We’ve all been wronged, hurt, disappointed, lied to or betrayed at some time or another—and we’ve all probably nursed a grudge as a result. But holding on to resentment is like drinking poison yourself and hoping that it makes the other person sick. Why is a grudge so self-destructive? Because it can…

  • Interfere with enjoyment of the present by keeping you focused on hurts of the past.
  • Cause you physical pain—a tight chest, upset stomach, tense muscles, aching head.
  • Increase feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, bitterness and anger.
  • Destroy a relationship that might have been salvageable and rewarding to you.
  • Keep you from getting close to other people by making you afraid to trust anyone else.

What can you do when resentment starts to build? Remind yourself to…

Consider whether your grudge is merely the tip of the iceberg. Are you upset because your sister-in-law broke your favorite vase and then said it was just a cheap trinket? Or are you hurt because her statement is yet another example of how she habitually criticizes your taste or flaunts the fact that she is wealthier than you? Griping about her breaking the vase may feel safer than facing the true depth of your anger toward her… but until you recognize the deeper wound, you cannot take the first steps toward resolving the problems between the two of you.

Speak up… civilly. The other person may have no idea that you harbor ill feelings. Let her know how her words or actions affected you—”I felt that you betrayed my trust by lying about being sick when in fact you went out with other friends.” Voicing your concerns honestly, but without rancor or rage, can help clear up misunderstandings and lay the foundation for more open communication and an improved relationship.

Admit your own role or responsibility. Even if the majority of the blame lies with someone else, you probably played at least a small part in the conflict. Acknowledging this to yourself lessens your resentment… acknowledging it and apologizing to the other person may even make it easier for her to recognize her own role in the conflict. Example: “I’m sorry that I didn’t call you back when you left me the message that you didn’t want to play cards with me anymore. I was shaken up then, but would like to talk about it now.”

Suggest actions that would clear the air. Even after a culprit recognizes that she has done you wrong, she may not know how to make it up to you… and waiting for her to figure it out herself only delays resolution. Have the courage to be straightforward—”I’d appreciate a simple apology,” or “Would you invite me along next time you go out with the group? Then I wouldn’t feel excluded.” People who care about you usually are happy to make amends once they know exactly what they can do.

Compose a mantra of forgiveness—and repeat it silently whenever you get stuck in a resentful thought. This is especially helpful when the other person does not care to change her behavior or compensate for her misdeeds. Recite to yourself, “I can forgive,” or “It is healthier for me to let these feelings go.”

Embrace the positive effects of freeing yourself from resentment. When you stop dwelling on lies, insults, betrayals and rejections, you can let more positive experiences into your life. You also start to feel more compassion for others as you acknowledge that we are all flawed and we all struggle to do the best we can. The result is that you have a clearer mind, a more loving heart and a deeper sense of spiritual well-being.