Resentment: Compassion and Gratitude as the Antidote

I was listening to a talk by Terry Real, author and Marriage and Family therapist, when I heard him say something so simple and yet profound, “As resentment grows vulnerability, generosity and playfulness dry up.” He was discussing resentment in romantic relationships and how resentment can kill intimacy, create distance, and destroy a marriage. He was explaining the toxic impact of resentment beyond anger with people that you still want or need to interact with in your lives. Multiple studies have shown that vulnerability and generosity are key components to healthy, long-lasting relationships, so if resentment lives in your significant relationships, keep reading!!

Often resentment is the bitter taste left after one party feels deeply disappointed, unfairly treated or the victim of some injustice. The most difficult and critical part to understand about resentment is that it does more harm to the person harboring the resentment, then it does to the supposed offender. Holding on to bitterness, anger and pride takes far more cognitive energy, then letting go of those emotions. If you are holding on to resentments, you are allowing your thoughts to keep you in a past hurt, rather than moving forward or being in the moment.

So how do you let go of your resentments?

First, it is important to air your resentments. It is often recommended to do some journaling, letter writing, talking to a friend, and/or consulting a therapist when working on the voicing of your resentments. Often resentments are quite triggering and it is important to process through some of the emotional reactivity before talking directly with the person who is the subject of the resentments. In dialoguing about the resentments, it is essential to understand the crux of the disappointment. Why did the action or words feel so unfair to you? What expectations did you have that were not met?

The intention of this process is to release the resentment. In letting go of this hurt, think about how you hope to feel? And how will you see and feel the differences once you have let go of the resentments?

While it can be helpful to share the resentment with the person you feel has done you wrong, sometimes that is not always available or recommneded. Sometimes that person is no longer in your life and sometimes that person may be unreceptive to hearing your process. The airing process is still critical. Exercises like writing a letter sharing your resentments that you do not intend to send or working with a therapist will be vital to your healing process.

Secondly, cultivating compassion and gratitude is critical when discussing the release of toxic thoughts. When you are focused on the target of your resentments, strive to hold compassion for that person. Understand that most humans are doing the best they can with what they have. Seek to comprehend the person you are resenting. Try to separate the entirety of the person from the words and actions that are at the core of your resentment.

Compassion allows a softer filter and may even allow you to find things that inspire gratitude about this person. Consider what attributes of this person connected you to them in the first place? Try to make a list of things you are grateful for about this person. Perhaps after writing the resentment letter, write a letter of gratitude. Studies show that gratitude increases optimism and has the long lasting impact of feeling better mentally and physically.

Allow yourself to be free from the toxicity of resentment. While it is not an easy process, the benefits are worthwhile. As Carrie Fisher said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”