In last week’s holiday survey results, one response stood out. Close to 60% of you said that one thing you wish you could change about handling family conflicts is how to let go of past resentments.
Holding onto resentment perpetuates the dance of family conflicts. If you let it go, you remove yourself as a partner for that particular dance. It takes only one person to change the dance. That person is you.
Whatever the initial hurt inflicted on you by someone, continuing to carry it around in your emotional rucksack, lays the burden squarely on your back. You are the one suffering the most.
Since misery loves company, you may also wittingly or unwittingly create discomfort in your family. You might be doing this with your rehashing of the original event which has grown into an epic saga over the years. At least in your mind.
Perhaps it’s in how you act around that person, forcing other family members to either take sides or have to tiptoe around you on this one issue. Maybe you revert to child-like behavior around that person, triggered by his mere presence or a remark that reminds you of the past. In that moment, you feel as powerless as you did then. It’s as if you have temporary amnesia, forgetting that you have skills and options now that you didn’t have back then.
Even if you decide not to bring it up this time, the fact is your feelings can’t help but leak out through your body language. Inside, you are harboring those resentments and still feel hurt, angry and miserable. The best way to take care of yourself is to let go.
Letting go of anger and resentment is not the same as saying that what happened to you in the past is okay. Holding on to them is no insurance against future hurt but it does guarantee present unhappiness.
Letting go is easier said than done but possible. And worth it for the sake of your peace of mind. Do it to free up emotional energy so you can foster the kinds of relationships you want to have with family members.
Don’t do it expecting to change the other person. You’re the only one who needs to change your outlook and your behavior. If you do, your feelings will change. Once you are no longer in the grip of those emotions, you will feel lighter. You will see choices that once were invisible to you.
Letting go of past resentments is a process.
Don’t expect a Eureka! moment. Do this at a pace that feels right to you.
- Make a promise to free yourself of a specific resentment you’ve been harboring. Commit.
- Know where your emotions come from. Something happens. Within a split second, you assign meaning to the event. That meaning is based on your beliefs and attitudes. Those beliefs and attitudes generate your feelings. This sequence occurs so quickly as to make it seem as if the feelings sprang directly from the event, giving your feelings more power than they deserve. In reality, they are a response to your thoughts. Change your thoughts, change your feelings.
- Replace your old story about the event or behavior that occurred in the past with an updated, modern version. In this new version add whatever insights you’ve learned over the years about relationships and human behavior–information you may not have had back then. To do this, ask yourself the following questions and begin to incorporate the answers into your updated story.
- What do you think might have been going on for the other person back then that caused them to behave as they did? What pressures might they have been under? What pain or fear might they have been dealing with? How likely is it that they acted as they did with intentional cruelty? What might cause a human being to do or say what they did at the time this event happened?
- What were your beliefs and judgments about what happened? Which of these still hold true today? Which seem antiquated and ungenerous?
- Write a letter to this person without the intent of ever giving it to them. In it, write down how you felt for a long time and why. Describe any new-found insights from the first two questions, and how this changes your view of the past situation (and of the person if that seems right and timely). Close the letter by affirming how you want to proceed from here on out. What is it you will do differently?
- Identify a word or phrase you can use to remind yourself of your commitment to let go of the resentment. It can be as simple as, “No more.”
- From here on out, whenever those old feelings of resentment arise (and they will for a while–remember, this is a process), stop them as soon as you become aware of them by saying your chosen word or phrase.
- Follow your commitment word or phrase by telling yourself your updated version of the story and the choice you’ve made for how to proceed differently from now on.
- Repeat steps four through six as often as necessary. If you discover that this isn’t working after several tries, revisit steps one through three. Chances are you have more insights to glean. Ask a trusted friend to help you. Just make sure this person won’t let you vent and spiral down into your old ways of thinking. You might also consider seeing a counselor for help to speed up the process.
Is the process and all the work entailed in it worth it? Why not simply avoid the person(s) and forget anything ever happened? Because you deserve peace of mind. Because you have the right to enjoy family time without feeling like you have to wear emotional armor just to be with them. Because you are worth it.
For more inspiration to help you begin walking down this path, you might like additional tips offered by regular people just like you on how to forgive someone when it’s hard.
What tips do you have to offer someone wanting to let go of past resentments?