How To Forgive Yourself And Others

Updated December 13, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender (forgive one’s enemies), to give up resentment of or claim to requital (forgive an insult), or to grant relief from payment of (forgive a debt).”

Resentment is one of the most common emotions for humans, but for many reasons, it’s equally as common to have trouble with releasing feelings of resentment. It can be a complicated emotion and is often combined with feelings like bitterness, disappointment, and anger. Feelings of resentment can also change in frequency and intensity over time. 

People feel resentment for a wide variety of issues, from a perceived slight to major mistreatment by another. But addressing resentment and moving past it is essential for our mental health- holding resentment toward others not only creates inner discomfort but may also create unwanted bonds with negative emotions that we don’t expect. 

Resentment towards others isn’t the only form of resentment. People sometimes harbor those feelings for themselves, as well. At their worst, they may even evolve into more intense feelings of self-hatred. Regardless of the reasons for these feelings, self-resentment can be more damaging to our mental health than harboring resentment towards others. 

Signs Of Resentment

Because of its complicated nature, it isn’t always easy to recognize when we’re feeling resentful of ourselves or others. For many, resentment can simmer just below the surface of emotions, only to emerge when something significant happens. For others, the resentment is more pronounced and difficult to hide. Regardless of how it manifests, resentment is almost always characterized by a lingering inability to let go of negative emotions such as anger, hostility, frustration, bitterness, or uneasiness. If you suspect you or someone you care about is experiencing resentment, there are some common indicators: 

  • Continuous rumination over an event. An inability to stop thinking about what caused the negative emotion is a sign you may be building resentment. 

  • Feelings of fear or the compulsion to avoid a situation or individual associated with the event that caused the resentment. 

  • Feelings of remorse or regret that are associated with the source of the resentment. This can be especially prevalent for individuals experiencing self-resentment. 

  • Feelings of inadequacy stemming from the event that triggered the resentment. Such negative occurrences may deeply affect our sense of self, resulting in damage to one’s self-esteem.

  • Consistent, underlying tension in a relationship can be an indicator of resentment. It’s sometimes difficult to confront another about their part of the situation that caused feelings of anger and resentment. Often, resentment like this can manifest in passive-aggressive behavior.

Finding It Impossible To Forgive Someone Who Hurt You?

Coping With Resentment

Learning to cope with resentment means learning how to forgive those we harbor resentment against. It may be difficult to imagine forgiving those you feel resentful toward, but with some self-improvement practices and help from a licensed mental health professional, it is possible. 

Don't Repress Your Emotions

The first step in accepting your emotions is recognizing and addressing them. If you feel resentful of another, speaking with them is optimal, but sometimes that isn’t possible. People don’t always communicate well when there are intense emotions involved, especially if they are negative, and in some cases, communication could even inhibit your attempts at resolution. 

If talking to the other person isn’t possible or helpful, try to write about your feelings and/or speak with someone in your support system, such as a close friend or a therapist. Restricting the expression of your emotions isn’t likely to help you to understand them and work through them productively, and often, that’s what is required to reconcile feelings of resentment. 

Isolate The Source Of Your Resentment.  

It may be necessary to spend some time thinking as objectively as possible about the circumstances around where your resentment first began. You may do this reflection on your own, but it’s often much easier and more effective to do so with the help of a therapist. Isolating the source of your resentment may require answering some difficult questions, but it may help you address it better and eventually put it behind you. 

Try To Find Compassion. 

Perhaps the most important and effective way to learn forgiveness is to cultivate feelings of compassion. Whether it’s yourself you need to forgive or someone else, finding ways to understand the situation from the other point of view is essential for forgiveness and healing. It may not be easy to do this because finding compassion for someone who has hurt us can feel a lot like letting go of our own power, but often, the opposite is true. Finding the strength to forgive through empathy and compassion is the best way to gain control over your feelings of resentment. 

Forgiving Yourself For Past Mistakes

Just as we can develop feelings of resentment toward others for hurting us, we can do the same for ourselves if we make choices that hurt others. Sometimes, we can cause emotional damage not by hurting someone else but by devaluing ourselves as well. 

However, we deserve the same forgiveness and compassion that we’d work to give others in situations that trigger resentment. Even though self-resentment can be the most difficult to come to terms with, there are ways to begin the healing process. 

Finding It Impossible To Forgive Someone Who Hurt You?

Remember That The Past Is The Past.

Since it’s not possible to travel backward in time and change our experiences, the best first step to forgiving yourself is to accept what happened and move forward from there. Understand that you have an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and do the best that you can to begin anew. 

Assess Your Morals And Values.

Every human has morals and values in varying forms. They can be complicated to develop, understand, communicate, and maintain- and they also tend to evolve and grow with time. Because of this, it’s perhaps not surprising that people’s past behavior doesn’t always align with their current moral standards.   

When we’ve exhibited behaviors in the past that invoke feelings of guilt, it may not be helpful or appropriate to dwell on those feelings because we wouldn’t behave in the same way today. To resolve feelings of self-resentment, it’s important to give yourself the grace to cultivate feelings of inner empathy and compassion for past transgressions that you wouldn’t repeat now. 

Take Care Of Yourself.

When we feel guilt or self-resentment, it may be easy to deny ourselves care and compassion. But healing requires a measure of self-love, so making oneself a priority is often helpful in moving beyond resentment. It may sound simple but caring for your physical health by getting enough quality sleep, eating well, and getting enough exercise is a good place to begin.

Beyond that, care for your emotional and mental health by speaking to a therapist. Just as you’d see a doctor to treat physical discomforts, psychologists are there to help you with lingering mental discomforts. A psychologist can help you understand the origins of and circumstances around your conflicts, cultivate kindness toward yourself, and develop coping mechanisms for moving beyond negative feelings and self-talk. 

Treating Resentment

Some say that moving past resentment feels like a weight has been lifted from their body. But it isn’t always easy to do it alone. Human nature is such that most people tend to avoid conflict, and often, addressing resentment and issuing forgiveness means facing the origins of it. 

Depression and anxiety are often closely tangled with feelings of resentment. Many people experiencing these conditions find it difficult to manage healthy relationships, which can easily result in situations where forgiveness is difficult to find. Likewise, resentment can build up so much that over time, the person shouldering the burden of that resentment develops symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result.  

The solution for resentment varies between unique situations, but regardless of the details, seeking help from a therapist is one of the most impactful ways to address resentment and overcome it to find forgiveness. There are many ways that therapists help patients overcome resentment. Types of individual therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), existential therapy, and more. 

Couples therapy or family counseling are common types of therapy for people experiencing resentment, as well. Some examples of methods used to treat feelings of resentment in couples therapy include the Gottman method, emotion-focused therapy, narrative therapy, and more. 

Takeaway

Forgiveness is a gift we give to others, but it’s important to give ourselves forgiveness too.  Anger and resentment rarely show up alone- feelings of sadness, isolation, confusion, and others often accompany them. 

If you need help finding a way to let go of resentment and forgive, therapy is one of the most effective options. Whether you decide to try individual therapy, couples therapy, or both, finding a therapist with experience in handling issues like resentment is the first step.

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp are a great way to find a therapist you can speak with online at any time, anywhere with an internet connection. BetterHelp has a wide variety of connected therapists with experience treating disorders of all kinds and addressing difficulties in many forms, from couples to group to individual therapy. Not only do many people prefer the convenience of online therapy, but it’s also been proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy. 

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