Resentment is an emotional cancer. It forms deep inside and eats you alive with overwhelming anger and disgust. It can arise from anything, like being cut off in traffic, not being invited to a special event, or being passed over for that raise and promotion you deserve. It typically stems from frustration over being slighted and consumes you to your very core. If you’re not careful, it can also affect your physical well-being. High blood pressure, blocked digestion and psychological issues are all too common for people who wallow in resentment. Finally, resentment is, by far, one of the biggest triggers for substance and alcohol use and abuse. For all these reasons, and many more, it’s vital to use your ability to ‘forgive’ as a secret weapon, your medicine against resentment.
It may not feel like it, but forgiveness is a choice. It is a gift we grant ourselves to free us of unwanted, painful feelings. I’ve always loved the analogy of ‘you can’t take poison to kill someone else’, because it really sums up the entire issue in a nutshell. While you sit around harboring resentment, taking the poison, the person who ticked you off, the object of your resentment, is walking around unaware, unaffected and without a care in the world. From a point of utility, resentment has to be one of the most useless emotions. Forgiveness as its counterpart, on the other hand, makes all the sense in the world. With a simple change of your mind-set, the pain can be gone in an instant, replaced by a sudden, serene rush of relief and calm.
The key question then is how do I accomplish forgiveness? In some instances it’s relatively easy; a co-worker forgets your birthday for the first time because of a family emergency. It’s simple to let that one go. But, what happens when it’s something serious done by a person who you care about deeply and they’re not even willing to say “I’m sorry”? That’s when it’s toughest to forgive but when it’s also most necessary. “How dare they? I would never do that to them,” are probably two of the most common and dangerous thoughts that follow next. It comes so naturally, almost as automatic as breathing. Yet, it’s now that you need to get a handle on the situation for your own benefit. I suggest you keep the following exercise handy for those times when you are totally irked and feel a nice lethal dose of resentment boiling up inside. It’s time to FORGIVE, for your sake, so let’s learn how to do that.
Does the other person even know they offended you? We frequently assume the other person knows they slighted us. However, perhaps it’s all just a misunderstanding and he or she would have acted differently had he or she only known. It’s all about communication. You need to find out whether you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. So, you’ve now had the conversation but the other person makes it clear they acted for a reason and if they had to do the situation all over again, it would turn out the exact same way. For example, if you get passed over for a promotion, there could be any number of reasons for that. Perhaps the other person had been around longer or they’re grooming you for another position, or perhaps your co-worker was simply better qualified. Whatever the reason, you need to be open-minded and do a self-check to determine if your ego is getting in the way of your rational thinking.
Learn the art of letting things go. You’ve had the conversation, or you’re positive a conversation will be futile, and there’s no good reason why you were slighted. The other person is just a complete jerk who doesn’t care. This is the time when a nice big, juicy helping of revenge can seem awfully appetizing – but where does that get you? Do you really need to be involved in an ever-escalating blood feud with someone until it eventually goes nuclear? Patience and forgiveness are the better part of valor. Not for them, for YOU. You have much better, more productive things to do with your time. Karma will eventually catch up with someone who is rude and hurtful, it always does.
Get some exercise. There’s nothing better than a long walk, a workout routine at the gym or even simple calisthenics to get your blood flowing, endorphins running and put you in a stable frame of mind. You’ll make better long term decisions when you are ‘out of the moment’ having blown off steam.
Pity the other person. There’s a scene in the movie “Waterboy” where Henry Winkler (formerly known as the “Fonz” from Happy Days, for us older folks) is frozen by fear as he looks at the other team’s intimidating coach. To overcome that, he begins to imagine the coach as a cute little baby. No more fear. This same exercise works using pity. When you realize just how pathetic the other person is, you set yourself free.
Pray for the other person. It is an extension if number 5 in some ways, but nonetheless important in its own right. Whether you understand it as reaching out to your Higher Power or just speaking something into existence, it will have a powerful impact on you, and that’s the point. You’ll find it much easier to forgive and put it behind you.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to consider forgiving yourself. Your issue of resentment may not have to do with someone else, but rather frustration over something you’ve done or how you acted. You can’t change the past (Hakkunah Matatah for all you “Lion King” fans). Then again, even when resentment stems from the actions of another, it often involves a certain amount of self-hatred over the incident – you blame yourself for being the victim. This can cause us to lash out at people who had nothing to do with the issue or crawl into a shell. Either way, it’s self-destructive. Nothing has ever been resolved by hating yourself. We are all human, we make mistakes. Get over it, forgive yourself and move on, for everyone’s sake.
One cannot live his or her life carrying heavy emotional baggage from place-to-place. Resentment of yourself or others is nothing more than a way to sabotage your life. I remember a saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you’ve fed him for life”. So, I ask you to take the lessons from this article to heart and you too will have the tools to be fed for life.