“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela
You’ve been wronged before, most likely many times, and now you spend a great deal of time and energy replaying and reliving what happened to you. You find yourself irrationally angry at people for small reasons, or at least reasons that shouldn’t invoke that much anger. But you suppress it, and try to forgive and forget. Sometimes you’re angry for bigger reasons. Still, you pretend everything is alright and that the anger and hurt you’re experiencing will go away if you put it aside long enough. But that’s not how resentment works.
Mark Sichel, a psychotherapist, says resentment is when we re-experience and relive feelings and events that angered us, which leads to emotional, physiological and spiritual destruction. He adds, “The inability to overcome resentment probably constitutes the single most devastating impediment to repairing a disintegrating intimate connection, family rift, or severed friendship.” This is due to the nature of resentments.
When you have a conflict with someone, the conflict can be resolved, and anyone involved can move on afterward. But resentments are “probably ignited by a long history of neglect, exasperation, and frustration.” This includes problems you haven’t dealt with properly, bad memories you haven’t let go of, and even situations where you thought you already forgave the person.
“Resentments embody a basic choice to refuse to forgive,” says Sichel. A more in depth explanation:
“We do so because we believe the illusion that by belaboring our resentment, we will somehow achieve the justice we believe we are due. We cling to a futile need to be "right," which overrides the capacity to heal and be at peace with ourselves. We hang on to perceived offences because we don't know any other way of coming to grips with painful feelings of hurt, rejection, and abandonment.”
Interestingly enough, recognizing resentment can be triggered by small things, such as someone forgetting your birthday, or your co-worker ditching you for your lunch date. When this small thing happens (or perhaps continually happens), you find yourself very angry, so much so that you may not understand why. Sichel explains, “The strong reaction of resentment almost never appears to be warranted by what sets it off. It's always the product of a long history of backed-up unhappiness.” Also, the anger you feel toward someone who has “wronged” you recently, most likely isn’t even about that person, but instead it’s about someone who’s hurt you in the past.
To understand resentment, Tori Rodriguez, writer for Woman's Day, says, “First, recognize that the closer the connection you have with someone, the higher your sensitivity level and expectations are.” Thus, your anger and hurt will be greater towards those you are closest to. Next, it’s crucial to understand that the resentment hurts you more than the other person. You may think they need to apologize, or they need to face justice, but really it’s you who’s unhappy and angry. So the problem is with you and not the other person.
In Jessica Ruane’s article, “How to Really Let Go of a Resentment,” she says when you have a resentment, you shouldn’t, “ignore them, fight through them, lock them in a closet, pretend you don’t feel them, [or] try and forget them.” You should, “Face them, feel them, deal with them, [and] heal from them.” It’s easy to push painful feelings aside thinking they will go away. But the longer you do that, the more time the pain has to invade more aspects of your life to the point where you’re not even aware of how it affects you. It’s difficult to allow yourself to face and feel the anger and/or pain, but there is a process that can help you.
Sichel provides ten steps that can be found in the first link below, but here are a few highlights:
- “Approach resentment as the addictive state of mind it is.”
- “Realize that you are using resentment to replicate old dramas and acknowledge that you cannot change the past”
- “Examine how your resentment may come from mentally confusing people in your present life with people in your past”
- “Acknowledge that you cannot control those who have rejected you”
- Stop yourself from ruminating in the pain by thinking of something else
- “Forgive when you can”
Ruane believes that the 12 step program for addicts can be incredibly beneficial when applied properly, but she condenses it into four steps. It is not an easy process and one that takes time, but it is proven to help people move on and let go.
- Step One: “Make a list of all the people you have resentments towards… Include ANYTHING that gives you an automatic negative feeling… nothing is too trivial or too small.”
- Step Two: “Next to the person’s name; write what they did to cause you to resent them. The reason for the resentment doesn’t have to “make sense”—it just has to be honest.”
- Step Three: “Now you write what part of your life each resentment affects… [such as] your self-esteem or confidence. The point is to become acutely aware of the specific ways that the resentment is impacting your identity, and your ability to feel safe, secure, and loved.”
- Step Four: “Next to the reason, or cause for resentment, you are going to write down your part. This is how YOU have contributed to the problem.”
Alex Lickerman, MD, assistant vice president for student health and counseling services at the University of Chicago, wants people to know, “Even if the insult was meant in a personal way, cruelty is never about the victim's shortcomings but rather the abuser's.” So, when someone has hurt you, it’s important to understand that it often has nothing to do with you. The most important thing you can do for the other person, and especially for yourself, is to forgive and let go. You might even need to forgive yourself.