The memory of what they did still hurts. “How could they?” You doubt you’ll ever get over it.
After all, how do you let go of resentment in a marriage — or between family members?
Or against someone you once called a friend? And will the relationship ever truly recover?
Letting go of resentment is difficult because the hurt at the root of it goes deep.
But it’s not impossible to let it go and even make the bond stronger than it was before.
The 11 exercises in this post will get you there in less time than you might think.
How do I let go of resentment?
Dealing with resentment means addressing the reasons for it. It means taking a hard look at the expectations you had that the other person hasn’t met — or that they thoughtlessly trampled on.
It takes a good deal of honesty and the willingness to look at open and festering wounds to see where the problem is, so you can clean the wound and let it heal.
You’ll need the following:
- Courage to examine your expectations and the pain caused by someone’s words or actions
- Compassion toward the offender, who may not have intended to hurt you
- Patience with yourself as you work through the pain to see what needs to be done
11 Letting Go of Resentment Exercises
Letting go of resentment is a process. And while it’s different for every person who undertakes it, there are some steps everyone must take to recover. The following exercises include those steps and offer different ways to get to the same end.
1. Name the people toward whom you feel resentment, and start with one.
Make a list of everyone toward whom you feel resentment or bitterness. Include even those whose offenses are minor, compared to others.
Then decide whether you want to focus on a minor offender or on someone who hurt you deeply. It’s sort of like deciding which credit card to pay off first, but the benefits of overcoming resentment go much deeper.
If you’re not sure these exercises will work, start small with someone who maybe said something offensive without thinking but didn’t mean to hurt you. If you’re eager to address a deeper wound, start with someone who hurt you in a way no one else has.
2. Identify the causes or events behind your resentment toward that person.
Once you’ve chosen the person, it’s time to identify the specific causes or events behind your resentment. What did they do or say, and what was the situation?
Spare no details. Think back to the cause in question and describe it. You need to remember exactly why you resent this person as much as you do. What were the circumstances surrounding this cause or event?
And how did it change things between you?
3. Describe what you’re feeling (and why) in relation to the cause or event.
Remember how you felt in response to the cause or event you just described. How did you feel immediately before the cause, and why? Then how did the cause or event change the way you felt?
It’s important you acknowledge everything you felt, without judging any of it. This is not the time to tell yourself, “Well, I don’t understand why I felt that,” or “Honestly, I had no reason to feel that way.”
Be honest about everything you felt in that moment. Then, if can, explain why you felt it.
4. Acknowledge any part you had in that cause or event.
How did your behavior contribute to the thing that caused you to resent this person? What might you have done or said that helped that cause or event to happen?
This is not about victim-blaming. If someone hurt you and then blamed you for it, that’s on them. No one gets to blame you for the actions they’ve taken to hurt you.
But in some cases — typically minor ones — when someone says or does something offensive or hurtful, it can be partly due to a misunderstanding.
It’s important to acknowledge that possibility, not to blame yourself but to get more clarity on the situation.
5. Describe how your resentment is affecting your life.
Bearing a grudge against someone can affect everything in your life. Write about how your resentment toward this person has affected the following:
- Your relationships with others
- Your ability to focus on your work and get things done
- Your ability to get into a creative flow state
- Your outlook on life — past, present, and future
- Your attitude and beliefs regarding yourself
Resentment weighs you down, but you don’t have to live with it for the rest of your life. You’re allowed to heal and move on even if someone who hurt you has never bothered to apologize for it. You don’t have to remain captive; your freedom doesn’t depend on them.
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6. Use a worksheet to clarify your situation and work through your resentment.
You can find a variety of these online, designed by people with experience in helping others work through resentment and forgive those who’ve hurt them.
Maybe you’re not sure what questions to ask yourself to help you see past what the other person did to the reasons behind it. Or maybe filling out a worksheet will help you see something you hadn’t seen before.
In any case, resentment is something we all struggle with at some point, so it’s not surprising so many people have come up with worksheets to help you deal with it. Use one or more of them, with or without your personal journal, to sort out the details.
7. Use a meditation app to change your thoughts.
Try a meditation app like Calm or Headspace to help you release the burden of your resentment. The more you make one of these apps a regular part of your day, the happier and lighter you’ll feel, and the easier it will become to let go of anger.
When you learn how to calm your mind and relax your body, you don’t want anything to interfere with that. And resentment does. It’s the fly in the room that keeps buzzing around your face when you’re trying to get some much-needed rest.
Reclaim your headspace for something that brings you joy and renews your purpose.
8. Write affirmations to acknowledge and release your feelings.
Here’s another exercise where your personal journal or daily planning page will come in handy. Write some affirmations to repeat to yourself every day. You can choose a different affirmation (or set of affirmations) for each day or change it up every week.
Here are some examples:
- I choose to let go of resentment, so I can heal and move on.
- I believe that [so-and-so] didn’t intend to hurt me, and I choose to forgive them.
- I don’t need an apology in order to forgive someone and let go of that burden.
- I’m a forgiving person, and I want healing and happiness for us both.
You can even choose one to repeat throughout the day as a mantra to remind you of your commitment to letting go.
9. Step into the other person’s shoes.
No cheating, here. It doesn’t help to assume what the other person is thinking and to put the worst possible words in their mouth. Imagine you are they and you’re trying to explain why you did what you did. Leave remorse out of the equation for now.
Once you’ve put yourself in their shoes, ask “yourself” the following:
- What did you gain by doing or saying that? What did you lose?
- What led to this moment? How were you influenced by your past?
- How did you feel when you saw how others (including me) reacted?
In a way, you’re reframing the cause to reflect compassion toward them and toward yourself. Seeing them more clearly makes it easier to see a better way forward.
10. Break up with your resentment.
Have a heart-to-heart with that part of you that doesn’t want to forgive, and let it say it’s peace. Be honest about what you’re afraid you’ll lose if you let go of your resentment.
Write down your thoughts and see if any of the following resonate:
- “I feel stronger and less vulnerable while I hold onto this resentment.”
- “After what so-and-so did, I have a right — even a duty — to stay angry with them.”
- “As long as I keep them in the purgatory of my resentment, they can’t hurt me.”
Once you’ve finished writing down all the reasons why it makes sense to hold onto your resentment, it’s time to look at the reasons for letting go. Think specifically of what you want to gain: peace of mind, self-compassion, wisdom, and understanding, joy, etc.
When you see that the benefits of letting go are better than the benefits of holding onto your resentment toward this person, it’s much easier to break up with it.
11. Write a letter to the other person.
Writing a letter to the one who hurt you can help you do the following:
- Articulate exactly what they’ve done or said and why you’ve resented them
- Let them know how their words or actions have affected you and your relationship
- Acknowledge any part you may have had in the cause of your resentment
- Tell them why you’ve chosen to let go of that resentment and what will change
In letting go of the resentment, you don’t have to let this person get close enough to hurt you again. If they don’t see the wrong in what they’ve done or if they blame you for the pain they’ve caused, it makes no sense to let them back in.
But writing this letter to them (whether you send it or not) can help you work through your resentment and see the rest of your life on the other side of it.
Can you come back from resentment?
Overcoming resentment is a long game, not the work of a moment. It begins with moments, though, and with a firm intention to address the pain, heal, and move on.
One of those moments should come at the beginning of each day when you repeat an affirmation or mantra that reminds you of what you want more than to stay angry.
Keep the following in mind:
- Be compassionate toward yourself and practice daily self-care. If you respect your needs, it’s easier to make peace with the fact that not everyone else will.
- Forgiveness doesn’t obligate you to want friendship with the one you forgive.
- You want to be free. And you’re strong enough to free yourself.
You hold the key to your own freedom. And whatever pain you’re working through, you can come out of this as a happier and stronger person. And you have a right to.
Are you ready to let go of resentment?
Now that you’ve looked through these exercises for letting go of resentment, which ones appeal to you most? Which will you start today?
Whatever you choose as your starting point, be patient with yourself as you work through the steps. And write down what you’re thinking throughout the process.
Chances are, as you work through your resentment toward one person, you’ll see how it connects to older and deeper hurts. You have a right to acknowledge those, too.
Take it one day at a time and at your own pace. Your freedom and happiness are well worth the trouble.