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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. Hey Tina, this is a fantastic post. Bad feelings tend to consume us and ruin us much more than the person who hurt us in the first place.

    Keep on writing.

  2. Ryan

    What a bunch of bunk. This feel good mentality is exactly why the human race is going down the drain. We are weak and lack leadership. Everyone worried about “feelings”, give me a break, a little more “caveman” in this world would not be a bad thing.

  3. Janie

    Your article came at the perfect time. Unfortunately, I am the one hoping that the other will forgive me for what I did. Nevertheless, your writing gave me a better understanding of how he and I are both feeling. Thank you.

  4. Learning how not to permit negative feelings to control me is itself a learning experience. I tell myself that when a person evokes anything other than love within me, then this is an invitation to get to the reason behind my discomfort. Pure honesty is truly most illuminating!

  5. My advice has always been simple: consider the source. This thought alone helps me de-escalate. As a counselor and a recovering addict/alcoholic I try to combat dificult emotions when they arise by replacing irrational thoughts with rational ones. Self examination is always a plus for me as well.

  6. Great post. I’m having a hard time letting go of some resentment towards an old friend and your article brought some clarity to me.

  7. This one hit home. Thanks Tina! ;-)

  8. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes really does work wonders. In cases where I feel attacked, I can usually see that the other person in the equation isn’t intending that at all. It’s easier to let it go and even find something useful from their comments at that point. Of course, it doesn’t sound this was the case in your situation, the forgiveness that you mention is probably the best solution.

  9. you have a very informative article. Thanks for posting this. keep up the good work.

  10. Rosa Osegueda

    This articule touch my hearth.Eventhough is hard to forgive
    in the moment.
    i know when the time past and have some distant of the environment that happen the incident.
    And you have a time to see your self and the other person view withouth the emotion because you heall your pain.
    Provably you can understand in some point why this person react like that.But still hard. I can not racionalise this…..

  11. Nice article. very informative. thanks for sharing.

  12. brad

    You talk about the email received. First of all, I agree on the perspective. Don’t you think you still need to write back in a positive manner to address the situation, instead of with anger and resentment? Or do you completely not respond at all?

    ***************************************

    REPLY:

    Depending on the situation and your previous relationship with the person. In my case, I did not respond. I felt that it was the best action for my circumstance.

  13. I am so impressed with the way you explained primitive reactions in details, and how you exposed the obvious reasons why people react to negative situations, and the consequences involved. I leant a lot from it. At the moment, i am being treated with cold shoulders by my Aunt whom i love very much, i’ve tried to understand why but i failed. Fortunately, i read the article above, and it sure explained so much. Thanks a billion!!!!

  14. very useful blog, thank you for sharing…. also came across a similar article I’d like to share: http://carrieanddanielle.com/say-goodbye-to-resentment-ask-for-thanks/

    has a great clip from dr. laura trice, at a conference… on giving thanks and abolishing resentment.

  15. You know, Tina, I always love how you take topics and turn them into very simple, easy to follow steps. I was thinking of using the above to direct some clients to, and I wanted to revisit what you had written. Again, nicely done. Just wanted to let you know that again. :-)

  16. Chris Snyder

    About resentment…I have noticed that with every “resentment” situation I had some part to play. It may be a very, very, very small part but I played a part. So, how can I have a resentment if I was involved?? I always pray for the other person involved, and even if I am having a hard time praying for them it seems to work. I eventually always find peace…

  17. Tinaaaa! Where are you, we miss your articles!

  18. Very insightful article Tina, and one of the most important things we face in life, to see beyond the surface of human behaviour, control our emotions, and most importantly to forgive, the most difficult of all !

    You alluded to the necessity of ‘grace’ to achieve this or proceed with that process and that is my perspective, its is only by the grace of God that forgiveness and healing can really take place so that a true and lasting peace can reign in the human soul, it is a gift from God.

    Without that the best we can achieve is a grudging toleration of others and their ways. Similarly (often) we need to look at ourselves also when faced with some attack on our person, have we contributed in some way to the others sorrow..did we provoke it in some way.. an honest look at our own failings and faults too !

    Ultimately our need to forgive and to be forgiven is a wonderful insight into our ‘fallen nature’ an imperfection of character not seen in the rest of creation, a flaw that makes us unique, and points to our need for a saviour, something out-side of ourselves entirely, who can repair all that we have damaged and all our hurts & pains…oh and everyone elses too ! Thanks be to God for sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ , to save us and make all things new. Prayer is needed, to obtain grace to forgive, to produce healing, to give peace in the heart.

    Cheerio & God Bless

  19. Ron Towns

    Resentment can be one of the toughest things to “get over” for humans. This is particularly so because of the amount of negativity circulating on the media airwaves, and even within everyday conversation and small talk.

    Try listening in and make note of how many negative allusions are made in each conversation you have with somebody in one day. Even count your own. You will be astounded by the results.

    The key to overcome resentment is to put your brain in a place where no external factors are influencing you to think one way or another – in a state of meditation. Meditation rejunventates your brain, and orients your mind, body, and spirit, with the positive goodness of life.

    If you are skeptical about mediation, you can look up the thousands of studies that have been conducted over the past 10 years that scientifically prove that meditation is good for the health of your mind. Top entrepreneurs around the world meditate sometimes, many times per day, as well as use visualization tools like vision boards.

    The best easy to read resource I’ve found about what all this means is from John Assaraf’s book, “The Compete Vision Board Kit.” Download a free chapter and check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/56mfen

  20. Kim

    This was really helpful. For me, the hardest part of letting go of resentments is realizing that I am benefiting myself, not justifying the other person. My ego looks at letting go as failing, as letting the other person have power over me…when in reality it’s just the opposite.

  21. aw

    Resentment is rather annoying to me when I lost my first love. It wasted me a lot of time and looking back upon those days, I think it’s rather useless to hate a person. Instead, we should treat ourselves much better, that’s the right way.

  22. erp

    There’s much good common sense and wisdom in some of the words posted here – wise counsel is always helpful, and I’m sure everyone can relate to resentment and forgiveness experiences (though I find the ‘caveman’ and ‘instinct’ metaphors really counter-productive, along with the implied view of progress = repressing impulses = good). But I think it needs to be said here that responsibility is about both private reactions AND follow-up public actions. Of course one should consider carefully before reacting to abuse from others, however unintentional, but I don’t agree that the outcome of careful consideration should be anti-social… What I mean is, while I totally agree with the notion that we need to be aware of what we’re feeling, and not mindlessly act on resentments and angers that inevitably crop up, I worry about the moral cowardice implicit in ONLY focusing on one’s own feelings and freedoms in situations where someone has in fact done something inappropriate or downright damaging (whether to you or someone else). Being responsible for our own actions and reactions is not about retreating into oneself and STAYING there (ie NOT actually letting someone else know when they’ve inadvertently or intentionally overstepped the mark). Doing that is the sort of thinking that allows bullies to come to exist and thrive. I really appreciate being able to dip into websites like this one now and then, to help me reflect, but the point of doing such reflection is surely to become more able to engage in more effective social action, not to just avoid it! Maybe no-one else reading these postings took away the message that what’ being encouraged here is avoiding the much harder task of actually saying what’s right and wrong, but in case so, I just wanted to say that I think looking ‘in’ can sometimes be the same as looking ‘away’ – and that’s not good at all. We’re all implicated when someone does something horrible to others if we just look the other way. It’s not good enough to simply work out a way to feel good about yourself while allowing others to behave badly! (and feeling smug and superior about it to boot). Looking away is cowardice. I don’t for a moment think one should act impulsively – reflection is necessary – but isn’t its purpose ultimately to make everyone feel better and safer in the social world that makes up our daily life, and not just to feel ‘sweet about me’? Responses need to be balanced, mature and wise, but not socially irresponsible – and focusing only on one’s own feelings and choosing to not speak out in defense of what is right and socially acceptable (so that everyone is reminded of the rules of fair play) is frankly complicit in the creation of nasty behaviour. That’s my two cents’ worth – reflection is the beginning, not the end :)

  23. Very nice Tina. I agree with some of the earlier comments posted here about the need for awareness. Particularly as it pertains to the workings of the human mind. As part of the human condition, our minds are wired in ways that at times serve us in a counter productive manner. But I am able (most of the time) to hold my “mind” in the palms of lovingkindness and realize that what I am thinking and feeling are all simply a part of this weird and wonderful experience we refer to as “being human”. From this perspective, I seem to be able to look at what is bothering me from a position that is not quite so judgmental and defensive. Through that portal enters the wisdom I need to deal with the issue at hand. We often get caught up in the trance of our own thoughts and when we can realize this and catch ourselves doing that, we can learn to stop, reflect, and begin to see things differently……and move towards what works and away from being stuck in what doesn’t work.

  24. Only by forgiving we can get on with our life. Sometimes people can the feeling of, “If i don’t forgive someone, then they suffer.” I wonder why they came out with that thinking. I believe the one that suffer the most is the one who can’t forgive others.

    Cheers
    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

  25. Thanks for this post. One thing I’d add is that, if we feel like we have to get resentment off our chests by talking to the person we’re angry with, we have ways of communicating available to us that aren’t attacking toward the other person. Like Marshall Rosenberg talks about in Nonviolent Communication, we can just relate how we felt when the other person treated us in the way we disliked. We’d say something like “when you wrote me that e-mail, I felt angry.” By simply telling them how we felt, rather than blaming them for it, we can actually have communication about the situation as opposed to having them defend themselves. — Best, Chris

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