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.
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 or adjusting 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.”
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