“The longer I live, the more I observe that carrying around anger is the most debilitating to the person who bears it.”
Are you haunted by cruel things people said to you months, or even years ago? Or things they did – anything from slights and oversights to horrific abuse?
Many of us are. There are many different possible reasons why these hurts haunt us. But one thing that’s certain is that holding on to resentments and grudges is toxic. It can poison not only our relationships, but our own fulfillment and happiness.
So how do we begin to let go of others’ wrongdoings? Here are 5 places to start.
- Write it down. Write down everything you can think of that this person or persons has done to you. Then put it somewhere. Every time those thoughts resurface, remember that it is all written down already, and there is no need to re-hash. You’ve already thought all the thoughts you are about to go through again, and by continuing that pattern, you are only hurting yourself. Alternatively, after you write down your resentments, burn the paper as a symbolic way of leaving those thoughts behind.
- Explore alternative explanations or interpretations of the person’s behavior. For example, let’s say a friend forgets your birthday every year. You might interpret this as them being thoughtless, or not caring about you. But what are some other possible explanations? Maybe they have many other important obligations around that same time of year, to family, work etc. Maybe they aren’t good with remembering dates. Maybe they aren’t big on celebrating birthdays. Maybe they hate their own birthday and assume others do, too. Maybe they genuinely don’t know how much their missing your birthday bothers you because you’ve never said anything to them about it. You get the idea. Trying to understand someone else’s behavior helps build empathy. It doesn’t always excuse or justify the behavior, but it helps.
- Practice mindfulness. Whenever you notice a resentful feeling or thought, try to create some emotional distance. Remind yourself that it is just a thought or a feeling, and it will pass. Then turn your mind to another thought, or focus your entire attention on something completely unrelated. You may need to turn your mind over and over again over the course of a day, a week, a lifetime. That’s normal.
- Invest your energy in something else. Channel all of the energy you are wasting on resentment into something totally different. Work out and imagine you are sweating out all of the anger and resentment. Teach yourself to knit or play piano, and relish in the experience of creating something beautiful, adding to the total sum of positive energy.
- Do something kind for the person. Caution: Try this at your own risk! If you are really ready to let go of the situation, and if you are willing to give something without expecting anything back, this can be effective. Offer to make the person dinner, help them with a major task, bring them flowers or a small gift. You may feel resistant to doing something kind for someone who you don’t feel ‘deserves’ your kindness. Think of it as truly being a gift for yourself, a step in letting go of bitterness. Giving something feels just as good, if not better, than receiving.
How were you able to let go of resentments? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a mindful Monday.