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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. Grudge? Anger? Not me.
    When the lady in the parking lot hit my car, told me she’d pay to fix it, and them reconsidered when she saw both estimates, i was angry.

    Now i feel better, because i told her what i think:

  2. Gil

    Two words: Voo Doo. :)

  3. jr

    This is all fine and good. However –

    what if the person who pissed you off does not know that they did? And they keep doing it – to you, to others. Sometimes, true, bad folks know they behave that way, don’t care, and keep doing it. But what if they don’t?

    If you don’t tell anyone, ever, that they hurt you, then nobody would ever know their behavior might have been out of line. Which it is entirely possible it isn’t – everybody screws up sometimes.

    I’m just saying….

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Tina.

    As I recently explained to someone from my past, “We will always remember the hurt and pain we’ve endured in life. We can live on, but we’ll never forget.”

    Everyone, at some point in their lives, have experienced resentment toward another person. We all have a unique way of dealing with it and it requires a constant self-check of your emotions and thoughts to get over it.

    It takes time to deal with anger, hurt, abuse, etc. There isn’t an overnight solution.

  5. brendan

    don’t know if someone else mentioned this, but the proper phrase is “deap seated,” not “deep seeded.” although when spoken they sound almost identical, the former is the correct spelling. just figured i’d throw it out there. oh, and i really enjoyed the read. thanks!

  6. Silas

    Great post, been following you for a little while and love the articles that you write. You are an inspiration, and i love that you are so open with your experiences.

    Forgiveness is such a big thing, it is so important for us to be able to live in harmony with one another – but even more so with ourselves. We can always hide from others, but we can never hide from ourselves.

    Keep up the great content. ^_^

  7. This is a fantastic guide to a very important process. Harboring resentment does nothing for us- it only holds us back from our own dreams and aspirations. Thanks for the guidance and practical techniques!

    PS- Dugg! :)

  8. Mark

    My 9 month old resentment of an affair that led to the end of my marriage is still so fresh that I can’t even finish this article (I freeze when I get to “Forgiveness”)… the affair was the least of my anger. While the affair was going on I was verbally assaulted on a daily basis, kicked out of my house, and led to think I was crazy. I lost 26 lbs (and I wasn’t fat at all) in 20 days and I literally thought I was going to die (probably due to the lack of sleep). Finding out about the affair was almost a relief. Even though things are looking up, I have friends who care about me and I am seeing someone who is wonderful, I still can’t shake the feelings of anger and resentment. It takes deep breathes and a mantra of “take the high road” everyday to stop myself from sending out very damaging emails to her family and friends.

    Is it possible that only time will heal some wounds? I don’t want to be mad, and I have always been an optimist, but sometimes I feel like lashing out (in a non-violent email kinda way) would make me feel so much better.

    Thanks for the article, I’ll take it slow, piece by piece…

  9. glych

    I got a scathing e-mail JUST today from a client in just the matter you’ve described. It was a good thing I checked Digg before e-mailing them back. This was exactly what I needed to hear and know before I moved forward. Thank you for posting!

  10. Adam

    I agree completely and it’s a difficult lesson of maturity to deal with things in this way. The one part I’m not so sure about is spending too much effort on understanding and forgiveness unless that person is close to you. The majority of these situations have no solution, it’s you or the other person looking for a fight and many people seem to expend a lot of effort on dragging everyone down into recriminations. Ddo something else to take your mind off it, getting on with other tasks, this helps make it clearer that any further conflict isn’t of your making, which if it’s a continual problem makes resolving it in the group easier.

  11. Hi Tina

    Thank you for a great article. I believe resentment is a growing underlying current in our modern, fast-paced world. I, too, have been writing about it my blog:

    We see its expression in road rage, fixed opinions that cannot here complexity or ambiguity, passive aggressive forgetfulness, unfinished business, or consistent mistakes. Inner resentment (directed at ourselves) can manifest as harmful habits, negative self-talk, not enjoying the present moment, and lifestyle compromises which mute passion and joy.

    The trouble comes when resentment blocks our natural compassion . When resentment begins to overwhelm compassion, it forms a self-linking chain that makes you look for things to resent, as protection from disappointment. At that point it starts a downward spiral of irritability, impatience, restlessness, bickering, cold shoulders, stonewalling, angry outbursts, and, eventually, emotional abuse in on-going relationships as well as intolerance with certain behaviours of people in situational relationships and ultimately to stereotyping and grand generalisations.

    Here are the signs that resentment is building to danger levels.

    • Judgmental about the other’s perspective without curiosity to learn more about it
    • Irritated by how the other feels
    • Intolerant of differences – you should see things the same way
    • Making less important things more important than the most important things

    The cure is to understand that resentment covers a deeper hurt (need/value that is unmet or even unrecognised), even when the things you resent seem petty.

    Part of the cure is embracing what is actually happening. Embracing our resentments.

    Our thoughts and feelings are cueing us that this situation is not in alignment with our values, or where we are telling ourselves that our needs are not being met.

    Cure resentment by increasing your:
    • Connections to your Core values – get back in touch with the most important things to and about you, which will not include resentment and anger at people you love
    * Compassion for yourself (through the process of self-empathy)- recognize that when you are resentful or angry you are hurt or overwhelmed; focus on healing and improving rather than punishment
    • Compassion for the other person – recognize that when he or she is resentful or angry, he or she is hurt or overwhelmed; try to help through guessing their feelings and needs (not advising, pitying, smpathising, analysing)
    • Respectful negotiation – you have equal value and equal rights and honest expression through connecting with our vision of met needs/values
    • Recognize the effects of emotional pollution.


  12. Jim Jones

    Just get over it dude, thats the only way to go.

  13. Lola

    This was very helpful, thank you. My issue is not so much getting over an attack, it’s trying to understand a long-distance partner’s absence of communication. I mostly know what is going on but it’s hard not to be resentful. This has helped a lot, so thank you.

  14. I’m not sure forgiveness is a necessary part. I recently got an email from “friends” who were being really harsh on my kid, as if she were some menace to society or something (she’s 5!). My first reactions were all that you describe, however with an additional primative emotion, mother bear protectiveness. It helps me to realize how ridiculous and neurotic they are being, and to do my best not to stoop to that level of unconsciousness. But I don’t intend to forgive them, and there is much controversy in psychology about whether or not it does someone who’s been wronged any good to forgive, though moving on is always the way to personal peace and well being, forgiveness just isn’t always a part of that.

  15. Thanks for the interesting post on this.

  16. Great article, life is not always as easy as this, but hey, we have to try right?!

  17. This nonsense about “inner caveman” and “instincts” needs to stop. Humans don’t have instincts. They have drives (sex, food, etc.) and reflexes (e.g., breath-holding in water). Instincts are complex behaviors (e.g., nest-building among birds).

    Also, while we obviously do care about what others think of us, this is something which is conditioned by our interactions with society, not something we are born with. This is evidenced by the fact that not everyone cares about what others think of them and the varying levels with which we care. Since the writer of this article is female, her perspective is that everyone worries about what others think because she does. Most women care a lot more about what others think than men because of the way they are socialized. If you live in other cultures, you can see this first-hand.

    The point of this article is good, but the language undermines and trivializes it. We’re not fighting our “caveman” impulses and saying so makes it appear that we are not in control or are fighting something that we were born with. We are fighting our own egos and insecurities.

  18. I love emotional intelligence in action.

    It’s a sign of mastery of that little gap between stimulus and response. Crucial Conversations calls this mastering your stories. It’s a key to skilled living.

  19. Angela

    Oh, wow. This is a timely article. I spent most of this past weekend grinding my teeth down over an unnecessary blow-up with my sister-in-law, who is also my business partner, and it’s a situation that seems to keep repeating itself no matter how hard I try to keep myself “under the radar.” Most of the time, I rant and gripe for a while, then swallow it down, and go on. This time was the last straw for me. I wanted to just cut her out of my life.

    One of my biggest problems is that no one’s ever honest with her about her behavior. Everyone’s scared to say anything…myself included. I never say anything. I keep thinking it’s best to let it blow over and try to let time and smiles and good will smooth it over.

    This time I went back and forth over whether or not I should just write her my own “scathing email” letting her know exactly how I feel.

    And I did. I just didn’t send it. Why? Because I know it’s not going to make a difference in her behavior. It’s only going to make it worse, start an ego-defensive war…and in so doing, make me more upset and sad. I’m five months’ pregnant, and these things just don’t seem so darn important anymore.

    Instead, I wrote a letter forgiving her. I didn’t send that one either. I didn’t need to. I just needed to write it. And I accept that things are the way they are between us. I know in my heart that I’ve always had the best intentions with her. Hopefully, one day she’ll realize that. And in the meantime, the best thing I can do for myself is just to forgive her and enjoy my life.

    The quote about not forgiving being a poison is on point. It really is. I can’t count how many times I’ve run myself in circles in anger, causing elevated blood pressure, frown lines, and lingering bad moods and grudges. And in the end, it never really did any good. What does good is setting it aside and focusing on the good things in life. And there are sooo many good things in life.

    So, thank you, Tina, for reminding me of what’s important. I’m no longer worried about letting her know what she did or whether or not I’m letting her “get away” with something. Instead, I feel content in the actions I did take. I’m happy. :)

  20. I recently have been feeling very angry towards someone really close to me. The anger was just unbearable. I learned to let go my anger by writing it down or tell the person how I feel. It works for me most of the time. Now I’m asking myself if I still want this person to repeatedly hurt me or should I start draw a line within us. The latter – keeping a distance will be my choice.

  21. Jason


    Great article,

    I dont think the last point on forgiveness was very convincing. I believe that unless a person experiences true forgiveness in his own life, he falls short of the full potential to forgive his enemy.

    This cave man instinct is described perfectly by the text ”for all have fallen short of the glory of God”. Bottom line: we are all sinners, not because the bible says so but because our very nature is fallen( Eg: who thought you to lie?- it came naturally but yet you know its wrong)

    Yes there is a another way, Unless we die to old selves and be spiritually born again just like the Lord Jesus said it in the gospel, we will remain in sin and keep fighting our ‘caveman’.

    Caveman!! finding it difficult to fight your caveman on your own??!! i don’t blame you?! You can choose and make this decision to seek help, peace and clarity but to maximize your potential one needs an external help. God knew this from the beginning that’s why Jesus after he ascended into heaven told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit which will descend from heaven, flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit, When we ask for this free gift through Jesus Christ which is the Holy Spirit of God , God himself breathes new life into us and He gives us His Holy Spirit and the strength needed to die to ourselves and be born again not by the womb of a mother but by the spirit of the Living God.

    A seed must die to produce life. I believe that both Clarity, Understanding and forgiveness need to be backed with the empowering of the Holy Spirit of God which is a free gift to all those who believe in the risen Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Then will the caveman become smaller while the true self become bigger slowly overpowering the caveman within. Meaning, Purpose follow as a result of the true self becoming larger than sinful self.

    Because God forgave me I can forgive my enemy. Jesus lead by example ” Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
    I challenge you to just understand the situations Jesus went through and you think your in a fix, a valuable lesson on forgiveness is learnt.

    Hey you can get your own Bible if your interested. ciao

  22. Hi Tina and everyone

    I hear that most people get the value in “forgiving” and there is some fear around getting hurt again raising the issue of personal boundaries.

    I sense, for me, that there are a number of steps here that need teasing out; one set is our own inner work and the other is how we live in the world interpersonally.

    1. There is difference between an apology and saying ‘sorry”. A meaningful apology leaves excuses behind and comes from a willingness to take complete responsibility for one’s actions AND is based on a resolve not to cause pain again.

    2. We can connect with our needs or values that are not met by the other person’s actions and sense into how we feel when they are met. We can express this honestly through a clear statement stating what we noticed (as an observation as objectively as possible) + feelings + needs. We can then make a request as what we would enjoy being different. Or, if this is a “situational encounter” you might like to try and connect/empathise with their needs ~ trying to remember that the pain we are experiencing is caused by our own unmet needs (for consideration, cooperation, safety, honesty etc etc).

    3. We can sense into what needs are met by being in relationship with this person and whether this is still “actually” the case. If we want to stay in the relationship we may need conflict coaching or relationship coaching to transform some of the patterns that are no longer working. I have experienced that this coaching is powerfully transformative even if the other party doesn’t come to the table. It is possible to use a proxy and really hear into and through the issues.

    4. We can also explore the value of forgiveness in our lives. We can recollect the frailty of humanity, the advantages of forgiveness for our health, as part of our spiritual practice. Now this doesn’t mean we condone the act or deny the pain we have experienced. It means we explore the experience and learn to understand it in terms of our own values. The act of forgiveness born out of self-awareness is a self-empowering act – another reason to “consciously forgive.”

    I have to admit that I find “forgiveness” hard work. I have to let go of my desire for revenge and my belief in fairness. It is all inner work and when I have done it I feel so centred and strong and true to myself. When I am stuck in the pain and thinking I feel off-centre and angry and so forgiveness works for me just for the simple reason that I feel better.

  23. Tina – You draw quite a crowd with your writing talents. There are a lot of great posts here. You always have so much to offer. I believe that through writing we let others see some of the deepest parts of our soul. You are truly a magnificent person based on what I have read.

    I too wrote a post on this just last week. It’s called, “An Invitation to an Unbirthday Party.” Some of my discoveries center around how easy children forgive, yet as we get older it becomes much more complicated. Children have so much to teach us. My own childhood has taught we much as I look back now through my adult eyes. It’s amazing how much more hardened and breakable we become as we age.

    Thanks for the nudge. I have a lot to learn.

  24. “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die …” – Malachy McCourt

  25. @Peter – interesting. Looks like there are a few different people that have had similar sentiments, I wonder where the quote originated =). In any case, it’s one I like a lot.

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