Being treated unfairly is an unfortunate part of life. We can't control how we are treated most of the time, and some people are just plainly unaware of their disappointing behavior. Therefore, it's only natural that we experience feelings of resentment sometimes.
But how do we let go of resentment? It's been studied that holding on to resentment leads to depression and stress. Even though most of us know that resentment is something that only brings more negativity, it can be very difficult to actually let go of these feelings.
In this article, I'll look at the prevailing studies on resentment and explain how to best let go of these negative feelings.
- What causes resentment?
- How resentment can impact your happiness
- 9 ways to let go of resentment
- Wrapping up
What causes resentment?
We can't control everything that happens around us, and so we're bound to be let down by others sometimes. Whenever this happens, we can harbor feelings of resentment. This is totally natural and happens to everybody.
Feelings of resentment can be caused by lots of things:
- When your colleague is unfairly promoted over you.
- Being cheated on by your partner.
- When a friend blows you off for no apparent reason.
- When somebody humiliates you in front of others.
- Being left out of a group chat with your friends.
In other words, resentment happens whenever we are (unfairly) wronged by others. But it's important to not hold on to resentment because that will have a big impact on your potential state of mind.
How resentment can impact your happiness
The impact of carrying resentment for a prolonged period of time has been studied excessively.
This study found that holding onto anger for a long time can result in depressive disorders. In other words, by not letting go of your resentment, you're at risk of becoming depressed. Fortunately, the study found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an efficient treatment of resentment.
Another interesting study found that holding on to resentment makes you feel like whatever bad thing happened to you happened more recently. By maintaining a resentful point of view, we are more likely to feel as if the negative events happened "just yesterday".
These are all reasons why you need to let go of resentment, as it's keeping you from living a happier life. Luckily, there are also studies that show the positive impact of learning to let go of resentment.
This study shows that practicing forgiveness is correlated with higher life satisfaction among adults. In other words, the more we choose to forgive, the more satisfied we can be with our lives.
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9 ways to let go of resentment
Holding on to resentment can lead to depression and makes it harder to live a happy life. So how do you let go of resentment? Here are 9 ways that will help you move on and live a better life.
1. Accept that it happened
One of the easiest ways to lose your cool is to try to control something you can’t, be it the weather or other people. Once you’ve accepted your lack of control over them, you can either move on or realize that you can influence some things.
Sure, you can’t control the weather, but you can grab an umbrella if it’s raining. Or while you can’t control another person’s actions, you can be open about your own expectations.
So whenever it rains - or somebody unfairly wronged you - try to accept that it happened.
And don't worry, accepting something doesn't mean that you agree with what happened. Acceptance means acknowledging reality and accepting it for whatever it may be. If you don't accept the things that happened to you, it's going to be hard to move on and let go of resentment.
Here's an interesting article by Psych Central that explains what it means to practice acceptance.
2. Practice forgiveness
There are some things that can’t be forgiven, but often, being resentful is what makes us feel like victims. When someone has hurt us, it’s natural to want revenge, but life is all about picking your battles.
Prolonged resentment keeps you constantly under stress, which makes you more vulnerable to other blows life might throw at you. In turn, this can make you feel even more like a victim. Forgiving someone can be the most powerful tool in order to move forward and take control of your life.
Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.Anne Lamott
If you want tips on how to practice forgiveness, we've written a complete article just on this topic.
3. Realize that you can't control everything
When dealing with feelings of resentment, you need to realize that you're not responsible for everything that happens in your life. Ultimately, we only control a part of our lives, and being let down by others is simply a part of life.
I recommend taking stock of your life and dividing things into three categories:
- Things you can fully control, like your behavior and internal mindset.
- Things you can influence, but not control, like your relationships with other people (you can’t fully control someone else’s behavior, but you can influence it with your own).
- Things you have no control over and can’t influence, like things that happened in the past.
You may find that you’re worrying over something that happened in the past and have forgotten to adjust your behavior in the present.
As a general rule, you should put most of your energy towards the things you have full control over and some towards the things you can influence, but stop wasting your resources on things that are completely out of your control.
If you're interested in learning more, here's one of our articles about how to stop trying to control everything.
4. Try not to be a "people-pleaser"
It’s nice to be nice. Things like dog-sitting for a friend and picking up someone’s shift at work can raise your social score by making you look helpful and dependable. But trying to help others can also set you up for disappointment.
What if you helped someone out recently, only to find out that the same person dumps you whenever you need a helping hand?
If you feel like this applies to you, then you need to know that you don’t have to be nice all the time. This quote summarizes it nicely:
Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.Every airplane's on-board instruction
How do you know you're a people-pleaser?
- Do you dedicate more time to other people than yourself?
- Have you neglected self-care, because you’re just too busy taking care of others?
If the answer is yes, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Make time for self-care each day and do not sacrifice that time to help others. Remember the analogy of the oxygen masks. You can only help someone else when you’ve helped yourself first.
Nobody will take responsibility for your own happiness but yourself. Similarly, you are not responsible for the happiness of others.
5. Be more assertive in your communication
It may be difficult to believe, but some people are just plainly unaware of their disappointing behavior. Maybe they just lack self-awareness?
This may be because they rarely, if ever, get called out on it. In any case, depending on your relationship with the person, communication helps not only in managing your expectation but will also let the other person know yours.
If it's an apology that you're after, you need to communicate in an assertive manner to whoever wronged you.
- Use “I” statements to express your feelings
For example, “I felt disappointed when you did not work on the project like you said you would”.
- Listen and validate what the other person has to say about it
For example, “I understand you have a lot on your plate and feel completely spaced out”.
- Set boundaries for your own peace of mind
For example, “I would appreciate it if, in the future, you will let me know that you would not be able to work on the project as we discussed”.
By communicating assertively, you are more likely to fix your feelings of resentment in a productive way.
If you want more tips on how to be more assertive, here's a great read on the subject.
6. Practice mindfulness
For many people, mindfulness is synonymous with meditation, and meditation is synonymous with peace.
Of course, mindfulness isn’t just about meditation – but it is helpful in finding inner peace.
Mindfulness is all about being in the present and not letting your thoughts run amok. Practicing mindfulness will help you deal with feelings of resentment in a natural way, by letting go of hatred, negativity, and anger. It allows you to focus on what matters, on the here and now.
We published an article specifically about mindfulness and how to get started with it if you're interested!
7. Write down how you feel
When your mind is filled with negativity, it can help to write down how you feel. By observing and writing things down, you allow yourself to move on. This causes resentment to lose its grip on you.
One of our readers recently shared a beautiful example of this:
A lot of the time, people tend to find themselves in a chaotic headspace when they have a lot on their plate, and I am no exception.
I found that writing about my emotional state and describing issues in detail forces me to confront them and take the time to deconstruct them. This usually allows me to understand the issue, and that calms the chaos in my head. You can think of this as clearing the RAM in your system.Sanjay (one of our readers)
By writing things down, you can give your thoughts some air to breathe, without getting distracted. While this won't make the resentment disappear right away, it will help you understand how it affects you mentally.
By being totally aware of your feelings of resentment, it may be easier to move on to the other tactics in this post, such as acceptance, forgiveness, and practicing mindfulness.
8. Talk to a friend about your feelings
Humans are inherently social animals and so we benefit from interacting with and relying on those around us. This holds true for those times when you just can’t seem to let go of resentment.
Talking to someone - be it a friend, colleague, or family member - about our problems is one of the best ways to gain some perspective and resolve our feelings of resentment.
We care about how others see us and what they think so it makes sense that our brain is likely to take on board what others have to say over what we say to ourselves. Just as you would be supportive of your friend, it's likely that your friend will support you in a positive way as well.
If you have a good friend that you can talk with, you're more likely to turn negativity into positivity together.
9. Talk with a therapist
At the start of this article, we discussed how this study showed that holding on to resentment can lead to depression.
However, this study also found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an efficient method to deal with these negative feelings. The researchers found that this form of therapy helped reduce the depressive symptoms in the "test subjects".
In other words, seeing a therapist can help you deal with your negative feelings of resentment. Sometimes you just need to talk to a stranger to be able to be completely honest, and in that case, there’s no better choice than a therapist.
There are many other ways in which therapy can help you live a happier life. We've discussed this in a full article here.
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Hanging onto feelings of resentment can lead to depression and prolonged stress. Even though we can't control everything and we're bound to be disappointed sometimes, there are efficient ways to deal with resentment. I hope some of the tips discussed in this article will help you let go of resentment so that you can move on to a happier life.
What do you think? Do you find it hard to let go of resentful feelings? Do you want to share a tip that has worked particularly well for you? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!