As rock god Johnny Rotten once sang, “anger is an energy”. Sometimes, that energy can lead to positive results and meaningful change. But, in many cases, anger can impede our ultimate hopes for progress.
Some forms of anger can prove less useful (and, eventually, more detrimental) than others, and one of the least-helpful forms of this emotion is resentment. Unfortunately, resentment also happens to be a highly-common version of anger, and it’s one that can prove particularly difficult to overcome.
Is resentment getting in your way and stopping you from reaching your goals? If so, these seven tactics may help lessen the consequence of these negative thoughts and can set you on a more proactive and constructive path.
What exactly is “resentment”?
Resentment differs from garden-variety “anger” in numerous ways. It describes a feeling of ill will or disapproval at something (or someone) seen as insulting or displeasing to the person experiencing resentment. The victimization implied here proves essential; while anger can be triggered by any number of stimuli, resentment specifically focuses on a perceived wrong performed by another.
Because resentment often centers around past “injustices”, it’s one of the least-active forms of anger (and among the most likely to cause long-term, latent grudges). Dwelling on unfair actions taken against you typically affects you more negatively and more profoundly than it ever does the perpetrator, which is why it’s worth seeking out ways to address your resentment and to channel that verve into positive moves.
What causes resentment?
Resentment can affect people on professional and personal levels alike. Its causes can’t be restricted or categorized; any course of action that can be perceived as a slight may trigger a bout of resentment within the affected party. However, resentment does tend to fall into a more personal category of offense than other forms of anger. We become resentful when we feel that we’ve been treated poorly or unfairly, and affronts like this often burrow their way into our minds and hearts more thoroughly than abstract causes of rage.
How can I overcome resentment?
1. Find an active goal to use as a focal point for your energy.
Among the greatest challenges of resentment involves coming to terms with its passive nature. Sitting and stewing with your anger and frustration rarely yields productive results and often only plunges you more deeply into an abscess of purposeless melancholy. Therefore, if you want to break free of resentment, a valuable first step includes taking direct action. Are you resentful because you were passed over for a promotion? Instead of moping over the outcome, use your energy to find out what you can do to become a more competitive future candidate and direct your attention on building your skill sets.
2. Allow yourself to acknowledge your resentment instead of shunting it to the side.
While some sources of advice would urge you to ignore your resentment until it vanishes on its own, that rarely works out as well as one might hope. Instead, it’s more beneficial to confront your own emotions and give yourself permission to view your resentment from all angles, to discover its cause, and to acknowledge the emotions it elicits. In fact, this step is arguably necessary to the end goal of letting your resentments go. Your feelings are valid and worthy of consideration, but it can sometimes be most helpful to encounter them with the express purpose of releasing them.
3. Try to forgive the person who “wronged’ you; not for them, but for yourself.
Yes, it sounds trite and cliché, but there is some truth to the claim that forgiveness heals past wounds and leads to personal growth and resolution. When you think about the person who you believe slighted you, see how it feels to consider what they did and to mentally forgive them for it. There’s a good chance that this action will release some tension and free up valuable mental space for more beneficial pursuits.
4. Avoid the urge to commiserate about slights and resentments with similarly-resentful friends and colleagues.
We’ve all heard that “misery loves company," and indeed, most of us have experienced the airing of grievances among a group of friends with their own axes to grind. But at the end of the day, wallowing in your resentment in front of an audience won’t bring lasting relief. Resist that inclination, and you’ll be better positioned to move on.
5. Surround yourself with supportive, positive friends and family members.
To riff off of the last piece of advice, staying away from negative conversations with friends can and should go hand-in-hand with seeking out supportive family members and platonic pals for chats that focus less on your past gripes and more on your future goals.
6. Should you decide to speak with the person who makes you resentful, use “I” statements.
While it’s not always feasible or realistic to expect a face-to-face encounter with the person who inspires your resentment, it’s sometimes possible to find yourself in that situation. Should that prove to be the case, it’s essential to keep an accusatory tone out of your discourse. Should you wish to discuss the situation with the offending party, focus on “I” statements, expressing the effect that the unfortunate circumstance had on you personally. It should be less “you did this terrible thing” and more “this event caused me to feel this way."
7. Engage in activities that increase your capacity for empathy.
Empathy is a powerful emotion and often serves as a crucial tool in personal and professional relationships alike. Choosing to shift your focus to helping other people can also pull you out of the self-pitying rut often caused by resentment. Seek out volunteer opportunities, research local nonprofits who handle causes you feel passionate about and allow yourself the benefits of venturing outside of your own sphere and doing something meaningful for someone else.