How to Let Go of Resentments- A Step by Step Process

We all have heard that saying:

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

So, how does one exactly just LET IT GO?! (violation, abuse, humiliation, injustice, etc.)

Similarly, how do people live (not just recite) the Serenity Prayer? 

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I found my answer about a decade ago at a 12 step weekend retreat. We were given a writing assignment that could be used for steps 4 and 10, which I have for you below. After we answered the questions, we were paired up with a workshop participant to share what we wrote and listen to their feedback.

I will always remember this enlightening experience… See the rest of my story below…

First, here’s the “Letting Go of Resentments” exercise:

Step 1– Answer the questions below (focus on one person/group/institution at a time- you can repeat this exercise for as many people as you need to)

I’m resentful at:

Why? The cause:

Affects my: self-esteem, pride personal and sex relations, security, pocketbooks, our ambitions, (fear)

What was MY part in this? Selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened

My fears (impede change)

Why do I have these fears?

How can I overcome these fears?

Where have I been selfish, dishonest, and/or inconsiderate?

Whom had I hurt?

Did I unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness?

Where was I at fault?

What can I do differently in the future?

Step 2– Read this exercise out loud with a trusted friend/family member, mentor, sponsor, therapist, religious leader, etc. to both hear your true voice and LISTEN to their feedback, which needs to offer you a NEW perspective (that the person shares or YOU discover) to help you get unstuck and breakthrough your resentment. You might need to share your exercise with more than one person, who will of course keep your confidentiality, in order to LEARN something new.

Step 3– Brainstorm with your chosen person or by yourself the next steps you will take to fully let go of your resentment.

Do you think you need to work on acceptance and/or courage to speak up?

a. Just from doing this exercise once, you might feel free of your hurt or anger and able to let to go.

b. You might decide you need to do more internal workto increase your acceptance through meditation, journaling, connecting with a Higher Power, reading or listening to lectures on concepts such as loving kindness, forgiveness, etc. or to find your VOICE through a support group, therapy, self-defense/empowerment classes (such as IMPACT Personal Safety of CO), etc.

c. Perhaps you’ll choose to have a COURAGEOUS conversation with the person you’re experiencing resentment toward to increase openness, understanding, and connection. Decide if you think you can do this by yourself (in person, Zoom/on the phone, or by writing a letter) or if you would like professional support?

d. If it’s an institution you’re feeling resentment towards, maybe you’ll consider engaging in social action by “being the change you wish to see in the world“?

My story (from the 12 step retreat) continued…

The story I told myself as I was filling out my worksheet was, “Woe is me, I’m such a victim of this person I have a resentment toward. There’s nothing I can do about this difficult person and I’m sure my partner in this exercise is going to feel so much empathy for me.”

Man, did I have that wrong! My exercise partner did patiently and compassionately listen to my responses, but when it was her turn to offer me feedback, I was quite surprised. She said,

“It sounds like it’s time for you to have a courageous conversation with (the person I had the resentment toward).”

I was stunned, a bit scared, and finally hopeful and empowered. There was something I could do to possibly improve my situation. My fate was not in the hands of the person I had resentment toward. My life was up to me.

I eventually spent an extraordinary number of hours writing that (long-distance) person a “LOVE first” letter (with lots of feedback from my Al-Anon sponsor and revisions to make sure it was as respectful, clear, and from my heart as possible) and mailed it off. (I also let her know in my letter that I would be happy to talk with her on the phone or Skype if she wished to.)

Although the response was not a Hallmark moment with tears, hugs, and reconciliation… it was still a TURNING POINT in my relationship.

I was finally able to let go of resentment because I spoke my voice, found my strength, and felt that I had done everything I could to create a healthier relationship.

After receiving my letter, my relative didn’t apologize to me (she defended her behaviors in a brief email response), but she has CHANGED some of her behaviors… And when she reverts back to the ones that feel abusive, I respectfully call her out on them or let them go. I am also open to her expressing concerns to me- even though this hasn’t happened yet.

In closing~

I am able to be closer with this relative after having the courageous conversation that was recommended to me in this powerful exercise. I hope you too experience healing, healthier, more honest and open relationships and freedom from resentments for yourself and future generations. Please let me know the impact of this exercise for you.

If you are struggling to let go of resentments and/or would like a professional guide in having a courageous conversation with your loved one, I am here to support you, your loved one, and your relationship.

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III today at 720.432.5262, [email protected] or schedule your session or free consultation here.