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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. The first part to emotional mastery is awareness. You said “I hated this feeling. In fact, I hated the feeling of hating this feeling.” There is awareness that you (1) recognize you are angry (2) do not like the fact that you are angry.

    When I am in this state of awareness, I always find the need to retreat to my “cave”. In my “cave”, I will seek solace and do some self examination. If I do not get the chance to go into my “cave” (due to a variety of reasons), I tend to react easily to anything unexpected and then, making things worse for myself.

  2. Recently, a friend posted this wonderful quote on his blog, that I think is the actual quote (that you posted in this article):

    “I always pray for the people who have hurt and harmed me, and just when I think I’ve forgiven them, I forgive them again. Because always that energy will rear its head, and I have to make sure that I’m constantly keeping myself clean. Otherwise, I’m holding onto that shadow of anger, and the inability to forgive, they say, is a poison you take hoping someone else will die.” -Seane Corn

    My favorite part is the last line, so I’ll repeat it: “forgive, they say, is a poison you take hoping someone else will die.”

  3. This is such a tough subject. I love the quote about drinking poison, I’ve read it before and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. Why do we resent others when it hurts us so much? Like you said, it is just a human caveman reaction. But still, learning to overcome this reaction is well worth the effort. Your post gives us a great starting point!

  4. An important line here that needs to be highlighted and repeated: “Only YOU can make you feel the way you feel”. Once you realise that other people cannot affect the way you feel, and it is only your perceptions, then you are well on the road to clarity and forgiveness.

  5. I loved this article because I have just dealt with what I felt was the greatest betrayal in my life. It was long drawn and painful. And it was in the family.

    I just wanted to say that your process is great to overcome resentment inside of me, since that is what I did. In addition to that, I had to let me ego down and apologize in order to erase the resentment in the other party …so that we could continue to be family. That has been really hard …and now I am dealing with the resentment regarding how far I had to go to save a relationship …..

    I have also seen that physically distancing ourselves from the person who has caused us resentment makes clarity and understanding a lot easier.

    Great article!

  6. Work is a tough place for me. I notice so many problems, but I and many of my co-workers aren’t heard when we try to voice our displeasure. I get angry and frustrated. I feel like quitting, but I know this won’t help me. It would just satisfy my ego. The quick fix to a problem.

    Every job has it’s problems. Matter of fact, almost every job sucked. It’s why I started my blog. I needed a way to process my thoughts and feelings.

    Another well thought out piece. Thanks for the great tips.

  7. It’s interesting that you use the term “cave man instincts” to describe the feeling of resentment. You definitely hit the nail on the head.

    What book influenced you most for this article?

    Keep up the great writing Tina!

    – Will :)

  8. Nicely done, Tina. I love that you quoted ACIM. The main thrust of ACIM is to show that true forgiveness is our only choice. Letting it all go is natural and the way to go. Thanks!

  9. This is great stuff, Tina. I also find it helpful to remember the last time I may have caused resentment in someone else … it allows me to awaken compassion for whoever may have hurt my own feelings. After all, we’ve all been hurt and have also hurt others, none of us is perfect.

    I also like to send blessings to whomever I find myself resenting – it opens the heart and blesses me, also.


  10. Hi,
    All of us feel angry at times, but people ‘do’ angry in different
    ways. Sometimes anger is directed very precisely at us, or at
    what we’ve said or done. At other times it seems as though it
    has nothing to do with us, and we’re receiving the full force of
    what might have been meant for someone else.

    You have provided some great techniques. Now, when faced with such a situation, I need to use these :-0)


  11. I love the quotes at the forgiveness section the most and I often share it with my students (they resent a lot).

    Thanks for the great article. I learned a lot of things from it. :)

  12. Your writing is amazing. I am definitely uber jello of it :) You know how to word things perfectly. I love the way you refer to your inner caveman emotions and reactions. That is so true. It is so easy to get caught up with anger and resentment. Thank you for you tips and an amazing post!

    – Jack Rugile
    Simple Sapien

  13. I could do other stuffs to distract myself, but… there will still be resentment. Liked the quote where you mentioned about not forgiving is like drinking poison. It’s like drowning yourself in sorrows and other junk while expecting the other person to feel the same.

    One thing I normally do is to share it with a close friend – which helps make myself feel so much better even without having any solutions.

    Thanks for sharing this post. It’s very detailed and surely will be a good article to reflect upon when such days happen. :)


  14. A different approach.

    When you see you have resentment ask yourself what it is.

    Long story short you will find that it is a bunch of thoughts and emotions. Are these thoughts/emotions you? Are you ‘resentment’?

    I would say you are not resentment. Consequently these thoughts/emotions have no place laying around you so whenever they appear tell them to disintegrate and then move on.

    Don’t let anything climb on your shoulders :)

  15. Tina,

    By holding back your anger, you rise above the person who wronged you. Just ignore those negative people.

    Here’s another thought I always remind myself of: It takes so much energy to hate someone. There are enough people in our lives to love and cherish, we don’t have room for hatred.

  16. Tina,
    you’ve made a very lucid analysis and made a great brackdown of the process.

    I want to add a lesson I’ve learned recently from Steve Pavlina’s fresh published book. If there is something that sets you up about another person, then it means that inconsciously you hate that part of yourself.

    Try this exercise.
    Pick a random person and make a list of his qualities (an unordered list). Then mark the qualities you like with a “+” and those you dislike with a “-“.
    Now look at this list as somebody else would have written this about YOU. It may take some deep insight and courage to admit it, but you’ll be surprised that this is a fair representation of what you like and dislike most about YOURSELF.


  17. Hate begets Hate
    Anger begets Anger

    If you want to attract happiness and love, you’ve got to send out the right energy… and overcoming resentment is a good first step =)

  18. You ended it perfectly, forgiveness is essential. Having almost lost a dear friend for something so stupid in hindsight, I would suggest not taking more than a week to overcome the resentment because it will eat you alive and it is simply not worth it.

    Thanks for sharing,


  19. Every thought is a powerful entity unto itself, even if you never tell anyone else about it. Each thought cause you to act in a certain way and that is how it affects your life. If those thoughts are filled with hate, then your life will be as well. It is amazing the enlightenment a change in perspective can provide.

    Great post.

  20. kimberly

    Wow! This was one of the best things I have read yet. I hate those feelings of rage and hate and “wanting to get even.” Sometimes one gets so defensive they feel like everyone is against them, when in fact they are not.

  21. Brooke

    I’ve been feeling this all too much recently. I know it’s a vicious circle but it’s hard to over come the feeling that some people just shouldn’t be forgiven even though I realize it only harms myself.

    Thanks for the insight, as always, Tina

  22. Tina, this is a great approach for people who like to solve problems cerebrally. Unfortunately, I’ve found that these types of processes don’t work very well for me (I’m a right-brained thinker!). What I have found helpful is a tool called tapping or EFT. It seems completely goofy, but it really does seem to work and it is very quick once you get the hang of it.

  23. A situation with my ex-business partner has left me feeling lots of resentment and also anger. I do believe that it was her lack of self-control in regards to finances that lead to her actions that caused the business and friendship to break-up. Her inner caveman was just trying to keep the family happy and filled with the material items they believe they need to survive. To date, I felt that TIME would help heel the pain and financial suffering she has caused me and my family. And, the resentment and anger has subsided. Clearly, your most important point to the post is the step I need to take, and that it to forgive her for acting the way she did. It’s time for me to focus on this and breathe deep!

  24. Lauren

    You are a gifted person. I enjoy reading and learning from your thoughts and experiences.

    Thank you.

  25. Rabbit

    A very good article. My problem is that I forgive someone and they do it again and then I forgive them again and they they hurt me again. So what do I do? This can happen over and over. I have to create some kind of defense so I hold on to some of the resentment. Kind of like keeping some of the poison to develop immunity. I don’t like doing this.
    So how do you get all of the poison out while keeping your defense up? In your example you forgave the lady (which is great) but what happens if she sends that email to all of your mutual friends? Will you keep forgiving her or you will you say “look that’s not true”?
    Like you said in your article you can’t control people’s actions, and I know that even if I truly forgive someone they will keep doing what they are doing and I will get hurt again.

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