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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Letting Go of Resentment

Resentments are feelings that we hold onto and replay in our minds, reliving the events, remembering what was said and done to us, experiencing it on a mental, emotional, and physical level. When we hold onto resentments, we keep ourselves stuck in the situation that hurt us and emotionally bound to the people who hurt us. It often prevents us from moving on in our lives. We remain mired in the past, ruminating about whoever hurt us, and possibly thinking of ways to avenge ourselves on them. But when we stay stuck in this way, we're really hurting ourselves.

Holding Onto Resentment


Here is a fictionalized account, made up of many different stories that I have heard over the years:

Ellen:
Whenever Ellen thinks about how her ex-husband betrayed her by having an affair, she feels the anger rise up in her again. Her face becomes flush, and she feels her blood pressure rise. She remembers every detail of how she picked up the extension phone that day to call a friend and overheard that conversation between her husband and another woman that changed her life forever. She relives the feelings of shock and disbelief and the thoughts that this can't be real--she must be having a bad dream. She relives the confrontation that she had with her husband and how he denied everything at first and then admitted that he had been unhappy in their marriage for a long time and he was so much happier with this other woman.

All the details come flooding back to her of the messy divorce and how lonely it has been since the breakup of her marriage. Waves of sadness overtake her and she alternates between feeling emotionally paralyzed and thinking about how she would like to get back at her ex. To pacify her feelings, Ellen often binges on junk food and she has gained 50 lbs. Her doctor has warned her that she needs to lose weight because the weight gain has resulted in hypertension and she is also pre-diabetic. But Ellen is unable to let go of her sadness and resentment.

Because of her resentment, she blames her ex, she blames all men, she blames herself for marrying her ex, and she blames God. As a result, she is unable to open herself to new relationships. She thinks about her ex and how he hurt her and all the events related to that hurt every day. Her friends and family are tired of hearing about it. They tell her to "move on," but she doesn't know how. Whenever she relives the hurt and anger, it's as if it just happened yesterday. She can hardly believe that this all happened 20 years ago because the pain is still fresh.

Reliving Old Resentments:
It's not unusual for people to come to therapy with old resentments that they have been harboring for many years. The trauma of these events keeps them reliving the old feelings as if the mind is saying, "Maybe if I go over it again, I'll figure it out this time and it won't hurt any more." But replaying old hurts just makes you re-experience the pain and trauma. It doesn't alleviate the pain. Overeating, drinking excessively, abusing drugs, overspending, compulsive sex, compulsive gambling, and other compulsive behavior might make you feel better temporarily, but it's not the solution to dealing with your resentments. These behaviors only make your situation worse in the long run.

How to Let Go of Resentment:
There's no magical solution to letting go of resentments. It's a process. To start, it's important that you make a decision that you want to let go of the hurt and anger. Letting go or forgiving doesn't mean that you forget that it ever happened to you. It doesn't mean that it's okay that it happened, or that you go back to an unhealthy relationship or situation. It means that you want to unburden yourself of these feelings for your own health and well-being. You're doing this for yourself--not for anyone else. When you make the decision that you want to let go of resentments because they're affecting your health, keeping you stuck emotionally, keeping you from being present and really alive in the moment or being able to think about the future, you've taken a very big step.

Depending upon the particular situation and the people involved, this process might be your own internal process or it might mean that you tell whoever hurt you that you forgive him or her. It's not always possible or safe to communicate with the other person: He or she might have died, or going back to that person would be unwise for you or that person, either because it's not safe or it would be too disruptive for one or both of your lives or for many other reasons. The most important thing is that it starts with you and your decision that you no longer want these painful feelings taking up so much time, space, and energy in your mind and in your life.

After you decide to let go, it often happens over time. Depending upon what the resentment is, there are often degrees of letting go. Usually, it doesn't happen all at once. If you feel really stuck, it might help to think about what your life could be like if you were no longer burdened by carrying around these resentments: What might you be doing if you were free of these resentments? How might your life be different? What might you have in your life that you don't have now? What would you be doing with the time and energy that you're spending on these resentments now?

Getting Help in Therapy
Letting go of resentments can be one of the most challenging efforts you make in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Be compassionate with yourself. You don't need to have all of the answers immediately.

If you find that this is too difficult to do on your own and talking to friends and family has not gotten you to the place where you want to be, you would be wise to consider working with a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to let go of these old feelings that are keeping you stuck and unhappy.

I am a NYC licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many clients to let go of old resentments so they can lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com

photo credit: Jeff Hester via photopin cc



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