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5 Reasons Why You Can’t Let Go of Resentment

Whether a conscious act or unintentional, being hurt by someone else often has a lasting impact on us. It ignites a flurry of emotions—anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, and indignation—floods our minds, and can leave us with a lingering sense of deep injustice. For some, these feelings can swirl and fester in our minds, leading to ongoing resentment toward the situation or the offender.

“With resentment, we often hold ill will toward someone or something that is the cause of the past injustices—real or perceived—and the old feelings of anger connected to them,” explains Rachel Fleischman, LCSW, founder of Bliss Counseling. “This gets sticky. People get very attached to their resentments because they are based in the deep sense of being wronged.”

The problem with resentment is that it’s something we hold within ourselves. In that sense, it often ends up impacting us more than it does the offender.

5 Reasons Why You Can’t Let Go of Resentment
Why is it so hard to let go of resentment? Consider these common reasons.

1.) You Feel Like There’s No Closure or Resolution
When a situation feels like it’s been left open-ended, it’s difficult to move forward. It’s human nature to desire a sense of closure before we can let go of any negative feelings. “We may be waiting for the other person to notice or say something,” notes Sarah Baroud, LICSW. She adds, “If I’m feeling resentful, it makes sense that I would want the person I resent to take action to fix or apologize.”

A simple acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the other might be enough to allow you to release resentment.

2.) Confronting the Issue Head-On Is Overwhelming
One reason you may experience a lack of resolution is that it feels easier to sit in your resentment than to do the work required to confront the situation and mend the relationship.

In this case, Baroud says we often end up gripped by resentment and end up pointing a finger at the other person indefinitely versus taking any helpful steps forward. A pointed finger without any conversation leaves us stagnated and bitter.

In the event that you don’t want to continue the relationship, it’s still important to confront the issue within yourself and find inner peace.

3.) Letting Go Makes You Feel Like You’ve “Lost”
Your resentment might be caused by feeling like the other person still needs to “pay” or be punished for what they’ve done.

Baroud says, “Letting go of resentment may feel like you’re surrendering, like you’re letting the person off the hook. That might feel like you lost some battle.” Fleischman adds that letting go might even feel like an admission that your emotional investment in this long-held anger was futile or a waste of time.

Remind yourself that letting go of bitter anger or frustration doesn’t allow the other person to win, nor does it imply you’ve lost. Letting go allows you to finally move forward with your life without an ever-present nagging stronghold.

4.) Holding Onto Resentment Provides Power and Control
Gripping steadfastly onto resentment can provide a false (and painful) sense of power or control over the situation or person. “It may feel you are maintaining a psychological advantage or maybe even protecting yourself from further harm,” Fleischman says. “Releasing resentment might be seen as relinquishing control.”

Often, though, the best way to grow, find resolve, and experience inner peace is to embrace vulnerability.

5.) Resentment Serves as a Coping Mechanism
Similarly, holding onto resentment might also serve as a subconscious protective mechanism you’ve put in place in order to shield yourself from future hurt.

“For example, if you are in a relationship and the person cheats on you, holding onto resentment can provide a defense mechanism to prevent you from moving forward, finding another relationship, and perhaps getting hurt again,” says Amy Robbins, PsyD, director of mental health at BIÂN Chicago.

Often, we must dig a little deeper in order to better understand why we can’t let go of these difficult feelings.

How Resentment Impacts Your Well-Being
There’s an old adage regarding resentment, says Fleischman, that goes something like “holding onto resentment is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” This bitter, lingering feeling often ends up negatively impacting us by causing us to retreat inward, focus on the negative, and sour our relationships.

“Resentment can often push other people away,” warns Dr. Robbins. “If you are someone who is always feeling angry, bitter, and wronged—and you are sharing that with other people—then over time those people are not going to want to be around you.”

Like any difficult emotion, research shows that holding onto resentment can cause stress in the body. A 2018 study that appeared in “Health Psychology” found that adults who held onto anger and hostility over the course of a decade experienced greater cognitive decline than those who were more apt to forgive.

Strategies to Help You Begin Letting Go of Resentment
Here are some ways you can slowly work through resentment and find a greater sense of inner peace.

  • Understand the Source: Identifying the reasons you’re holding onto resentment can help you confront and work through those feelings. For example, if it’s a form of self-protection, you might be able to address how to feel vulnerable again and let your guard down more easily. If it’s because you don’t want to “lose,” then it pushes you toward seeing how you can win by letting go.
  • Examine Your Expectations: The best way to eliminate resentment is not to set yourself up for it. “If there’s a hint of ‘what’s in it for me,’ chances are you’re headed for some resentment,” Fleischman says. Also consider what, realistically, the other person can do in order for you to let go. Is an apology enough? Why or why not?
  • Practice Gratitude: Being grateful sounds easy enough, but it requires work. This might look like examining ways the offender has positively impacted your life versus just holding onto their offense. Practicing gratitude might also look like taking stock of the wonderful things in your life and how they ultimately outshine a negative experience.

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