How To Let Go Of Resentment – Without Giving Anyone A “Pass”

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You’ve probably heard the adage that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting other person to die—it’s one of the most meme-able quotes in recent memory and has been attributed to everyone from Buddha and Nelson Mandela to Carrie Fisher. (Thanks, internet.)One thing is clear, though, says New York City-based therapist Jennifer Silvershein: Whoever said it was right.

But once you’re in the throes of remembering and rehashing all the sins of the person who done you wrong—and getting re-pissed off about all of it—it’s hard to stop that mental loop. Even if you know it’s poisonous, remembering why you’re so mad feels good because at least it explains the feelings. And you may even get cheered on by others—hey, every hip-hop beef is fueled as much by applause as anger.

But, as difficult as it is to let go of resentment, it can be done, Silvershein says. And you’ll be the happier for it, as soon as you pull focus from the object of your ire (who, in many cases, is blithely unaware of the whole thing, anyway).

“So often we’re holding onto a negative feeling about someone and they have absolutely no idea. So when we’re spending our time reflecting on whatever bothered us the other person is living their life absolutely unaware,” Silvershein says.

So, how do you actually put the poison down, and stop drinking from it? Here are her 3 pieces of advice.

How to let go of resentmentPIN IT
Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

Talk it out—or just let it go

“I recommend to my clients that they should attempt to find resolution when holding onto resentment. So whether that is having a conversation with the individual who hurt or bothered them oradjusting their behaviors [in terms of expectations], either way, at least we are discussing or changing how we’re going about things,” Silvershein says. If you do reach out to the person you feel resentment toward, she suggests talking about what happened, how you’re feeling, and what you’re having difficulty getting over.

Adjust your expectations

“So often we realize that a person doesn’t live up to our expectations and every time they repeat the behavior that disappoints us we use it as evidence that the person is bad or rude,” Silvershein says. “Rather than waiting around for them to do the same behavior that bothers you, instead begin expecting what the individual has historically done and hopefully this will allow the annoyance to dissipate.”

Reflect on your own

This doesn’t have to mean you do it in solitude—but find a friendly ear or another outlet for your thoughts, besides the person who’s triggering your anger and resentment.

“I encourage clients to speak about, journal, and meditate on resentments as well,” Silvershein says. “So often when we can talk through the feelings, reflect through journaling, or begin doing three-minute meditations (my favorite is Headspace), we’re also able to give ourselves the time to heal and process rather than silently suffering.”



You Are Strong For Leaving Him

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Should you have walked away from him sooner? Probably. Did he deserve all the sweet things you did for him, all of the cute texts and passionate kisses and second chances? Probably not.

However, since you cannot turn back time, since you cannot talk sense into the younger version of yourself, you should stop thinking about how much time he wasted on him. Instead, think about how much time you are saving yourself now that you are through with him.

Screw the passive aggressive friends who say I told you so and it’s about time when you break up instead of giving you their support. You don’t have to justify yourself to them. You don’t have to explain how you were blinded by love or how you didn’t have anywhere else to go or how you didn’t think you would be able to live without him. It doesn’t matter. It’s over now.

You should stop being embarrassed about how long you dealt with his bullshit. You should stop calling yourself an idiot for not seeing the signs sooner. You should stop criticizing yourself for making mistakes in the past and start congratulating yourself for waking up.

You could have stayed trapped with him for much longer. You could have wasted another month, year, or decade of your life with him. You should be proud of yourself for getting away. You should be proud of yourself for realizing you deserve more. Not everyone has as much strength as you — and don’t you dare shake your head. Don’t you dare argue about being called strong.

It doesn’t matter how many times you forgave him for cheating or lying or screaming. It doesn’t matter if there were times when you sobbed your eyes out over him and begged him not to leave. It doesn’t matter if your love for him made you feel weak, if it made you do things you are not proud of doing.

Despite what happened before, you are strong for living without him now. You are strong for deciding you have had enough of him. You are strong for surviving this heartbreak — even if you still cry over missing him, even if you are still tempted to text him, even if you feel lost without him. You are strong.

You cannot keep moping over how much time you wasted with him. You have to make the most of your time without him.

You should also recognize your time was not completely wasted because you learned from him. You learned you should not put your whole heart and soul into a relationship where you are the only one giving. You learned you should listen to your head over your heart when they are pulling you in separate directions.

You learned you should raise your standards and your expectations for how you should be treated in a relationship. You learned you are better off loving yourself than chasing someone else in the hopes they will love you. Most importantly, you learned you deserve respect.

How To Let Go Of Relationship Baggage, According To Psychologists

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As people say, sometimes your past comes back to haunt you.

About five years ago I met someone we’ll call Josh via Tinder. He was charismatic and smart, and I was new to New York and desperate for something stable. As our relationship progressed, red flags sprung up, but I was too manipulated by his charm. He became extremely unreliable and would gaslight me into thinking I was just being overly emotional during our fights—even though he did extreme things like kicking me out of his apartment late at night and even cheated on me. I finally ended the relationship when he became physical during a nasty fight. To put it simply, those 10 months were a roller coaster so insane it would put Six Flags to shame.

Even though I haven’t had contact with the guy for years, the anxiety and pain from that experience still festers up inside of me each time I start to see a new guy. Will he be just like Josh? Will I not realize it until I’m knee-deep in it again? Or is this all just me? My heartbeat quickens whenever a guy’s behavior even remotely reminds me of Josh, and at its worst, I can spiral or pick a fight with my new partner when I perceive any even slight similarities. My relationship with him has somehow put a negative filter over any new relationships I’ve created.

Emotional baggage is the intangible but very real emotional weight we carry due to unresolved issues or traumas from previous relationships or childhood, according to Chicago-based clinical psychologist John Duffy. Until we face these issues, we’ll most likely bring our baggage into each new relationship.

“When a previous partner did something that your body perceived as a threat to security, your body will often have an emotional reaction, which is known as a trauma response,” Jessie Leader, a Minneapolis-based marriage and family therapist, tells me. It’s comforting to know how I’m feeling is a physiologically appropriate response. “Your body is trying to keep you safe and will prompt you to fight, run, or freeze from the threat.”

It’s normal for traumatic relationships to have such an impact on someone’s life. A 2011 study examined 63 intimate partner violence survivors and their mental health needs and found they have significant associations with post-traumatic stress disorder, including feelings like shame and guilt-related distress.

Tired of letting my bad memories make me feel ashamed or afraid—and thus tucking them away into the back of my brain—I’m starting to think of them as a chance to reflect, heal, and grow in my new relationship. Besides, everyone has baggage in some form or another.

“It is your job to be curious and explore why it happened and process feelings associated with the hurt,” Leader says. “It isn’t about letting go, rather about having a better relationship with this part of you.”

Here’s how to begin this process of healing and acceptance, according to psychologists and therapists:

1. Purge.
While getting pampered at the salon is always a nice way to practice self-care, getting a new haircut doesn’t mean you’ll instantly forget about your previous relationship. That being said, physical changes actually can help to some degree, explains Massachusetts-based psychological counselor Morella Devost. They can help you “remap your subconscious mind” as you create a new life, she says. So feel free to get a new hairstyle or rearrange your furniture—whatever helps you change the energy of your environment and feel like you’re on the cusp of a fresh start.

Additionally, it can be very helpful to get rid of all reminders of the toxic relationship, like pictures or gifts, she says. It’s especially constructive to discard this “visible baggage,” not only because it’s triggering to look at but because the very act of tossing it out can be powerful to the subconscious mind. In other words, purging your physical space can help you purge your mental space.

For me, it was so liberating to dispose of anything and everything that reminded me of Josh. Give those items a new start by donating whatever you can and throwing away the rest.

2. Open up with trust.
Since my relationship with Josh, I told maybe a total of two guys about what I went through. I was afraid it would sound like I had brought the entire thing on myself or that I was lying about such an extreme experience. So I kept it to myself—and let it consume me. For example, when my current partner Brendan showed up late to my apartment a few times, I found myself feeling frustrated and anxious because it reminded me of when Josh would leave me waiting for him for hours past our meeting time and without so much as a text.

“If you find yourself doubting your partner’s commitment, ability, or intent—consider how you might be activated by past hurt,” Leader says. “Then compare this to current evidence from your partner’s actions. Maybe you find that your partner is showing up in many ways, but your hurt from the past relationship is blinding your ability to see it.” (If they’re not, then this is the time to have a conversation about that.)

It was getting to the point where I felt like I had to let Brendan know why just showing up late bothered me so much. Leader encourages opening up to our partners about our past if we fully trust them.

“You can be compassionate with yourself and current partner by being explicit about past hurt and how trauma responses show up in an irrational way,” she said. “If this part of your story is named, then you can team up against this insecurity. If your partner is able and willing, they can use awareness to be more sensitive about how they show up. Awareness will help them notice actions that might make you feel insecure, scared, or distrusting.”

3. Focus on you.
The most important person in unpacking your emotional baggage isn’t the perpetrator or your new partner (no matter how awesome they are). It’s you.

“A toxic relationship can undermine your self-esteem and leave you with new limiting beliefs about yourself, about the nature of relationships, and about life that you didn’t have before the relationship,” Devost says. The best way to tackle these consequences is by working with a professional who has experience in trauma and PTSD. It’s vital that you take the time you need to fully process what happened and to let your wounds heal.

On top of that, you should look into simple practices like affirmations, deep self-care, and journaling. The beauty of these exercises is that you can turn to them whenever you feel triggered and overwhelmed. Devost especially recommends journaling because it can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings about the relationship and yourself. Some questions to ask yourself:

Who are you blaming?
What needs to heal?
What can you learn from yourself about the experience?
Although I don’t journal that regularly, I’ve found it cathartic to write down my thoughts while listening to one of my favorite playlists. Getting my thoughts out on paper is like transferring my spirals onto something more tangible and out of my system.

Healing from my relationship with Josh hasn’t been easy, and it isn’t entirely over. It’s a process in which I’m learning more about myself both alone and with a partner. As each day passes, I find myself growing more into the person who I know deserves all the love they can get. I find myself no longer ashamed of what happened and instead proud of myself for not letting it define me.

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