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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. Ian

    I think the Mark Twain quote at the top of the page is a beautiful way to describe forgiveness. Your article really hit home, because things happen on a daily basis in my life that cause feelings of resentment or injustice. The best way to get over it, like you said, is to let go of your ego and forgive and forget.

  2. STEVO

    As a sufferer of resentment now for 2 years 2 months and 7 days, and counting, I find it to be too strong of an issue to be the one to give in. Even though i know it is doing me and my partner no good healthwise. I wake up every morning with a possitive outlook that this will be the day it is all swept under the carpet . Where can i find the strength to forgive ? Hopefully this post will go a long way to resolving what has become a nightmare.. saving to favourites N.O.W.

  3. This is a great article. I can relate to your email scenario. I usually point out to the writer, that I understand the frustration to my “perceived” action, but her reaction is also hurting me and, if given the chance, I can make amend for that which they feel wronged. I get a positive reaction about 85% of the time. When I don`t or the other party is unreasonable, the email doesn`t get answered by me.

    This article finally gives true intelligence to those of us who try to think logically rather than indulge in candor.

  4. Matt G.

    Is there a book that goes deeper into the origins of human resentment?
    Just trying to get some info on evolutionary responses to attacks by others.
    Thanks in advance for your recommendations…

  5. andrew ph

    Sure, resentment is a corrosive self-damaging emotion, but as you outline, it’s a reaction to an external act. We may be able to some extent control how we act on our feelings of resentment, but it seems to be an emotion in search of closure. That’s why it’s so enduring, because if closure isn’t forthcoming, it ends up unresolved. I recently fell out with a friend who I discovered had lied to me, and when confronted, he simply shrugged – this only infuriated me further which led me to ending all contact with him as there was no good-will on my part even for a superficial chat. He has yet to apologise, but has spoken to a mutual acquaintance about this incident, and about my disproportionate reaction. Needless to say, him speaking to someone else about this – rather than to seek to resolve this with me – made me even more resentful about this, particularly as he has previously spoken to me about very personal matters that often involved those nearest to him. I bump into him frequently as we have common acquaintances and usually blank him. I resent him and often fantasise about my revenge in the form of divulging the information he’s intimated to me, or by physically assaulting him – which naturally are counterproductive in the extreme, and I’d never resort to doing. The feelings however remain, and there is no closure. To forgive in these circumstances, and to revert to the previous state of the relationship, I fear, will also be counterproductive – in your article, you make no mention about the need to send clear messages to others what are our boundaries, and what sorts of behaviour we find unacceptable. Though the gist of what you write appears enlightened, the whole issue of forgiveness glosses over the need to indicate to others that certain behaviours are not acceptable – how therefore do we reconcile your approach with the need to be firm and consistent with our principles?

    Though it frustrates me to be resentful about my former friend, I feel it’s a matter that time will diminish it’s effect on me, and that it’s part of the human condition – to be hurt by other people’s behaviour towards us, to fall out, and to accept that sometimes, certain relationships cannot be salvaged and that, when these involve people close to us, this can be painful. To resent an unresolved wrong is part of being human, and that being human involves placing value in notions such as fairness, justice, and so on. I hear you saying ‘but it will ultimately hurt you if you don’t forgive’ to which I would reply, ‘you’re right, but life is not meant to be this 24/7 saccharine-laced fluffy experience, and that human relationships, by virtue of their importance to the social beings that we are, have their highs, and their lows. I think lasting fulfillment comes from the feeling that we have kept true to our principles – imagine resenting being too forgiving over a particular incident, and feeling as a complete push-over, a man without a chest thymic or in common parlance, no balls.

  6. As a man thinketh in is heart so is he – from the Proverbs. Thus holding anger and resentment will make one angry and resentful and it will carry out toward others and not just at it’s target. It becomes a habit and infects your thinking and all of your relationships. And so you must let go.

    I enjoyed the article and the fact that it points out that just because you can forgive doesn’t mean that you get run over. Mainly it means you take those things out of your heart. If someone is an SOB let them be an SOB but I don’t have to let them keep my mind and my attention focused on them. They have no control over me.

  7. trish

    Whilst I really think the advice given is very very good. I have to ask if you have ever been involved unwittingly in a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath ,and not known what they were until after the end of the relationship.
    Such people are “Without Concience” A book by Dr.Hare.
    I am sorry to have to say that what you write about
    “Understanding gives us an insight into what the other person is feeling”
    Would be totally wasted on narcissist/sociopathic
    I do however take on board and embrace the fact that in normal relationships the advise you give could be theariputic. However to get over the type of relationship that I refer takes a lot more than that to recover from.

  8. Frank Brown

    I’m typically the one who engages the understanding and apology after lashing out when someone questions my ego. This is some sound advice for dealing with this, and I will try to apply it to the next person I have a falling-out with. Forgive yourself, and forgive others!

    Car accident lawyer

  9. Sam

    I like your article and it has helped me a great deal. But even after understanding them can i correct them? When is the true cure? Is it when i foregive the person and we become friends or when they do the same thing and it nolonger hurts? Or should i plead with them not to do it again?

    Pls reply

  10. Hi Sam,

    Yes, you can correct them after you started to absorb and understand the principles behind why we do things. Awareness is the beginning of change.

    You do not need to become friends with them, that is not necessary. Permanent change happens, when the person’s presence or actions no longer bothers you.

    When we feel upset or hurt caused by other people’s actions, it is us who have given them the power to affect us emotionally. It is our choice. With awareness, we can choose to not allow external events pollute our inner space.


  11. Em

    Wooow. I seeked for an article exactly like this and the search results came through!!! Thank you.

    Here’s where I am through all of this.
    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.

    My alternative possibilities and healing strategies are my only outlets allowing me to breathe. Thinkin of all the positive aspects of this upcoming change being back on my own(My BF of 4+ years has decided to move back home to San Diego to help his Family. Two of the 4 yrs with me, he hasn’t been able to support himself financially, and god know’s I’ve tried everything to support him. Now he finally wants to make something of himself for his family…but not for me. Says he’s never had the motivation. *shakes head*).

    My issue is this.. once you scar me in a potentially damaging way…I can never go back to ‘How it used to be.’ Love is there, but there is an awful lot of pain and stress and resentment. I’ve reacted like so, I’ve reasoned, I’ve clung to his chest in the middle of the night crying, pleading for him to stay. I see no way out of this but to learn to understand and forgive….there’s no turning back. I know in my head that once this is over with…It’s a done deal.

    Back to Clarity…and some soul searching. Again..I thank you for this article, more than you know.

  12. eris

    I was excited that the article started off so wisely. But then it went off into ego defense land. It’s disappointing, given that the author is aware of them.

    Look, if someone says something to upset you, it doesn’t mean that they’re the problem and you’re superior (and so compassionate!). Thinking that may make you feel better, but so does heroin.

    What it really means that some truth in there touched a nerve. Be honest with yourself and fix it.

    It’s painful. It’s scary. And therefore, it’s the less popular option.

    But it brings true inner peace.

  13. Mita Bell

    This writing on resentment has been SO helpful to me.
    I can’t figure out who wrote it and would like to know so I can find more writings of his/hers.

  14. Mita Bell

    Who wrote the essay on resentment? I love it.

  15. Megan Cleland

    Wow incredible article. Society as a whole is becoming more resentful and caveman-like but don’t have the tools or don’t want to know how to make it better. We are going backwards as a society not ahead. People are becoming more stressed and frustrated with relationships and day to day survival and are accepting the feeling of resentment that go along with it.
    I have learned from this article a bit more about myself and how I can change the way I react to things and people I have no control over.
    Forgiveness is the key.

  16. nirvan

    a well written article, however, an insight is missing. that insight is that everyone shares a consciousness; we are all mirrors for each other. with this insight into ourselves, we do not blame another or ourselves.
    we feel a need to forgive only because we have placed blame. of course, in this society where blame is taught, any idea of being truly responsibility for our feelings is pretty radical.

  17. deepgrl

    This article helped me immensly! I was going through so much anger and resentment that I was starting to not be able to focus on anything good in my life at all. Which included my husband and kids. I am now so much at peace and my husband keeps asking me what happened to make me so happy. He ask’s, “Did you win the lottery or something?” **laughs** :)

  18. Thank you for posting this. Resentment is one of the issues I am addressing at the moment and your article has helped.

  19. Jesse

    Thanks for helping me understand why I resent.

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