Letting Go of Resentment: How & Why

Letting go of resentment is vital to healing. Yet it can be one of the hardest steps to take. We want others to see how much damage they caused. We believe they need to acknowledge our hurt before we allow ourselves to heal. So, most of us need to know why letting go of resentment is good for us before starting to learn how to do it.

Why Letting Go of Resentment is Important

First, expecting the other person to recognise our pain or make amends creates more pain when the other person doesn’t react in the desired way. We may even cause more pain for ourselves by going over and over the initial pain, like picking at a scab.  Our stomachs churn, our minds race. Our health suffers. It becomes a downward spiral, a whirlpool letting go of resentmentof negative emotions.

Don’t carry a grudge. While you’re carrying the grudge, the other guy is out dancing.
Buddy Hackett

Secondly, by holding on to our resentment, we see ourselves as victims. Resentment does not encourage us to take action. It allows us to wallow in self-pity. We feel powerless and focus on the negatives, we get stuck in blaming. By not letting go of resentment, we hand over control of our minds to the very people or things that we resent.

As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind.
Isabelle Holland

Finally, instead of planning for a positive future for ourselves, we may start thinking about punishing others for the past. Revenge may seem satisfying in the short-run, but in the long run, it usually damages us more than those we plot against. Holding onto resentment is like eating poison yourself and waiting for the other people to die.

So, often the best revenge is to free oneself from the resentment, anger and hurt. To heal oneself, to blossom and flourish rather than letting the hurt continue to damage you.

Three Steps to Letting Go of Resentment

Acknowledge Your Pain

Pour your heart out in writing. Physically writing this on paper is therapeutic–this connection from hand to brain will be more powerful than using a computer. Let out all your anger, frustration and even thoughts you don’t like to admit.  Now, think of how painful it has been to carry this inside of you. Do you really want to keep this? Choose either to burn the paper or tear it into tiny scraps. You have suffered–now stop cataloguing the pains and look at how you can meet your needs without waiting for the other person or winning the lottery.

Recognise Your Needs

What unmet needs are causing your pain? Do you feel lonely? Do you need to feel valued? What is causing your suffering? The SCARF&Needs worksheet is useful for recognising triggers and needs. Once you have identified what you need, think of all the things that you personally could do to meet your needs. Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on what you have and what actions you can take. 

Take Action

Accept that the other person and the situation may not change. You still have choices and control over how you look at the situation. Take back that control and do something. It may be only to change your attitude or there may be much more you can do.

I discovered I always have choices and sometimes it’s only a choice of attitude.
Judith M. Knowlton

Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Viktor Frankl

You can download an exercise here A6 Liberate Yourself, based on principles of NonViolent Communication from Thom Bond’s excellent Compassion Course.