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A Plan for Overcoming Harmful Resentment

October 17, 2019
Michael Weiner
By Michael Weiner, PhD, MCAP
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

I have a mantra for letting go of a resentment. I can remember “talk, pray, forgive.” I’ve learned one or two things from working the 12 Steps for some time. I've learned that resentments can get me back to using. I’ve also learned to use tools such as writing or talking. It’s much easier to deal with a resentment when it’s on paper or expressed.

SMART Recovery has taught me to examine my irrational thoughts and to replace them with thoughts that make sense.

The 12 Steps and SMART can work well together. I have taken a few tools from each. 12 Step brings spirituality to the table. SMART helps me change thoughts. So here’s what I have come up with.

Talk and/or write. It’s easier to work on something when it’s right in front of you. When a resentment is kept inside, not talked about, there's not much you can do about it. It’s jumbled up with other stuff that’s going on. Thoughts run into each other, and it's hard to sort them out. If they stay inside, they’re hard to remember.

Once they are talked or written about, it changes things. Talking or writing keep things in order. Once resentments are “outside,” there is the perception that something can change.

Writing may be better than talking. For one, you don’t have to remember. Something can be put aside to be worked on later. A resentment on paper can be worked on. It can be erased.

We can ask questions such as: Is the resentment rational or irrational? Does it make sense? It doesn’t make sense to feel the power of a resentment and do nothing about it.

Also, is the resentment true? Things change. It is possible to forget the event or events that continue to fuel resentment. The energy given to a resentment is wasteful. If you can’t remember the reason for the resentment, it’s time to drop it.

Is the resentment harmful or helping? How could something that’s eating you up be helpful? Does holding on to a resentment serve a function? If you can figure out how a resentment is helpful, hang on to it. If it's not helpful, let it go.

Pray. Praying can have nothing to do with religion. I find that wishing the best for someone you resent works. Maybe it works because good wishes and resentments are opposites. You can only do one.

Two prayers that have been important to me are the Serenity Prayer and a sentence from the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When I look at my past, and would like forgiveness, it becomes simple to let others off the hook. The Serenity Prayer just makes life a whole lot easier. It’s one of those rational thoughts that SMART Recovery talks about.

Choose to forgive. I suppose that people will forgive when they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of carrying a resentment around.

It’s possible that a person will hang on to a resentment for the same reason they hang on to wrapping paper: to use it again. A convenient excuse for picking up again.

There are things in life that we can change. Thoughts and feelings are among them. This may seem counterintuitive at first. However, the more we practice, the better we become.

If we identify irrational thoughts, we are empowered to change them. We can substitute rational thoughts for the irrational ones. A rational thought can be, “It no longer makes sense to hold on to this.” We are empowered. We can choose.

I’m passing this along hoping that others may find it helpful. Readers can add or subtract from “talk, pray, forgive.” It may be necessary to do more work. It takes work to develop a deeper and more thorough approach to forgiveness. My friend Dr. Donna Marks has recently published Learn, Grow, Forgive (Balboa Press).

Let’s keep the dialogue going.


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