Stuck in Resentment? Four ways to move toward forgiveness

February 28, 2016/#embracinghard

resentment to forgiveness

Everyone sooner or later experiences pain as the result of the actions of others. There are experiences, like getting your toe stepped on, that take very little time to recover from. There are others, however, that feel like being emotionally hit by a truck, that break your bones and leave you learning how to walk again. It takes months of intense and painful reflection that leaves you wanting to quit almost every day. But you push on in the hope that one day you will not only be able to walk again, but also be able to run without pain.

I’ve had several instances in my life like the latter, where I was so rocked by how others treated me it left me at a crossroads… to either forgive and move on, or stay stuck in the pattern of hurt and resentment. Here are some tips that helped me move from resentment to forgiveness:

Understand and validate your reaction – – 

For some, the discomfort of sitting in the pain makes them want to rush from being angry to putting the experience out of their mind, either by cutting off the offender completely, or by ignoring that anything ever happened. Both reactions avoid the pain and limit our personal growth. Understanding the core issue of why we react to how someone treats us goes a long way to being able to forgive and heal from it.

There’s a reason we feel their actions are unjust – not only because of the actions they’ve taken, but more importantly because of the feelings they stirred up in us. We fail to recognize that their actions triggered something in us that was already there.

Take for example the way you feel about an injustice done to someone else. It could be the same exact situation you are facing, but chances are you won’t become bitter about it.

Now think about how you feel if you are the victim. Your anger is deeper and the affect of it much longer lasting.

It challenges or threatens the way you view yourself or how your life should be in some way. 

It was a personal affront to you, so it’s harder to let go of. Exploring what was stirred up inside of you will bring you closer to being able to remove your issues and deal with compassion or forgiveness toward the other person.

Understanding their actions had more to do with them and their shortcomings, and much less to do with you as a person, allows you to start letting go of the anger you harbor against them. 

Exploring our feelings helps us deal with our own sense of entitlement, self-focus, self-worth, or past hurts. Getting to the deeper issue with personal injustices moves us to a better place if we so choose.

Understand what resentment does to you personally – – 

Study after study shows the effects of resentment and bitterness affect the victim far greater than the perpetrator. In many cases, the person you can’t forgive has moved on and is bearing no affect at all. Unforgiveness can literally cause physical illness and psychological disorders. It simply isn’t in our best interest to harbor unforgiveness. We’ve all heard the quote, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Dr. Michael Barry, author of The Forgiveness Project, says that unforgiveness leads to chronic increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol resulting in higher rates of cancer. Other studies show increased fatigue, pain, panic attacks, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

Oprah once said that forgiveness isn’t condoning the actions of the person, it’s simply giving up our vision of what the past should have been. Unforgiveness literally keeps us living in the past, missing out on what we could be enjoying today. We are stuck at the stage in our life when the event happened and can’t get over what was done to us. We replay it over and over in our minds, hoping it will change, knowing it won’t, and repeatedly re-injuring our emotions. We allow the person to hurt us each time we relive it. They not only controlled what happened to us then, but in some weird twist, they also control how we live today.

Be willing to forgive – – 

Business Coach, Marie Forleo, recently did a video on how to forgive and one of her biggest pieces of advice is starting with being willing to forgive. When we make that one decision, a tide turns within us, allowing us to see a future without the bitterness and the wall we so carefully crafted begins to crumble.

I often ask clients who feel stuck in bitterness to imagine what it would look like to forgive. Breaking through the stubbornness in our own hearts enables us to move forward.

Corey ten Boom, a Dutch woman who was imprisoned along with her sister in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, talks about forgiving one of the guards from the camp. After the war, she toured Europe giving talks on the importance of forgiveness. After one of these talks, a German officer approached her and complimented her on the talk. He explained he had come to know Christ after the war and was grateful his sins of the past were forgiven. He took the opportunity to ask for her forgiveness as a victim. He didn’t recognize her as one of HIS prisoners, but she recognized him as one of her guards.

She goes on to say that she did not want to forgive him, did not think she could, but knew from her experience working with victims of Nazi brutality that her emotional, spiritual, and physical health depended on forgiving this man. In her words she said,

“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

Being willing to forgive made all the difference for Ms. ten Boom. She didn’t feel she could do it, but made the decision to take the first step. Taking action on what her mind told her she needed to do gave her the emotional ability to do so and freed her in a way she never thought possible.

Be willing to move on – – 

Once you forgive, you are able to move forward. In my experience, forgiveness is an event, it’s the willingness to forgive that turns into an action, but healing can be a much longer process. Just because we’ve decided to let go of our expectations of the other person, and release them from paying retribution, it doesn’t mean our hurt feelings immediately disappear or trust is restored.

Depending on the grievance, our emotions may be triggered by things we hear and see as we go through life. When our visceral reactions rear their ugly heads, we need to remind ourselves of our decision to forgive, releasing the person as many times as we need to. Over time, the memories hold less power and less of a reaction on our part until it becomes something we swat away easily, like a fly that lands on our food.

I can’t put a timetable on your healing. I’ve had hurts that have healed over a period of months and others that have hurt for years. The power of forgiveness makes those memories bearable and confrontable.

A heart of forgiveness takes control of fear and vulnerability while resentment feeds them. {tweet that}

As a side note, there’s a difference between forgives and reconciliation (“the restoration of friendly relations” {google} ). You decide if the person who wronged you is permitted space in your life again. But be careful, barring someone from your life can be an act of holding resentment, and being estranged should be reserved for toxic relationships such as in the case of emotional, financial, or physical abuse; not relationships where health and trust can eventually be restored. Don’t put off the hard work of reconciliation because you are afraid of what personal growth you need to do.

Unforgiveness in a way is about control. You were unable to control the person’s actions against you in the first place, so you want to control them now by holding their actions against them, demanding payment for what they’ve done.

A healthy relationship isn’t one based on control, but love and acceptance. Accepting someone for who they are, understanding that everyone makes mistakes, and being gracious enough to love them in spite of their shortcomings. It’s what we desire for ourselves, of course, but have a hard time giving others. Forgiveness is a key component to a healthy relationship and also a healthy mind, soul, and body, but taking these steps will put you well on your way.

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Comments (7)

  • denise hovermale / February 28, 2016 / Reply

    beautiful sis, love to all

    • (Author) Leighann / March 4, 2016 / Reply

      Love you too, Denise!

  • Autumn @ Stay gold Autumn / March 2, 2016 / Reply

    Being willing to forgive is huge. I feel like the pride in doing that is usually what holds most people back!

    • (Author) Leighann / March 4, 2016 / Reply

      Yes, Autumn! Removing our ego/pride helps with so many facets of life. You’re spot on.

  • Adriana Renee / March 4, 2016 / Reply

    Love this! I was hurt deeply and I like to think that I’ve forgiven and deep down I know that resentment is there. It’s important to learn to move forward and let go.

    • (Author) Leighann / March 4, 2016 / Reply

      Adriana – So glad this was helpful. Recognizing you still hold feelings of resentment is the first step in moving forward.You can do this, girl!

  • Martha / April 22, 2016 / Reply

    Wow! Sometimes is great to go back and see if I’ve missed any of your posts. Thank you so much. And the timing for my finding this one was perfect, I am meeting someone later tonight to discuss this very topic. So helpful. Thank you – great lesson.

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(c) 2016 Leighann Marquiss