Resentment is an emotional cancer. It forms deep inside and eats you alive. Resentment typically stems from frustration over being slighted and consumes you to your very core. However, it can arise from nearly anything: being cut off in traffic, not being invited to a special event, or being passed over for that promotion you felt you deserved. If you’re not careful, it can also affect your physical wellbeing. High blood pressure, blocked digestion and psychological issues are all too common for people who wallow in resentment. Even more alarming, resentment is by far one of the most potent 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 from unwanted, painful emotions. I’ve always loved the analogy, “You can’t take poison to kill someone else” because it really sums up the 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 and unaffected. From a point of utility, resentment has to be one of the most useless emotions. On the other hand, its counterpart, forgiveness, makes all the sense in the world. With a simple change of your perspective, the pain can be gone, replaced by a sudden, serene rush of relief and calm.
The key question is how to accomplish forgiveness. In some instances, it’s relatively easy; a coworker forgets your birthday for the first time because of a family emergency. It’s simple to let that one go. However, what happens when it’s something serious that is done by someone about whom you care deeply? What if they’re not even willing to apologize? How dare they? I would never do that to them, are probably two of the most common and dangerous thoughts that follow. It comes so naturally, almost as automatically as breathing. These grievances are some of the toughest but most important to forgive. I suggest that 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. For your sake, it’s necessary to FORGIVE, so let’s learn how to do that.
Does the other person even know they’ve offended you? We frequently assume a person knows when they’ve slighted us. However, more often than not the entire experience is the result of a misunderstanding and the other person would have acted differently had they been aware of the effect of their comment. It’s all about communication and perspective. You need to find out whether or not you’re simply making a mountain out of a molehill, and you accomplish this through communication.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. So, now you’ve had the conversation, and the other person has made it clear that they acted for a reason, and they would make the same choices if they had to do it all over again. For example, you could have been passed over for a promotion for a number of reasons. Perhaps, your colleague had been around longer and/or was better qualified. Maybe, you are being grooming you for another position. Whatever the reason, you need to be openminded and do a self-check to determine whether your ego is getting in the way of rational thinking.
Learn the art of letting go. You’ve had the conversation – or you’re positive a conversation will be futile – and there’s no good reason for being slighted. In your mind, the other person is obviously a complete jerk who doesn’t care. This is the time when a nice, big, juicy helping of revenge can seem awfully enticing, but where will it get you? Do you really need to be involved in an ever-escalating blood feud that could eventually go nuclear? Patience and forgiveness are the better part of valor, especially 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 and your endorphins running to put you in a stable frame of mind. You’ll make better long term decisions after blowing off some steam.
Pity for 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 his fear, 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 pitiable the other person is, you set yourself free.
Pray for the other person. In some ways, prayer is an extension of pity; nonetheless it is 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.
Consider forgiving yourself. Finally, and most importantly, you need to consider forgiving yourself. Your issue of resentment may not have anything to do with someone else. It may just be frustration over something you’ve done or how you’ve acted. You can’t change the past, so try not to worry so much about it. For all you Lion King fans, “Hakuna Matata.” 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 you to crawl into a shell or lash out at people who had nothing to do with the issue. Either way, it’s self-destructive. Nothing has ever been resolved by hating yourself. We are human; we all make mistakes. Get over it. Forgive yourself, and move on, for everyone’s sake.
You cannot live your life carrying heavy emotional baggage from place to place. Resentment is nothing more than a way to sabotage your life. Recall the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Take the lessons from this article to heart, and you, too, will have the tools to be fed for life.
Gilbert J. Fiorentino, JD founded TigerDirect, which, with the acquisition of CompUSA and Circuit City, grew to nearly $4 billion in sales worldwide, as part of a NYSE company. He is a philanthropist, former adjunct professor of business law at the University of Miami and has undergone over 600 hours of drug and alcohol addiction treatment in federal prison, where he is serving a sentence for failing to report his full income while CEO of TigerDirect. He has spent the last five years reading, writing and becoming a spokesman in the battle against addiction.