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Recently, I’ve noticed that I have a lot of resentment in one of my relationships. And it’s leaving me feeling stressed and frustrated. So, I’ve decided to see what I can do to help myself understand and release this uncomfortable feeling. If you’re struggling with resentment, here are 5 steps to release resentment and heal.
To start off, let me tell you about my own resentment. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate to some of it. Then, we’ll talk all about how you can heal from your own resentment as well.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot of resentment toward my mom. Up until this past winter, I wasn’t on speaking terms with her for a few years. But now I’m working on reconciling and healing the relationship.
For a bit of context, my dad passed away in November. So now I feel a strong need to not only connect to my mom, but also to support each other as we grieve our loss.
On the one hand, it feels really good to reconnect with her after several rocky years of conflict and distance. She’s such a strong, admirable woman who has taught me so much. I missed her so much!
On the other hand, I’m reminded of the underlying reasons I chose to take distance from her that have been years in the making.
You see, as someone raised in a deeply codependent environment, connecting with my mom triggers these old habits of people pleasing and not setting boundaries.
Often, I find myself holding back from saying what I really think and trying to cater to her needs, while ignoring my own thoughts, feelings and opinions.
But when I hold back from expressing my thoughts and opinions, I end up feeling a lot of resentment toward her.
However, she also has so many positive qualities and our relationship is really important to me.
So, I’m using this time as an opportunity to strengthen myself and adopt healthier emotional habits. I’m determined to listen to my resentment and work through it!
First of all, let’s talk about what resentment actually is.
So, resentment is an emotional signal that in one way or another you’ve been mistreated by someone. While there’s not one specific cause of resentment, it generally means you’ve been wronged in some way.
Oftentimes, resentment can show where you’ve given too much of yourself to another person. Whether you’ve overcommitted to helping them, you’ve held your silence for too long or you feel unrecognized by them – all of this can lead to built up resentment.
Personally, I view resentment as a sign that my boundaries have been violated.
For example, when I agree to chat with my mom on the phone on Sunday evenings, I often resent her for it, since Sundays are the day I unplug 100%. I’d rather be doing a long hike with my husband, hanging out with friends or staying on the couch playing video games all day.
So, when I ignore my own need to unplug and take her call anyway, I resent her for it because I’ve allowed her to violate my boundary and I’ve made her needs more important than mine.
If you experience resentment, reflect on what might have triggered it for you. Is it ongoing, or something from the past?
When you feel resentment toward someone, you might also feel:
Also, the difficult thing about this is that these feelings tend to reoccur.
So, when you have a relationship where you feel resentment over a long period of time, you might begin to have an emotional backlog.
In other words, you start to carry emotional baggage that not only weighs you down personally, but also makes it more difficult to enjoy the relationship with the other person.
What other emotions do you experience when feeling resentment? Journaling your emotions can help you gain clarity about them.
When you resent someone, it can cause you to have negative internal reactions to this emotion. As you read, see if you identify with any of them.
First, you might start fixating about the upsetting event that caused you to feel resentment in the first place. Maybe you go over and over it in your mind, and when you do, all the negative feelings keep coming back to you.
For example, I experienced this after my mom helped escalate drama at my wedding. I was so incredibly hurt, angry and resentful that I often went over it in my mind for a long time afterward.
Second, resentment might cause you to avoid certain people or situations. This is because the situations you’re avoiding trigger the strong feelings behind the resentment.
Essentially, you’re trying to avoid having these feelings come up again.
However, keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing to do. At times, this can actually help you protect your own wellbeing.
An example of this is how I limit the times I travel back home to Utah (I’ve been living in Montreal for five years now). A lot of the reason I do so is to limit interactions with family and all the painful emotions going back home brings up for me.
Yet, this is overall a positive thing for me. I understand my own limits and what works for me so I can avoid feeling more resentment.
When you feel resentful, certain people or situations may trigger unwanted memories of wrongdoing. This may cause you to avoid situations or people who bring up these negative emotions. People will often do this to protect themselves and their own well-being.WebMD (Source)
Another negative effect of resentment is that you might feel disappointment, regret or remorseful about the initial situation. When you think back to the intense emotional event that caused the resentment, you might wish you had acted differently or blame yourself for what happened.
This can cause you to have negative or even intrusive thoughts about the event, which never feels good.
If you struggle with self-critical thought spirals, I share some ideas for how you can work through those here.
Next, you might experience a stressful relationship filled with tension when there’s underlying resentment.
Perhaps you walk on eggshells around the person you resent, or even hold a grudge toward them. You might even become passive-aggressive or end the relationship altogether.
For example, I had a coworker who I resented so much. She would often ask for my help at the last minute when it was a big emergency for her. Nine times out of ten, I would drop everything to help address her needs.
But over time, I noticed myself becoming passive-aggressive toward her because I had building resentment. Eventually, I was able to start setting boundaries to bring myself more peace.
If you have tense relationships, is it possible you’re holding resentment about them? Where might you need some healing?
Another form that resentment can take is the inability to let go of anger.
You might feel the need to take revenge, or the desire to act on your anger. This level of anger takes a big toll on your mental health.
I can definitely relate to this in another one of my relationships with someone we’ll call Emily.
I had so much resentment and hostility toward her that I would imagine all kinds of scenarios of how I’d take out my revenge on her. It’s taken me many years of addressing my anger toward her for me to let go of my anger.
Going to therapy and using other tools like these helped me to release this burden of rage and resentment. It’s NOT an easy task, but as I’ve worked through it, I can say that I have so much more peace now.
If you feel like you’ve got boiling hostility like I did, don’t hesitate to reach out for support to help you work through it.
Another final way that resentment can surface is that you feel inadequate or invisible.
This can happen when you engage with either people, places or situations where you experienced mistreatment. As a result, older feelings of anger, bitterness and hurt can start surfacing.
When this happens, it could be a sign you’re experiencing resentment and that it’s time to check in with your own needs to see what you might need to address.
As I mentioned above, going back to Utah is difficult for me for this very reason. I experienced so much ongoing mistreatment there as a child, that going back immediately makes me feel both inadequate and invisible. This is something I’m still working on, and luckily it’s getting better and lighter as I address these old hurts.
Now, let’s talk about the steps you can take to start addressing any resentment you might be experiencing.
First of all, healing resentment begins by actually acknowledging why you feel it in the first place.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get clear:
Take time to just be with yourself and what’s underneath your resentment.
If you’re processing emotions around resentment, I’ve got specific workbooks to help you work through these difficult feelings.
Again, never hesitate to reach out to a professional to help you do this. Talking it through with someone you trust, a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist can be incredibly helpful, and I highly recommend it – especially if you experience a lot of painful emotions in addition to the resentment.
Secondly, it’s important to process emotions that exist around the upsetting event that caused the resentment in the first place.
One easy way to know what emotions you need to address is by asking yourself why you have a hard time forgiving this event.
In other words, if you were to imagine moving on from the resentment, what other emotions come up for you?
Like when I was working through resentment toward my mom about escalating drama at my wedding, I had a lot of other lingering emotions that I needed to address.
For example, I had a lot of anger, frustration and sadness. Anger because I felt my boundaries were violated. Frustration because I didn’t understand her actions. Sadness because I felt hurt by her choices (and so many other complicated emotions!).
And letting go of some of these emotions made me scared. What if she did something similar again if I let go of the anger? Would I be able to set boundaries without it?
As you can see, I was holding onto some of it because I was using my anger to replace boundaries. If I was angry enough, she’d never be able to hurt me like that again.
However, anger burns hot and fast. So, when you use it to fuel you, it gets very tiring and isn’t a good option in the long-run.
You can read more about anger here.
Ultimately, working on my ability to set boundaries with her was the biggest underlying issue that would help me let go of the resentment.
Getting to the root of why I was holding onto these emotions was incredibly helpful, and I did a great deal of this in therapy.
So, if you were to imagine moving on from the resentment, what other emotions come up for you?
Thirdly, you’ll need to get clear with yourself about what, if anything, you’ll do differently moving forward. Is there anything you can work on within yourself to help you address this or similar situations in a more empowered way?
Please note that this is NOT about victim blaming. Rather, it’s about seeing if you have points you’d like to work on so that you experience less or zero resentment in the future.
For example, as I reconnect with my mom, I’m committed to being more assertive with her. Looking back, some of the issues I’ve had with her could have been mitigated had I spoken up for myself more. So, when I notice myself stifling my true thoughts, I do my best to vocalize them when I feel like it’s important to do so.
So, check in with yourself. Is there anything you’d like to strengthen, improve or learn how to do so that you feel stronger in future difficult situations?
Next, it’s time to be extra kind to yourself as you heal.
When it comes to dealing with resentment, you might have a lot of pain come up. So, it’s important to be gentle and take care of yourself throughout the process.
Learning to self-soothe is a very powerful tool that can help ease the pain. This includes having a mindfulness practice, being gentle to yourself and learning to speak kindly to yourself in your mind.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m in the middle of healing a painful situation is to sit quietly in meditation. I’ll imagine the negative emotions leaving my body, floating into the sun and transforming into light. I might do this for five minutes or twenty – however long I feel like I need.
If you need ideas for mindful practices, I share some ideas for that with you here.
If there are times when the process just feels too painful, step back and see how you can practice self-kindness.
Finally, it’s important to remember that healing takes time and you have to be very patient with yourself.
Working through my issues with my mom is definitely a long-term project for me. Since I know this, I’m able to be much more patient with myself through it all.
For instance, I know for sure that I’m not always going to feel strong enough to speak up with her. If you think about it, this makes sense! My resentment toward her was a long time in the making, so it’s only logical that healing it also takes a long time.
But the important thing is that I keep trying and remind myself of the progress I’ve made along the way.
If you have resentment in a long-term relationship such as with family, a partner or close friends, remember that it will take you time to heal. And that’s ok. I promise it’s worth the time and effort.
Feeling resentful is draining and sometimes painful. But when you implement healing tools and start working through it, you’re already well on your way to feeling better.
I hope that this article helps you on your healing journey!