Letting go of resentment (without bypassing pain)

Samantha Redgrave-Hogg
By Samantha Redgrave-Hogg,
updated on Apr 11, 2023

Man sitting on rock at sunset

Have you been wronged by someone? Are you in a spiral of bitterness, regret, or disappointment? Can we let go of resentment without sidestepping true feelings?

Ever gone over a situation in your head, again and again, wondering how you would do things differently? Or even attempted to forgive someone but still feel really hurt? It’s natural to be angry when feeling mistreated by someone. But what happens when it starts to take over your life?

Since Gwyneth Paltrow’s “I wish you well” final courtroom words created a media stir recently, I have been wondering about the difference between letting go of a grudge and forgiving someone before you’ve truly come to terms with their actions.

Goop founder, Gwyneth Paltrow’s iconic whisper to accuser Terry Sanderson after winning a skiing accident case, got a lot of us talking. Some labelled the move as taking the moral high ground and classy, and some wondered if the parting words were avoidant and lacking in real meaning. Is it that easy to just forgive and forget?

The phrase to me feels a bit shopworn, or at worst toxic. But holding onto resentment can be stressful and even lead to health complications. So where’s the balance and is there actually insight in this often repeated advice?

Letting go of resentment or keeping the peace?

Anger is a natural emotion when we feel mistreated, insulted, or betrayed in some way. The way we experience and express this anger is key to our mental health and wellbeing.

In their article, Forgive and forget or forgive and repress? Counselling Directory member Ashleigh Duncan talks about the risks of toxic forgiveness, pointing out the flaws of ‘forgive and forget’.

“Repression feelings in this instance can lead to resentment and trust me resentment is a whopper of an emotion to hold.”

Ashleigh talks about how pain must be heard, otherwise, we end up avoiding important feelings and living a life that does not align with our values - just to ‘keep the peace’. When we ignore our feelings, we end up putting other people at the top of the pile and bypassing our truth. This lack of direct communication can itself lead to resentment or passive-aggressive behaviour. But there is a fundamental difference between validating or ‘holding space’ for our emotions and letting them run away with us completely.

If your anger is getting the better of you, you may start to become hostile or take it out on others. If you are experiencing worrying signs of anger such as tendencies to lash out, getting into heated arguments, or experiencing explosive outbursts, you may need to seek professional help or ask for an urgent GP appointment if your anger leads to uncontrollable behaviour.

So how do I let go of resentment whilst validating my feelings?

Two things can be entirely true at the same time. So it’s possible to work on letting go of bitterness whilst acknowledging underlying feelings of anger or sadness about being taken advantage of. Here are some ways to do this:


Writing down how you feel can be an incredibly cathartic way to record thoughts and feelings. It can be a way to both validate your feelings and move past resentment. You can wonder about the reasons why someone may have acted in this way towards you. It doesn’t make it ok but it does help make things feel a bit lighter. You could be waiting forever and a day to get that apology so this type of cognitive reframing can help switch thoughts and alter the meaning you’ve given to the situation.

Communicating your feelings

In their article, Do you resent your partner? Counselling Directory member Graeme Orr talks about direct, honest communication being the answer when it comes to letting go of resentment within a relationship.

“Moving past the resentment with good communication is the key to not only feeling better yourself but in improving and strengthening your relationship.”

If you feel wronged by someone, it can be beneficial to explain to them what they did to hurt you. Once you’ve put everything on the table in a diplomatic way, you can nudge towards practically resolving the issues.

Living by your values

We essentially have little control over what other people do and say, but we can live and breathe our core values. Everyone’s personal values will be different and yours will depend on who you are and how you live your life. Some examples are kindness, loyalty, compassion, and respect.

By living in alignment you might find it easier to concentrate on keeping a healthy frame of mind and moving past any regrets or wrongdoings.

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