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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. Katie

    Thank you for posting practical steps towards forgiveness. I am still very angry over my treatment at and then lay off from a job I adored. I have become very sensitive to my friend’s and family’s exhaustion with my anger, so I try to act very nonchalant. As a result I lose my temper at odd times, and have nightmares about the people who hurt me. My peers in recovery just say, “pray for forgiveness,” but I don’t really know what that means.

    Thank for breaking the process down into doable steps.

  2. Nancy

    I have had a very long standing resentment that I have tried to get rid of and it is not enough to say forgive, because it doesnt just go away. It has to be dealt with. I realize that I turned a critical life decision over to a parent who I thought cared and listened to the advice and it had disasterous consequences for my life and the life of others. In realizing what happened, I think that the person was coming from their own standpoint and perspective instead of the affects it would have on others. So really, I think what I am saying is that the person was thinking about themsleves, not the people involved and the action really hurt others, had a horrible impact. It has been very hard to let go and forgive both myself and the other person or even know what to say to the other person who denies any involvement at all…it is so sad. But therre is no peace without there is no peace without working this through.

  3. Missn

    Thank you for this article. I have been working on a resentment for many many years that wakes me up at night and haunts almost every waking moment. I know it has to be dealt with but almost wish there was a place where people could talk more or work it through more. It doesnt go away….they say pray on it, forgiven, but I think itès a process that needs to be worked out and then you can forgiven but I am not sure that you can do that before the other stuff is worked on. It doesnèt just go away. It take movement and the courage to speak the truth, even if you had a part to play…doesnt make you bad, just someone learning something. I have learned that you have to be very very careful about who you trust.

  4. controlfreak

    I have a problem with holding on to anger. This really helped me out. I know that I have the problem and want to change it. It’s as if my anger and resentment towards people who judge me keeps me fake sense of comfort. I dont want them to get to know me, which in turn makes life lonely. Thank you for the tips I think it will prove to make life more enjoyable.

  5. I simply had to thank you so much all over again. I am not sure the things that I could possibly have accomplished without these suggestions shared by you on that question. Previously it was the alarming concern for me, but finding out your professional manner you solved the issue made me to leap for gladness. I will be thankful for your information and then have high hopes you recognize what a powerful job your are providing educating most people via your web site. Most probably you have never got to know all of us.

  6. lisa

    What if the person lies and denies they said or did anything. So therefore you can not understand why they would say or do what the did.

  7. Bobby

    Thanks for have such a well informed page on this subject.

  8. Asia

    Thank you for this well-written and inspiring article. It comforted me to know that my horrible feelings of resentment were so well articulated by someone else. This paragraph captured my emotions so well:

    “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.”

    Followed up with specific actions for me to take (calming, forgiving self and others); thank you.

  9. Miranda

    I have just walked away from a decade of resentment by both myself and my estranged partner. As the typical family now consists of yours, mine and sometimes ours, family life is whole lot more complicated, so I will never combine families again. I am now picking up the pieces of the constant belittling of my children, and the my inappropriate management of these situations. So my dilemma is how do I show compassion and dignity when my children remind me on a daily basis of impact of my choice. I can forgive my ex because i see the hurt and the insecurities that were causal in his inappropriate behavior. My children say he does not deserve forgiveness, and my family feed their resentment. So i cry in silence at the loss of my BF and the person i wanted to grow old with, the hurt of broken promises, and the lost opportunity to create precious life’s memories.

    Yesterday was a particularly bad day and I spent most of the day crying my eyes out. Today I Googled and yours was the article I chose. I already feel as if the pain in my heart is not as sharp, as I have now found a point of reference and platform from which to take the first tentative step from. I know i will refer and re-refer to your article several times during the following months as my children and I heal and grow.

  10. Clara

    I have found the article really helpful in dealing with resentment I feel towards a work colleague – a great result from a google search!

    Following an incident when I very unwisely replied grumpily to a request at work; I received a 4-page document detailing how disappointing I am as a colleague, everything I have done in the last 6 months that displeased this girl, and an account of events from her point of view that completely mismatches mine. In reading it, I couldn’t believe my eyes, and initially spent several hours afterwards in tears with my husband. I wrote a reply refuting each point of criticism towards myself, but never told her how much the act of doing this was hurtful.

    As time has gone on, this list of petty facts does not bother me but I am left with resentment of everything that this girl now does at work. She behaves as if nothing ever happened, and is in fact saccharinely nice in front of others, but ignores me otherwise. This suits me well but I am working to secure a 2 year contract to work with this girl. Every little thing that happens, every lazy act, every time she is late, now makes me feel angry. Others in work totally agree with my annoyance; but our supervisor doesn’t ever reprimand her for selfish behaviour – whereas others would be confronted. Work colleagues ‘feed’ the negativity I feel towards this girl – so it is very difficult to forget what has happened. Most of all, the fact that a calculated document was sent to me reveals a longstanding resentment on her part; I can’t see myself working hard to secure a contract so I can continue in the workplace with this person.

    I’d really appreciate any advice on letting go of this feeling, and continuing a peaceful working environment without anger or bad feeling towards my colleague?? Outside of this seemingly petty situation my life is more than happy, but my brain keeps cycling these events and niggles and i’m finding it hard to forget.

  11. Stephanie

    My ex husband does not speak to me at all, because he is paranoid due to drug abuse that I was to blame for people turning against him when in fact he turned away from all his friends etc, his new fiancee has also said a lot of mean things to me as she believes all his lies and deceit and sees me as the bad person. I did retaliate to his abuse at times, but he keeps saying that I must respect him as he is paying for me and our kids to survive. I must say I do not know of anyone who would respect someone who uses money to earn respect but they can treat you however they want. this is so unfair. She does not want to know what my kids and I have lived through but judges me anyway and believes all his lies. this is hard to deal with

  12. Thank you so much for writing this blog.
    I just had a conversation with my 90 year old mother that enabled me to forgive and let go of a resentment I have had all my life. This took me by surprise and I am still holding on to this unexpected gift of peace. I don’t think I truly knew what forgiveness meant before this, or maybe I had never truly felt it. I wrote about it here if you are interested. http://thoughtsbydiana.com/2012/05/three-words-have-rocked-my-world/

  13. Megan Denney

    I can’t even begin to understand why two people tried to ruin my life and my reputation when I never said one thing about them. all I can understand is that they are sick people who didn’t know any other way of expressing their negative emotions towards me so instead of coming to me and talking about it they acted passive aggressively through reporting false accusations to doctors offices, social workers and to law enforcement and I never want to go around these people again and I definitely do not want my children near them. These people are my in laws and they have been begging my husband to see my kids, but as a way of protecting my babies I’m not gonna let it happen. I’m not being spiteful im just choosing not to communicate for mine and my childrens best interest. When I think about what these people did I become sick to my stomach. I know there is nothing I can do to change the past but I will do what I can today to prevent any further confrontation, but does forgiving them mean when I think about them I won’t feel any negative emotions? I don’t know if I forgive them or not because i can’t understand why they wanted to hurt my family so bad.

  14. Timothy Musyoka

    To Tina and all respondents,
    This is a wonderful start point and route to soul healing. We are sick in the soul by retaining resentful attitudes and unforgiving attitudes. Forgiving is not an easy thing to accomplish with out Gods grace. I know how it means to be hurt when differences arose between my marriage best man and I as he stood by hearsay report which was against my marriage and backed those who engineered it with out any circumstantial evidence. He even threatened to distance himself from participating when it was only about a month to the wedding day. Efforts to convince him fell on deep ears until his wife stood against the report. The marriage went through as planned but with a lot of pain and distrust. This was around September 2001, but it took four years down the line for the Holy Ghost to convince me that I have also hurt other people in one way or another. Above all I was convinced by the spirit of Gods grace that though I am a forgiven sinner, God holds no resentment concerning my failures and hurts before His presence and who am I not to forgive my neighbor and let it go?.
    After a deep soul searching affair, it became clear that it all begins with me. I forgave my self for how I was feeling about all my friends and asked God to help me forgive them without any condition. When I said I can and I am going to do it, relieve, healing and all resentful attitude was offloaded from my soul. I am now happily married with Two young daughters and we even visit those who engineered the report and even failed to back us up during the wedding process with out any hurt feeling conditions. Resentment is a dreadful disease worse than cancer because its cure is only with the one having it and until him or her releases it to God no counsel or medicine can intervene and help. It is soul centered .May the spirit of Gods grace help us to see the reality. Forgive (self) in order to be forgiven . Many have tried and have living positive testimonies. It is possible through Gods grace, yes even to you as you feel and hold, it is possible. Decide it today, Now. Amen Timothy.

  15. Nicole

    I am soon to be married and have so much going through my head. My soon to be husband had caused me a great lot of hurt and disappointment just over a year ago and it has been a roller coaster ride for me emotionally ever since. I made a conscious decision to forgive him, not just for me but the sake of our children, as we have two. However, I’m not the same person I use to be. I’m angry and hurt all the time. Its not that I cant get over what happened in the past, but resent him so much for what he did to me and cant believe that he did. So really I haven’t forgiven him and the effort I put into our relationship has become less and less, in a sense that I don’t want to be intimate or even just spend some quality time with him. I feel appalled at the thought of giving into him that way. I really do feel like I’m drowning in my emotions and know that this relationship is not going to work if things carry on this way. I just don’t know how to get over this resentment and anger I have toward him, but really want to be happy again and am willing to do what it takes to make this work.

  16. Ava

    Men don’t realise how much they hurt women by being silent. Silence is a cowardish weapon that is just as hurtful, if not worse, as verbal or physical violence.

  17. Tyler Michaels

    I’ve been dealing with resentment for several years now about being laid off from a company that I worked hard for for 15 years, I’ve also been dealing with resentment toward a manager who wrote a review of me that was simply un-true and may have eventually led to me being laid off for trying to defend myself. I have dreamed about him suffering, dying, burning to death, and dying on other awful ways. I’ve endured useless advice from people like “just let it go” — no one seems to understand how much I want to just forget this ever happened and I don’t know how to let go. I used to believe in god and would have prayed but years of waiting for peace and solace have taught me through experience that if god exists, he has no interest in me or my problems. So I’m left with no one to turn to who can help me. I feel weak, angry and exhausted.

  18. Hi Tina, I am opinionated by character and have my view of life.I am not pleased, when I am not giving a chance to express myself and I feel undermined when people treat my opinion of as less important or not to be heard.This drives me into anger and as I cannot let out that anger, it becomes resentment but I am a Christian and I know that this feeling is an offence to my faith.That is why I have decided to research on how to overcome anger and resentment and I came across this blog.I love your post about forgiveness and that is why I am about to tell you this short story.

    I am in the University and I have a male course mate, who was my friend.He was very friendly with me and fond of talking to me.I grew to like him as a friend and started reciprocating his friendship.At that period, I didn’t have much friends and most of the girls in my class were not friendly with me because they said I was ”PUSHY”. In my friendship with this guy, I helped him in some circumstances but when I needed his help , he insulted me and started keeping away from me.Some people said that, the reason why he behaved in such a way is because he thought I was in love with him and he didn’t like me in such a way but I wasn’t , I just took him as a friend.As time passed by, he never apologised and I began to grow deep resentment for him but this resentment is a sin and is against my faith. However, I have been getting angry and aggressive, whenever some one offends me but I don’t want to be like this.
    Please advice me on what to do.

  19. stephen whittaker

    As a recovered alcoholic resentment is regarded as the number 1 killer of people with this disease and many AA meetings I attend will focus on this issue. These practical steps should help and I intend to share them with my fellows.

    Thank you.

  20. Katie

    My jaw literally dropped when I read the first line of your article. You are so dead on with my reaction to the actions of another that I was dumbstruck.

    A dear, old friend of mine acted in a hurtful way nearly 2 years ago, and I still find myself grappling with the creeping feeling of resentment from time to time. Just when I think I am “over” it, it bubbles back up. It is SO true that just when we think we have forgiven, we need to forgive again. Your exercises are not a one-time silver bullet, but techniques for a lifestyle that must be practiced on a regular basis.

    I think I’ve FINALLY found what I need. Many thanks, from my heart to yours.

  21. Carolyn

    Great article. I was betrayed on several levels from my ex-husband. He had a very dark secret life he was living behind my back for 20 years and I didn’t know. After our divorce in 2008 until now he is still trying to retaliate against the wrongs he thinks happened to him! This article’s information is going to be really helpful for me when those old cave man emotions rise to the surface again in dealing with him. I will add one more comment given to me by a trained therapist. She warned me that my life long belief that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have is not always correct. She said I was dealing with a full blown con man and sociopath and that there were no normal feelings there in him, so to beware that all people aren’t just doing the best they can with what they have. There are predators out there that are intentionally trying to do harm. Just thought I would pass along her warning. Hope it is helpful.

  22. Sara

    This article is well written however I have one concern. The article mentions how to overcome resentment in the case that somebody has hurt u directly (said mean things to you perhaps). It’s possible that we can find excuses for this behavior so that we don’t take it personally. But what about when it IS personal. Like someone cheating on u. What if a guy cheated lets say, and got the other girl pregnant? How can you try to understand that or justify it. What if it was just purely hurtful and you can’t find a justification for it? How do you overcome that resentment? Especially when you loved the person so much and had believed in them. I can’t understand how someone could do such a thing, broke my heart.

    Hes now with her… I don’t want to hate him anymore I just want to be free because it feels so heavy. But I’m finding it incredibly hard to forgive him because he stole my hopes and Everytime I think of it I feel so angry and bitter. I hate feeling this way. I know it isnt worth it, but how do i convince my heart of that?

  23. Peer

    You mention nothing about revenge. Keeping resentment and anger inside can kill you, yes, that’s why it’s better to forgive. But what is even better than that is to take revenge. Then one can really relax and knows justice has been done.

    It’s better to forgive than just keep it in, but what’s even better is some well-deserved revenge at the right moment.

  24. ngm

    I think there’s a lot of truth in the article. But doesn’t it encourage one to be emotionally dishonest and overly passive?

  25. steve

    I really like this quote,

    “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds
    on the heel that has crushed it.“
    ~ Mark Twain

    I think the article is well written and shows a high level of schorlarship, however I think it is missing one point in that forgiveness is not a natural human attribute and therefore we need the divine intervention of Jesus to enable us to forgive.

    Thus we must seek his help in forgiving others who have wronged us.

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