Having resentment can be like drinking poison every day. It prevents you from seeing the good in yourself or others, and even hinders your progress. You may be resentful of someone who slighted you, which is okay. But there are times when the best course of action would be to move on without dwelling on past grievances. This is why we need to understand how to let go of resentment.
Resentment is a sticky emotion. It’s directed toward another person but does far more damage to the person holding it than it does to the recipient. Just like a grudge, holding resentment is a bit like drinking poison yourself and expecting it to kill the other person. It wears away at your well-being and imprisons you.
Still, though unhealthy and harmful, resentment is something many of us experience from time to time. You’re not a bad person if you feel resentment today, but it’s important to remember that you have a choice, You can choose to hold onto resentment indefinitely, or you can choose to let it go. It’s not hard to figure out which is the wiser choice.
In this article, we’ll explore the nature of resentment. First, we’ll look at what causes it, then explain why it’s so important to finally let it go. Later in the article, we’ll offer some practical tips to help you identify and understand how to let go of the resentment that you may be carrying and to help you make a conscious effort to move on.
What is resentment?
Resentment is a feeling of anger and bitterness toward a person, group of people or institution that comes from the belief that one was not treated fairly or respectfully. There are many facets to resentment, making it a complex emotion. Disappointment and anger are often associated with the feeling.
Resentment has a bad reputation, and it’s easy to understand why. We often view emotions as positive and negative. Anger, for example, is often considered a negative emotion. Yet anger is a completely natural emotion and is even adaptive.
However, it becomes maladaptive when we don’t accept it but instead suppress it. The same goes for all feelings and emotions, including resentment. Suppression is not a healthy way to overcome anything. It only leads to a more aggressive resurfacing later and jeopardizes our overall health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social).
What causes resentment?
Resentment, along with its cousin’s anger, disappointment, and bitterness, typically stems from perceived unfair treatment. For example, a team member fired from her job might resent the boss or the company if she believes her forced leave was unjustified. A child embarrassed in the schoolyard by classmates may resent these bullies for humiliating him.
The level of perceived unfair treatment that can create resentment varies widely, from mildly unfair to outright abusive. On the milder side, one might feel resentment toward a coworker who gets a promotion even though the presenter believes they worked harder and were more suited for the position.
On a more personal and severe end, an adult who was emotionally abused as a child might resent other family members or the abuser themselves for invalidating or gaslighting the child/adult’s attempts at confronting and making sense of what happened.
Resentment grows stronger when there has been a series of past injustices rather than an isolated incident. For example, suppose a person witnesses favoritism in the family dynamic but is not on the receiving end. In that case, they might grow to resent the favorite sibling or family member and the parent who unfairly preferred them.
Why is it important to let go of resentment?
A hallmark characteristic of resentment is the bottling up or suppression of the emotions that led to resentment in the first place, such as anger, disappointment, and a sense of betrayal. These are challenging and sometimes overwhelming emotions, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid or suppress them.
The opposite is true. These are the emotions that deserve the most loving and compassionate attention. They’re all-natural, and we all experience them occasionally, but they can serve us well if we pay attention to them and accept them. Doing so is a prerequisite for finally letting go and moving on from them.
Many of us have a hard time letting go of resentment. We confuse things like letting go and even embracing forgiveness with accepting or agreeing that the wrong done to us was okay or inherently acceptable. Remember that letting go is for you as you learn to let go of resentment, which we’ll help you do later in the article. It’s for your health, happiness, and overall well-being, not for the other person. You’re the only person affected by the resentment, so it’s important to bear that in mind.
Resentment and physical health
While it’s essential to let go of resentment for your emotional well-being, it’s equally important to let it go for your physical health. Researchers have found that resentment and held grudges can lead to physical health issues and complications, including:
- A weakened immune system
- Heart problems
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of substance misuse
Resentment and relationships
Resentment has a destructive impact on your relationships. Researchers claim that poor interpersonal relationships are a common cause of further emotional and physical health problems, so it’s wise to investigate and be honest with yourself about feelings of resentment in your relationships – platonic, professional, and romantic.
Once resentment enters a romantic relationship, it begins to wear away the trust and intimacy that hold that relationship together. One partner may not feel comfortable or safe enough to share negative emotions and feelings of anger or perceived betrayal with their partner because they want to keep things smooth.
Perhaps they feel that an injustice has been done, but they can’t explain it rationally, in a way that they believe will accurately convey their feelings to their partner. So, instead, they bottle up their feelings and never confront them with themself or with their partner. This creates a breeding ground for resentment, which leads to a distinct breakdown in communication, regular maladaptive conflict, and eventually the breakdown of the entire relationship.
The benefits of letting go of resentment
When you learn to let go of resentment, you free yourself from mental imprisonment. Again, letting go of resentment does not mean that the wrongdoing you were a victim of was ok or tolerable. It doesn’t mean that you were wrong for feeling angry, and it doesn’t mean that you need to be friendly with the object of your resentment. What it downs mean that you choose to no longer put your mental, emotional, physical, and social health at risk in response to things outside of your control.
In deciding to let go, you create space for other more positive and growth-oriented aspects of your life to flourish. You make more space for love and compassion in your relationships, more room to listen and grow as a person, and more opportunity to experience life as enjoyable and abundant rather than unjust and out to get you.
How to let go of resentment
Identify your feelings
Instead of trying to deny or suppress your feelings of resentment, it’s better to look at them head-on and accept them. Sure, they may be uncomfortable and even stressful, but they’ll continue to drive our emotions and behavior unless we face and accept them.
Begin by identifying the object of your resentment. Is it a partner who ignores your needs? Is it a parent who invalidates your emotions? Is it a boss who places unrealistic demands on you or lets you go unfairly?
Next, identify what emotions the person or people evoked within you. Did they make you feel angry? Betrayed? Disappointed? Rejected? Resentment is a secondary emotion, which means it stems from pre-existing primary emotions.
Accept your emotions
Unlike suppression or bottling up, acceptance is how we allow ourselves to move from emotions. It’s a way of giving our emotions space to breathe. Through acceptance, we listen to the message that our emotions want to tell us, hear it with compassion and non-judgment, and lovingly let them go.
We usually have no problem accepting our positive emotions. We feel joy, pleasure, happiness, or excitement and welcome them with open arms. It takes some courage and radical authenticity to offer the same level of welcome to our negative feelings and emotions, such as when we feel anger, sadness, or disappointment. We don’t want to accept them because we label them as ‘bad,’ but we need to learn to be with them instead of avoiding them if we want them to eventually pass.
Understand your role
Before you began to experience resentment, there were emotions and feelings in your experience. These may have been anger, a sense of betrayal, disappointment, or the sense of being mistreated.
You’re entitled to respond to a person or institution that made you feel these feelings, and your experience is entirely valid. Still, you do have a responsibility to voice your opinion and stand up for yourself. Sure, the world would be a better place if we were kinder and more empathetic toward each other, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
We have a role to play in our feelings of resentment if we don’t take the opportunity to express our needs and voice our concerns and opinions. If anything, experience your resentment as a burden on yourself and learn the valuable lesson that it’s often a consequence of abandoning our authentic selves.
Forgiveness is a radical act of self-love. It’s hard to forgive those who hurt or betrayed us or acted in a way that evokes feelings of resentment within us, but there is great healing, relief, and opportunity to grow in doing so.
Understand that to practice forgiveness is to release yourself from a mental and emotional cage. It’s for you and your health and well-being, not the other person. It doesn’t mean that you tolerate what that person did to you and that it’s all suddenly ok. It simply means that you choose to prioritize your own life and no longer allow someone else’s actions and behaviors to take up so much space in your life.
An even more radical act of forgiveness and a powerful act of self-love is to forgive yourself for not speaking at the time or asserting your boundaries. We don’t always stand up for ourselves and confront others for unfair behavior. Sometimes we realize the importance of doing it too late, long after the incidents have happened, and then the time to assert ourselves has passed. Regret and even self-resentment can follow the realization of our role in an injustice, so take some time to connect with yourself and practice compassionate self-forgiveness.
Take deep breaths
Resentment can manifest as waves of anger and frustration. It might not be present at times, but at others, it feels impossible to ignore. The experience can be stressful and cause us to seethe with anger.
If your resentment is making you feel angry and you’re feeling lost for what to do about it, try to bring yourself into the present and calm your nervous system with deep, diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Breathing won’t fix the issue directly, but it will offer some space to pause and reflect, help you increase your self-awareness, and may give you the clarity and groundedness to confront the issue maturely and reasonably.
Manage your expectations
“What we resent reveals what it is we value, and what we have come to expect (or hope) from others; it may also reveal to what we see ourselves as entitled to, that is, how the expectations of our surroundings are organized and measured,” writes philosopher Alice MacLachlan (published in the Journal Of Social Philosophy).
Sometimes we hold others to expectations and standards that are unfair. We have every right to be respected and treated right, but it’s also true that we need to let others we will and will not tolerate. If someone’s behavior makes us feel hurt or angry, we need to let that person know. It may be the case that they don’t realize how their behavior affects us, and they might act, behave, or speak differently if they knew.
If we don’t let others know about our boundaries, preferences, and expectations, then we’re bound to feel hurt, betrayed, or disappointed at some point. We might resent them for being a certain way, but without letting them know about our perception, they don’t have a chance to make amends. We might hold onto resentment without the other person even knowing, leaving them confused and wondering why the relationship is strained.
If you’ve realized that resentment is affecting your health and happiness and you’re seeking a change, congratulations. It takes a lot of insight and self-awareness to recognize the impact of resentment in your life. As you now know how to let go of resentment, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding which will also assist with the healing process as it begins to take place.
There can be a strong identity attachment to this emotion because it stems from a perceived injustice, which does an awful lot to agitate the ego. Moving forward, remember that other people’s actions and behavior do not define you and are in no way an indication of your level of self-worth. Keep learning about and working on yourself; you’re doing a great job so far.