Let go of Resentment

Letting Go of Resentment

Dr. Robert Voyle, and Kim Voyle. Core Elements of the Appreciative Way. Clergy Leadership Institute. 2006. ISBN: 978-0-97870-606-1


Original workshop 2010 October/Lethbridge, Alberta Canada

Letting go of resentment

Resentment is a demand that the past be different. Whatever the person did, they did it. We can’t change that.

Time does not heal. Being smart about getting on joyfully with our own life heals. That person we resent stands in the way of us becoming an advocate for the value that this person stepped on. We must move him/her out of the way and consign them to a not-resented position.

[During the workshop we spent the entire afternoon working through a multi-step process for letting go of resentment and consigning the person we resent to a non-resented position in our mind. That process is described in his Appreciative Way book listed at the beginning of this.]

This doesn’t mean we trust the person, like the person, reconciled with them, or offer them forgiveness. It simply means we have cleared the path to the future.

The two most common reasons that people hold on to resentment is a need for safety and a need for social justice.


 When we are in a truly unsafe situation, such as still living with an abusive partner, working on letting go of resentment while still in the situation is dangerous. It puts us at risk of more injury. Don’t ask us to let go of resentment as long as the danger still exists; do encourage ourself to leave the unsafe situation.

We will talk later about moving the image of the person we resent to a non-resenting position. If we are still in contact with person, and must have future dealings with them, for example a family member that we are likely to see at family events, it may not be safe to mentally move that person behind us where you can’t watch them.

However we can resize them into a very tiny speck and move them further away from us. Even if all we can see in front of us is a little black dot, that’s a safe position. We know where that person is, we can watch them, but they are no longer big enough and powerful enough to harm us.

Social Justice

 The social justice issues are often easier to handle than safety.

In safety issues we are protecting ourselves; in social justice issues we feel a need to protect others. If we don’t remember the injustice, how will the rest of the world know what this person has done?

• How long have we carried the resentment against what happened?

• How successful has our resentment been in letting the world know the injustices done by this person?

• How long can we wait for the person to apologize or change his/her behavior?

• How is holding the resentment informing the person that he/she needs to apologize or to change? 

• How much of our life do we want to spend waiting for the apology, the behavior change, etc?

The sad thing is that the person will likely never apologize or change their behavior, and that the world can not be protected or informed by our resentment.

What the world will recognize is us carrying a value into the future. Remember back when we talked about group dynamics? Working on an issue at the values level was the pivotal point where real change can happen. Most often resentment is related to a deeply-held value being stepped on.

• Which of our values did the person you resent step on?

• Do we still hold that value as a good thing?

• Are we looking forward to a time when we move the resentment out of the way so that we carry that value forward into the future and into the world, sharing it with others?

Death and Public Reconciliation

Death doesn’t remove the need for removing resentment. The dead person can still hold us hostage. The technique described below works even if the person is dead or if we don’t know if they are alive or dead.

Some traditions, both religious and secular, include public reconciliation: public confession, apologizing to the person, making up with the person, saying aloud, “I forgive you.”

Contrary to supposedly good advice from religious communities, or secular programs such as 12-step programs, never reconcile with anyone who doesn’t share our value system. Letting go of the resentment is enough.

Maybe there will come a time in the future for public reconciliation and maybe there won’t. Knowing that a public reconciliation is a bad idea should not hold us back from seeking to let go of resentment.