact our work, personal development, and enjoyment of daily life.
If Resentment Is so Unhealthy, Why Do We Keep Indulging in It?
Somewhat counter-intuitively, we cling on to the unconscious illusion that by reliving episodes from the past, we can either change what happened or get the justice we think we are due.
We also often find it hard to let go of our need to be right, which makes it difficult to forgive or at least move on. As mentioned above, focusing on our resentment also gives us an excuse not to deal with its underlying emotions.
Unfortunately, however, resentment only hurts us in the end. The person or people we have spent such a long time resenting are often blissfully unaware of our inner anguish. They go on with their lives while we seethe in silence.
Tips on How to Let Go of Resentment
1. Acknowledge Your Emotions
First, admit to yourself that you are feeling resentful. Then, go deeper and be honest with yourself about the emotions you might be trying to cover up or ignore: are you hurt, afraid, or lonely?
It is crucial that you don’t try to change or “unfeel” any of your emotions at this stage. Simply note and accept them for what they are. Remind yourself that they are all perfectly natural and that feeling them does not make you weak, incapable, or unworthy.
2. Acknowledge That Resentment Is Bad for You
Think hard and make a list of all the ways resentment is holding you back in life. Does it prevent you from thoroughly enjoying moments with your loved ones? Is it hurting your relationships or your ability to form new ones?
As you go forward, keep reminding yourself that resentment is an addictive state of mind that is both uniquely harmful and difficult to resist. Cut yourself some slack if you occasionally fall back to the old habit, but don’t let yourself indulge in it.
3. Realize That You Can’t Change the Past
It’s as simple as that. Stop using resentment to repeat old dramas: they will never change. What can change, however, is your outlook on the past.
4. Do Not Let Your Past Influence Your Present
As you work to eliminate resentment from your life gradually, it’s vital to stay vigilant and watch for signs that you may be confusing people or situations in the present with those from your past. For example, you may be overreacting to your partner’s taking longer than usual to text you back because of the fear of abandonment that you developed as a child.
1. Learn Relaxation Techniques
An excellent way to reduce pent-up anger is to practice self-calming techniques, such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, tai chi, or anything else that helps you feel more at peace.
2. Find Healthy Ways to Express Your Anger
The thing with anger is that it has got to come out. There are many healthy channels to express anger, such as working out, dancing, journaling, social activism, or confiding in people you trust.
Forgive and Move On
1. Acknowledge That You Can’t Control Others
This one is probably my number-one tip on how to let go of resentment. Just like you can’t change the past, you can’t change other people. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will be able to forgive or at least move on.
2. Acknowledge Your Part
It’s also vital to acknowledge the part you played in allowing the traumatic situation to happen or unfold. However, don’t be too harsh on yourself: no one is perfect, and such things happen to the best of us.
The goal here is not to beat yourself up but rather to forgive yourself and take back control over your life by resolving not to let the past repeat itself.
3. Forgive and Be Kind
If you can, forgive the person or people who did you wrong. However, if that is not possible, try to at least treat them with kindness and compassion. That will give you peace of mind, and they may even change their behavior in response.
If you can neither forgive nor act with kindness, then try to simply let go. Letting go is not the same as forgiveness: it’s a gift to yourself.
4. Focus on Your Source of Strength and the Things That Make You Happy
As you recognize that resentment only gives you an illusion of strength, it will become easier to identify the real sources of your power: family, friends, art, nature, or anything else that fills you up with love.
Resolving to focus on that and doing something each day that helps you thrive is probably the best tip on how to let go of resentment.