We’ve all heard how beneficial it is to forgive those who have done us wrong, and we have been told time and again that we can’t really move on unless we have forgiven them. However, we all know that forgiving someone is easier said than done. Resentment is something that we find easy to hold on to; no matter how long ago it had happened, it would always remain fresh in our mind.

Definition: Resentment

Resentment is a process where we repetitively replay feelings of hurt and the events that led up to it. However, when we go through the event in our mind, we don’t just think of the facts, we also relive all the feelings associated with it. It affects us over and over again – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Why can’t we let go of this anger and resentment that we feel towards people who have done us wrong?

The answer is simple: we think that in keeping this anger and resentment alive, we are protecting ourselves from getting hurt in the same way again.

We hold on to our resentment, dismissing the advice to forgive, believing that our hurt is felt more deeply than the hurt of others, or feeling like the wound we experienced cannot be let go without punishment meted out to the offender. We may often believe that those who preach the benefits of forgiveness haven’t walked in our shoes or felt what we feel.

Resentment can make you sick

It is no longer just religious figures, friends, or family who are saying that holding onto anger and resentment is detrimental to our overall health. Medical doctors and mental health practitioners believe that letting go of negative emotions is a way to heal both your mind and body.

Recent research studies have indeed shown that persistently feeling resentful toward others can affect not only our mental health, but our physical health as well. Yes, bitterness can make us sick! It’s not an official diagnosis yet, but health care professionals have a term for it: post-traumatic embitterment disorder or PTED. Often, people who won’t or can’t seem to forgive are diagnosed with this.

“Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health,” says psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

This means that even though you started out angry at one person or event, the anger and resentment will grow strong enough through the years to be directed not only at an individual or event, but at any other people around you.

It doesn’t even matter if they have done you wrong; holding on to that anger for a long time has, in essence, changed how you see others, and even a slight mishap can produce strong feelings of anger in you that are not warranted by the event that set it off.

It’s ok to be angry from time-to-time…

Feeling angry and resentful, among other negative emotions, can be beneficial in the short-term. When we feel it, the stress triggers a series of reactions in our body called the fight or flight response, which can help us deal with the situation. Our blood pressure increases, our awareness is heightened, our thinking clears, and our body is flooded with chemicals, e.g., adrenaline. All of these will help ensure our survival, by either fighting the threat or fleeing.

…But, not all of the time

If we are always in this state, however, the constant increase in blood pressure and the release of chemicals will build up and will ultimately take a toll on our body. Instead of helping us, our survival response could eventually increase our risk of developing heart disease, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and allergies.

When we cling to memories of bad events in our past, and relive the pain over and over again, it’s not hurting others – it’s hurting ourselves. It prevents us from healing, and it stops us from moving on with our lives. Letting go of our anger and resentment toward other people is not for them, but for us. Learning to tend to our wounds and forgive is a gift we give to ourselves.

Forgiveness is only one way to let go of anger and resentment. There may be other ways that are right for you. If you’re struggling with deep-seated negative feelings that are affecting your life and you want to learn how to let it go, contact us. We can help.