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How to Overcome Resentment

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Forgiveness 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.

Observing Resentment

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:

1. Clarity

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.

2. Understanding

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.

3. Forgiveness

Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison
and expecting the other person to die.

~ Unknown

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!


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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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138 thoughts on How to Overcome Resentment

  1. Cora

    What about the people that hurt you INTENTIONALLY? That Really DO mean to hurt you? I know a man who’s ex girlfriend was in a cult and she took his kid away from him for not joining that cult and then put an order of protection on him so that he couldn’t see his son again. She made false accusations to make her ‘claim’…I mean how do you forgive something like that?

  2. Michael

    I’ve been reading a couple of your articles with great interest. Thanks for all the insight, particularly with regard to handling difficult situations and difficult people, as that is what I have read about so far.

  3. Persia

    There are some interesting statements in the article about how and why strategies to address resentment and embrace a forgiving outlook are counter intuitive. In the majority of circumstances, fighting instincts that propel most of us in the direction of seeking justice, and trading them off in the interests of peace, are difficult but perhaps achievable. The article therefore, may be relevant and helpful in situations where we are faced with the standard human failings of others as well as our own failings to process them and move on.

    The article appears naive in the assumption that people hurt each other unintentionally. This is important because it is on this assumption that the author asks us to understand that the hurtful actions of others are something we are all capable of when acting out of pain. It asks us to understand that as humans we are all capable of this and therefore capable of understanding and extending forgiveness to those who hurt when in pain as we hurt when in pain. If we can forgive and have compassion for ourselves we can do this for others.

    There are a small percentage of people amongst us that do not come under the label ‘human’ as we know it. The article states that “It’s not personal” and “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-defence.” Sadly, contributors to this forum and I know that this is not always the case. It is to us that this article does not speak.

    In my case, I was deceived by an individual on an interpersonal level. The deception was meticulously planned in advance, in secret over time. Under the veneer of romantic involvement this individual, trained in assisting trauma victims, set to work on using this information to intentionally inflict a psychological injury tailor made for my mind. He manipulated, deceived and confused me with the intention of seeing how fast he could destroy a human mind. After eighteen months, I discovered he had another life, another persona and finally understood why he had made every effort to convince me that euthanasia was the best option for a minor health problem of mine. All this with tearful statements of his undying love. This man had two aims 1) To destroy my mind 2) To destroy my body. I barely escaped from the situation to another country with my life (albeit one now with PTSD) to discover he had passed on a virus to me. I continue to fight for my life. I know now it has happened to at least five before me and I am watching the same same thing happen to someone else and there is nothing I can do. This predator wears a uniform and is a ‘community worker’. This man harms others for his own entertainment. For sport.

    There are predators in this world that benefit from our understanding and from our forgiveness in that these are silent. Justice is normally not silent. It is the feelings of anger and resentment that motivates us to seek justice, to speak and to expose those who WILL continue to hurt others if we stifle our instinctive ‘caveman’ with fantasies of forgiveness in scenario’s that call for responsible action. It certainly takes a better man than I to successfully find the balance between acceptance and action – but forgiveness for those who do not seek it? Who use it against those who give it? Who use it as a free pass to harm others?

    I wish, like others, that I was just dealing with a nasty letter, the standard betrayal of a weak man or the nasty comments of a colleague. I was always able to use strategies as described in the article for these very human hurts. For the destructive force of those amongst us that are not human – we need something a little more real.

  4. Persia

    I found the article well intentioned but a little naive in that it asks the reader to believe that no person intentionally harms another. It asks us to believe that when others inadvertently hurt us they are acting out of their own pain as we ourselves hurt others when our inner ‘caveman’ acts in our own interest at the expense of someone else. Forgive ourselves, forgive others.

    This is the type of thinking that blinded me to someone’s repeated attempts at my life. Had I been aware that there are some predatory people whose sole intention is to seek entertainment or gratification from causing pain to others, I would not have forgiven (enabled) their bad behaviours. Unconditional love and forgiveness almost cost me my life.

    I think there is place for forgiveness for those who ask for it, for those who commit to earning it and those who accept the consequences of their actions. I believe forgiveness must be earned, both by those who have wronged us and by ourselves when we acted contrary to our own values. Understanding and acceptance for our own peace of mind is one thing. Forgiveness quite another.

    While I do not believe that I personally could benefit from these techniques for overcoming resentment, I did find some paragraphs interesting/helpful e.g. “you are in control”. When someone tries to take you out – mind, body, spirit – in a calculated way, over time, within the guise of loving relationship, the concept of forgiveness takes on a whole new meaning. I do not think it is so simple. I’m working on it.

  5. Dana

    I woke this morning after another long night of sad and tortured dreams from my past career. I was arguing until I was in tears, trying to get them to understand my point of view, but it was hopeless. I woke up with an awakening that I am filled with unresolved resentment even after several years. It is indeed the poison that is killing me. I have known the steps in this article before and they are true and beautiful and I am grateful to be able to find and read them this morning and begin my road to true healing.

  6. Jason F

    My tip is to ignore or have very little do with these negative people that may resent you. A “friend” and work colleague of mine became jealous of me: jealous I owned my own house, had a better job with more prospects, had a happy relationship with no baggage. He had a massive chip on his shoulder because he was older than me and hadn’t achieved these things in life. He was frustrated by his own shortcomings. His negative attitude held him back at work and he often bought me down to the same negative level and outlook he had – I am ashamed I allowed this to happen. I was nothing but kind to him but he saw me as competition and resented me for it. I now only associate with positive people and refuse to engage him in any negative topics. As a result we seldom talk now.

  7. Petra

    Am Petra residing in Greece, Hi to everyone reading this appreciation message to a spell caster that restore my home by bringing my husband who moved out because he said i could not give him a child. I didn’t blame him anyway and there was no way for me to prove him wrong. i would cry all day and night till i saw comments on a spell caster in templeoflove1 AT yahoo com about how he helped a woman to bring back her husband.I was a little bit relief when he told me he can clean my tears and turn them to joy having my husband hoe and also been able to give birth.Hasten ordered for the spell he made mention of. What surprises me is that my husband came back home 6days after he has done the spell and at that very night we had fun in bed and in less than 2weeks i was pregnant. the spell caster bring light to my darkness.I gave birth to a son never, he’s 2yrs old now. I give thanks to that spell caster that changed my sad story to unlimited joy every morning and night.The templeoflove1 AT yahoo com is the height of spell casting.Don’t waste your time going in search for nothing else.

    • San L N

      Four years ago, my SIL started insisting that I am not welcome when she meets with my husband. Now, other members of his family are helping to stage a meeting between them without me so as to pacify her. I was pleased with my husband’s loyalty for not giving in to their demands. His last visit after travelling for 24 hours across 8500 miles went pear shaped with the same standoff. Now, I just want him to give in to her silly request just because it is hurting his father’s feelings. I think that if I let him know that his giving in to her demand is not a show of disloyalty might bring some peace. We live on a different continent and visit only once a year and it is ridiculous when that visit is not productive. I have to remind myself that it is not about me. I have to tell myself that it is her possessive need to have her brother to herself. This article helps to re-enforce that and tempted as I am to send it to them, I shall not. Thank you.

  8. sidney white

    i enjoyed reading your column and i have to say that i still feel the resentment, i hope that when i do the steps that i read. i will surely let you know how things turn out in the near future. thank you, sid

  9. Stephanie

    I needed this tonight.

    Thank you.

  10. kailen

    I never respond to these things but i had to. I had to get it all out. My ex sent me this article when we agreed to seperate after me being unhappy for almost two months with him. Ive been hurt before by someone i wanted to spend my life with & i told myself i wouldnt allow myself to lose myself again in loving someone. My ex knew what i been through & i thought he understood enough to not put me through what i been through but he did. He lied. Snuck arond & hurt me in ways i didnt expect for him to. We seperated n i came back trying to work things out but even then things werent the same. I had no trust for him. I tried to forget it but i couldnt. I tried to forgive him but i couldnt bc i didnt & i couldnt understand why he would cause me so much pain repeatedly . Hes changed now. Hes devoted to me but its not enough now bc i just cant forget the way he made me feel. Worrying everytime if he would hurt me again drained all of my energy . I wasnt me. I dont know who i was. I wasnt smiling anymore i was always sad bc i couldnt understand why i just cant get past this. I questioned so many tines about him knowing what i been through why would he put me through that again. Im filled w resentment. Knowing he changed isnt enough anymore i tried to forgivt him but i just cant. I gave all i could to him & he gave so little. Ive been cryin for too long. I cant keep feeling this way. Maybe one day ill b able to forgive him but whats the first step to forgiveness when you dont understand why they did what they did. Make u feel how u feel wen u know your wrth so much more but they make u feel so little about yourself. We are seperated now. I love him with every part of me but i cnt b w him feeling how i feel. Ill never be happy. First step is forgiveness but how do i get there.

  11. Patricia

    This was exactly the article I needed to read. My fiance recently took all of my life savings and left with no warning one month after we moved to Hawaii. I don’t know anyone here, I don’t yet have a job, and I have no way to pay the rent for the 6 month lease he locked us into. Every where I go on this island I am reminded of him and I can’t get away from this anger!! I hate it!! I’m a kind and loving person who has never experienced such bitter animosity and it keeps me on the verge of tears every day. I feal completely defeated.
    This article helps me feel hope again. I know I can’t make a future for myself while I’m wallowing in this pit of despair. Thank you!

    • Patti

      I was just about to post my resentment story when I read your story. Wow, mine is nowhere near the resentment you must have felt. It’s so hard to shake resentment because each time you think to forgive, you remember it all over again and the resentment is right back. I hope you are more successful than I have been. I think mine will just dissipate with the passing of time.

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