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Giving Up Our Resentments
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

So many of us struggle to give up our resentments, and yet we often find it to be a task that quickly becomes unmanageable. The following is a list of tools, which, in our experience, has helped people to give up or, at least temporarily, erase their resentments.

Follow these strategies, and you may actually find yourself unburdened, more satisfied in your close relationships, and able to devote your mind to more life affirming mental activities.

1. Identify HALT Signals
The HALT signals are when you feel:
  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

    When any of us are experiencing the discomfort or deprivation of a HALT signal, we are more vulnerable to obsessive ruminations about the resentments we carry around with us. If you find yourself unable to let go of obsessive thoughts of resentment, you need to evaluate if you are in a psychologically vulnerable state due to the above factors. Meet your needs for food, rest, companionship, etc. before even attempting to get some perspective about the activity in your brain.

    2. Remember: Resentments are a Dead End.
    There's no place to go with resentments, they can only effect us in a negative, time-wasting, anti-productive and painful manner.

    Try writing down the ways in which resentments are a dead end for YOU. Keep these handy so that whenever you find yourself lost in resentments, you can refer to your list as a motivational tool to stop the negativity in your head.

    3. Understand Forgiveness
    Often, people believe that forgiving those whom we resent would be an act of generosity to those who have injured and hurt us. This is simply NOT TRUE. While we may not choose to forgive all resentments, those that we can should be forgiven as a gift to ourselves. We are the ones that will rest easier when we no longer have to harbor resentment against those who may have wronged us.

    Evaluate how you benefited from the last time you experienced resentment. You will probably find that the resentment had absolutely zero benefit to you. Even if you are not prepared to forgive, you can act as if you have forgiven, making sure at the same time that you don't put yourself in a vulnerable position with this person again in the future.

    Throughout the process keep reminding yourself: Forgiveness is a gift to ME, not to THEM.

    4. Declare an Amnesty
    In legal terms, an amnesty is a pardon granted by the government, whereby criminals are forgiven their crimes, their sentences are suspended, and they are allowed to go free.

    It is sometimes useful to declare an amnesty against all those whom you resent, while remembering that it is a gift for you. The amnesty is designed to promote and maximize your serenity and peace of mind, and to allow yourself greater pleasure and enjoyment.

    An amnesty can be very useful and self-affirming in many situations. If you are at a family event where there are many people present whom you resent, an amnesty can allow you to drop your focus on these people, and switch your focus to those you love. An amnesty is helpful in a close relationship, in that it can allow you to focus on the positive and loving feelings you have for your partner and perhaps even erase the resentment you have been harboring.

    The great thing about an amnesty is that it allows you the freedom to be yourself, which is very helpful in building self-esteem. Declaring an amnesty is not a blanket pardon for future acts of hurtfulness. However, if the person who has injured you wants to make amends, it allows them the opportunity to do so.

    5. Partial-ize Your Task
    Very often a person's list of resentments is so long that to let go of them all at once can be completely overwhelming. Start with one or two of the people on your list, and use the tools you've learned to let go of these particular resentments. You can then tackle the others at a slow pace that is manageable.

    6. Avoid Black and White Thinking
    It is very common for black and white thinking to cause us to block out ALL the positive aspects of another person. Are your resentments the result of black and white thinking? We see this phenomenon frequently in marriages and other close relationships. People will say, "He never does anything nice for me," "She never says anything sweet and supportive to me," or "He always forgets major occasions and events which are important to me."

    Whenever you find yourself using the terms "always" or "never," the chances are good that you are thinking in a black and white way that is detrimental to your mental wellbeing. To fight this, pick a resentment that is at the forefront of your mind. Now, rather than focus on what the person did to you, or did not do for you, focus on their positive qualities and the positive experiences you have had with them. Stick with the positive about that person, and see if the positives perhaps outweigh the negatives. If that is the case, you will find yourself with one less resentment taking up space in your head.

    7. Pray
    Sometimes resentment can become so consuming that life feels unbearable. If you are religious, when you feel oppressed and overwhelmed by resentment, try to pray for that person. It can be a very comforting act, and at the same time quite helpful in obtaining perspective about what is going on.

    Remember, above all else, letting go of resentments and forgiveness is for YOU, not for the person who is occupying the space in your mind.

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