How to Overcome ResentmentForgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. ~Mark Twain
Can you recall the last time you held a grudge against someone? Perhaps it was a friend who betrayed you, a stranger who wronged you, a lover who left, or a parent who unintentionally hurt you. Perhaps this has happened recently and feelings of regret, resentment, and injustice are fresh enough that it still stings. What can we do to overcome these feelings and painful memories?
I recently received an abrasive and angry email from someone falsely accusing me of something on a personal level. I was shocked and hurt. The “Cave Woman” in me jumped out and my initial instinct was to write something hurtful back to her, in an act of self defense. My second instinct was to give her a list of reasons why she was wrong, in an attempt to refute her false accusations, thus defending my ego.
In the end, my rational self knew that engaging with her would only trigger more negativity, so I didn’t. I woke up the next morning with defensive thoughts running through my head, like a dark cloud, hovering over me. Thoughts of retaliation had been dancing around in my mind in what seemed to be a never-ending cycle.
I hated this feeling. In fact, I hated the feeling of hating this feeling. Even though, I knew rationally and intuitively that I was getting nowhere by feeling upset, annoyed, and wronged, it felt impossible to control these thoughts and to not be bothered by them. I knew I had to release this energy to set myself free. The key to mental freedom was within me and nowhere else.
What can one do to overcome these negative thought patterns? What can we do to relinquish ourselves from feelings conjured up by other people’s actions? This article takes a detailed look at how we can free ourselves from negative feelings of resentment and anger resulting from personal episodes of injustice.
When we drill deep into the root of resentment and anger, the cause always revolves around our ego and the mind’s attempt to protect it from extinction. Here is a series of thoughts I observed myself experiencing while confronted with such a scenario:
- Ego Shock – feelings of shock, followed by increased heart rate. I could sense that my ego was hurt.
- Animal Instincts - when my ego is hurt, my inner caveman quickly jumps out in attack mode. Even if I logically know that it is unnecessary to be in attack mode, caveman will still be there and I will experience feelings of animal instinct. In caveman days, if we didn’t retaliate against others who hurt us, we would eventually be killed. So, this instinct serves as a survival mechanism and is a natural response to an attack. I believe that understanding this is vitally important to accepting our own reactive tendencies and to finally controlling these instincts.
- Defense – In an attempt to defend my ego, for having been wrongfully accused, my inner caveman strategized a battle plan of defense and attack. This included a list of harmful things I could say to the attacker.
- Infused Anger - The more I thought about how I’d been wronged, the deeper I fell into feelings of resentment, and even feelings of despair.
- “Cave Man Survives in a Tribe” – As tribal animals, our inner caveman cares about what others think of us, since if others didn’t like us, we might be kicked out of the tribe. And for a caveman, life outside of a tribe means instant hardship and death. And so, when we learn that others think badly of us, we become unbalanced, unwell and very bothered.
- Defending Our Ego is Like Fighting Other Cave Men – When a caveman fights with another caveman in our modern age (ie. Now), nobody wins. We fight out of an instinct to survive, and to protect our ego-driven pride. In the end, nobody wins, since we no longer live in the stone-age and killing each other is no longer necessary.
Technique for Overcoming Resentment
I am not suggesting that we suppress or deny these feelings. But rather, use responsible methods for dealing with these uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions so that we are no longer slaves to the emotional reflexes of our animalistic instincts.
As hard as it might seem while we are experiencing anger towards someone, the keys to overcoming the emotion lie first in understanding and finally in forgiving. This seems counter-intuitive, since our instincts tell us that we need to defend ourselves, and possibly come up with ways to hurt the other person.
Understanding gives us insight into what the other person is feeling. Even before we reach the stage of forgiveness, understanding will automatically ease some of the emotional burden we’ve been carrying.
Before seeking to understand, we need to find a place of clarity within ourselves. Clarity means that we are not acting out of our emotions or our caveman instincts. When we can step out of our inner caveman, we are able to see the situation for what it is. It will quickly become clear that the other person was acting out of the instincts of their inner caveman, and thus blinded by their own emotions.
Okay, let’s dive deeper into each major step in overcoming these bothersome feelings:
In this step, the goal is to feel well again. When our minds are frazzled with random thoughts of pain and resentment, it is nearly impossible to overcome anything. Therefore, we need to first find peace within ourselves.
When we seek peace and clarity, we are ultimately creating the space within ourselves for alternative possibilities and healing. Without which, we will remain in a never-ending cycle of unnecessary pain and suffering.
- Exercise: Express Your Emotions -Fully express your emotions without physically harming anyone (including yourself). If you feel angry, express that anger verbally (while you are alone) with the intent of releasing it completely out of your system. You can jump up and down, cry out loud or exert unusual sounds. Listen to your body as to how it wants to release this negative energy. Give yourself a time limit of say 5 to 10 minutes in which you must express all your anger, either verbally or in writing. Additionally or alternatively, go for a run, a hike, a workout or a swim. Many people find exercise to be an effective way to release toxic energy.
- Exercise: Finding Peace via Focused Attention – This has been the most effective tool for me when clarity and inner peace is needed: First, find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Bring your focus onto your breath. Focus all of your attention on your inhales and exhales. Do this for about five minutes. Next, bring your attention to your heart (the center of your chest). Focus on all the things you are grateful for in your life, right now. You can either visualize each person or thing, or you can hear the sound of these things spoken in your mind. As you see them, or hear them, experience the feelings of gratitude in your heart.
- “You are In Control” – Remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts and actions. You are never as helpless or in as pitiful a state as your ego would have you believe. Remind yourself of the responsible person that you are – using the real definition of responsibility: the ability to respond, or the ability to control our responses. Map out the worst case scenario and accept it. You’ll often find that the worst case scenario isn’t as bad as the dreadful scenario that you have dreamt up in your mind.
Now that we’ve put our inner caveman aside, we can objectively look at the situation for what it is. We can seek to understand what is causing the other person to act in this particular way.
In most cases, once we’ve figured out the cause for their behavior, we will find that it is often not an attack on us, but a reflection of their primal instinct to protect themselves.
What’s more, as we gain perspective into their position, we might find that we’ve learned something valuable that will contribute towards our wellbeing and happiness in the future.
- It’s Not Personal – When people are in pain, they sometimes cannot help but to spread that energy onto others. When people communicate in ways that are hurtful to you, it is not meant to be personal, but rather a reflection of their internal state.
- The Painful “Enemy” – Seek out the scenarios and perspectives which may have triggered them to treat you in a manner that hurts you. They may be in such a deap seated state of frustration and emotional disturbance that they have lost the capacity to communicate rationally and with consideration of your feelings. Seek to understand that people, by nature, do not want to harm others, but circumstances that trigger their inner caveman cause them to act out in self-defense.
- Freedom of Expression. – Accept that it is okay for them to have negative thoughts or feelings towards you. They have the same freedom of thought and freedom of choice as do you. Choose understanding. Choose compassion. Choose doing the right thing by staying honest to yourself. Outside of that, don’t worry about it, let them go. We cannot control other people’s actions, so why should we exert energy trying? Let others be, and find peace with that.
“Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison
and expecting the other person to die.”
Forgiveness is a gradual process, and understanding will eventually take us there. However, if we do not attempt forgiveness, the only person we are harming is ourselves.
The goal here is to find peace with the situation and to move on with our lives. Life is too short to dwell on the past, or to dwell on other people’s opinions of us. Give yourself a gift of freedom: forgive them with grace, compassion and understanding.
- Forgive Yourself – Forgive yourself for having had thoughts of retaliation, resentment, regret or grievance. Forgive yourself for exposing your inner caveman.
- Forgive Others – After the exercise of breathing and gratitude (see Finding Peace via Focused Attention above), continue to keep your eyes closed. Now, let go of all resentment and regret. You can imagine each of these separately. Imagine all the people who you hold a grudge against. Optionally you may see their harmless face smiling at you. Recognize that we are all trying our hardest in our current state of consciousness. Tell them in your imagination that you forgive them. Have the intention of forgiving others and ourselves for any actions that may have resulted in pain. You can also repeat the mantra from A Course in Miracles:
- “Every decision I make is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. I relinquish all resentments, grievances and regrets. I choose the miracle.“
Can you recall an incident triggered by another person that left you with resentment? If so, put yourself in their position and see if you can understand how their primal instincts may have triggered their initial attack. How can you forgive this person? Share your thoughts in the comment section. See you there!