How to Overcome Bitterness and Resentment, According to 8 Experts

In life, conflict is unavoidable, whether it’s with friends or family. When it’s left unresolved, it can lead to long-term grudges and pent-up hatred.

To help you overcome these feelings of hurt, we have asked eight experts how to overcome bitterness and resentment.

Dr. Fran Walfish

Dr. Fran Walfish
Beverly Hills Family and Relationship Psychotherapist | Author, The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building A Better Bond with Your Child | Regular Expert Child Psychologist, The Doctors on CBS TV

Let go of grudges

Overcoming bitterness and resentment means letting go of grudges. Holding a grudge comes out of the inability to express anger directly. Grudges are held by people who have a certain rigidity in their personality structures. Rigidity is considered unhealthy in the field of psychology.

Flexibility, openness, and fluidity are healthy, particularly because feelings change from moment to moment. A strong ego can move with the flow and be able to deal with disappointments, life’s inevitable ups, and downs, and daily letdowns.

Rejection and abandonment are two of the more common reasons why folks desire to get revenge. When a person feels discarded or thrown away, it evokes a primitive internal rage, a feeling reminiscent of when we were infants, and our mothers didn’t respond accurately, warmly, or quickly enough to our needs, or ignored them.

“Just letting it go” is easier said than done because it leaves you holding the intense rage with no place to expel your aggressive impulses. It takes an unusually positive, optimistic, easy-going person to be able to “just let it go.”

In the end, you are the beneficiary. People have been known to get medical illnesses from holding onto anger, hostility, aggression, and rage.

You risk losing a significant relationship if you hold on to grudges

The most apparent negative repercussion of holding onto a grudge is that you lose the relationship. Often, it’s those who mean the most to us that evoke the strongest hurt and anger. The risk is that you lose a significant relationship — not a small loss.

There are also harmful physical and medical risks posed by holding onto an angry grudge. They include heart disease, high blood pressure, headaches; digestive imbalances; insomnia; anxiety’ depression, skin problems, including eczema and stroke.

Acting out on revenge has a temporary gain. You might feel an initial sense of euphoria having purged all of the harmful anger and hate you have been holding onto. However, most people think a quick chaser of guilt and worry about the after-effects of having acted out hostile payback.

Most of us are taught that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” When we commit revenge, we know we are doing something hurtful to another human being. It is wrong. And we know it.

Practice verbalizing directly to the source of your hurt and anger

Say what he did that hurt and angered you. If they’re a true friend, they’ll care about your feelings and listen. Talking is the glue that holds people and relationships together.

Most folks also need a physical expulsion of their aggressive impulses. Beat a punching bag, take a kickboxing class, pound a handball against your garage door, or lock yourself in your bathroom and scream at the top of your lungs!

Get it out!

Rob Magill, MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPCT

Robert Magill
Founder, Magill Counseling Associates, LLC | BHI Certified Tele-behavioral Health Practitioner

Resentment is often the result of someone not meeting our expectations. We invite them over for a BBQ and then aren’t invited to their house. If that happens enough, resentment can start to build. This resentment is there because we expect them to invite us to their house.

Sure, it may be the polite thing to do. But it isn’t a requirement.

So, to overcome resentment:

Identify your expectations

Figure out what you’re resentful of. What were you expecting them to do that they didn’t do?

Evaluate your expectations

Would the average person say your expectations are realistic? Yes, it’s reasonable to expect someone to stop at a stop sign. It isn’t so fair to expect someone to act on something you think without telling them.

Adjust these expectations

If you notice your expectations aren’t realistic, work to change them. If they are realistic, you may need to have a conversation with the other person about your expectations.

Forgive

Bitterness is the result of keeping a grudge, of not forgiving. We’re offended by someone and hold on to the hurt, pain, etc. Over time, this hurt and pain erode who we are, and we become bitter. The best way to get rid of the bitterness is to forgive.

Forgiveness is not forgiving and then forgetting. Forgiveness is not about avoiding consequences. It isn’t about them saying, “Sorry.”

Forgiveness is about the person doing the forgiving.

Related: What Is Forgiveness and Why Is It Important?

Here is what forgiveness can look like:

Understand how we were hurt

Look at what offended you. What about that situation got to you the most? What were personal values offended or threatened? Why are those values important to you? That is the core of what you need to address to forgive.

Identify what you need

Identify what you need to feel safe again. Think about the offense and what it would take to trust again. To know that you probably won’t be hurt again. Do you need to talk to the other person?

Do you need an acknowledgment that they hurt you? Do you need them to understand the impact of what they did to you? Will concrete boundaries help? Or something else?

Decide to let go

Decide that you’ll protect yourself from future hurt and pain, but that you won’t continue to hold on to the hurt and pain.

Take action

How can you safely, legally, ethically, etc. get what you need to feel safe again (items from #2)? Start taking action on this.

As you go through this process, the bitterness will start to dissipate. This will happen because the roots of the bitterness – the offending values – will come to light and can be directly addressed.

This process leaves a lot of room for boundaries. It also leaves room to remember what they did but also to find ways to move forward with the relationship – if you choose to.

Choosing to forgive will remove bitterness and resentment while allowing you to feel safe while moving the relationship forward.

Related: Best Books on Forgiveness and Letting Go

Elizabeth Louis

Elizabeth Louis
Mindset Coach and Consultant | Founder of E. Louis International

During your time on earth, few things are a guarantee. For instance, you’ll grow older, experience suffering, and people will hurt you, to name a few. Since we know these will occur during our short time on earth, we must ask ourselves, how do we mentally process the pain of getting hurt, so we don’t become bitter or resentful?

Understand that bitterness and resentment will destroy you

To answer this question, we must first look at what bitterness and resentment are and understand bitterness and resentment will destroy you. Not the person you resent.

Psychologists define bitterness as an attitude of widespread and intense anger and hostility, often accompanied by resentment and the desire to seek revenge. [1]

Resentment is the record of wrong keeping, where a person holds on to the transgression and mulls it over and over in his or her mind. A resentful person typically wants to or thinks about getting even with the transgressor. In a way, resentful people cannot stop thinking about the transgression against them.

In short, bitterness and resentment is a result of unforgiveness in your heart, and there lies the problem. You’re experiencing unforgiveness.

Ironically many people view bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness as psychological problems. What many of us forget is we are spirit, mind, and body. Therefore, it is most helpful to look at bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness as a spiritual problem, not a psychological problem.

Similar to how love is a choice, not a feeling, it’s the same with forgiveness.

You have to choose to forgive

Let go, cancel the debt, and forfeit the right ever to bring the transgression up again.

Until you can forever let go of that transgression, I urge you not to say, “I forgive you” to the perpetrator, until you can truly let go of the hurtful events.

Forgiveness is a choice that must occur in your heart.

The process of forgiveness is a conceptualized internal process. An individual who has experienced a transgression chooses to let go of the negative feelings associated with the act and the perpetrator.

Forgiveness is a heart attitude, not a mental attitude, which is why it is spiritual and not psychological. Sometimes we may forgive mentally before our heart has been able to forgive.

We must make sure when we say “I FORGIVE YOU,” it is because our heart is ready to forgive, followed by our minds. When we forgive with our minds before we forgive in our hearts, we tend to keep replaying the event on repeat in our heads.

Of course, this can be done unintentionally, but it happens, and it strains our relationship with that individual.

When a loved one hurts you, it is best to acknowledge the hurt to the transgressor.

Let them know you hear their apology and understand they desire forgiveness. Also, let them know it’s your hope and objective to forgive them entirely, but you need time to heal. Taking time to process the events you found hurtful is okay.

There is nothing wrong with that. You should tell someone that, as opposed to forgiving them prematurely because that usually damages the relationship.

Here lies the real question. How do you get your heart to catch up with your mind?

You must remember that when you’re at odds with another person, it’s because you are unable to detach their immoral act from who they are. When someone hurts us, we immediately view them and what they did as evil.

See that what they did was terrible, but they themselves are not

We must separate the person from their choice to participate in a sinful act. It’s the same when a child does something terrible. When a child does something wrong, we don’t say “bad boy or bad girl” because that attacks the child’s character.

What the child did was terrible, but who the child is, is not bad. Besides, practicing mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance is a terrific way to help gain insight into what they were thinking or what drove them to do the immoral act.

It’s also essential we forgo our prideful thinking of, “what an idiot, I’d never do that” because we do not know, we can only speculate and hope we would not.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a leader in self-compassion research, tells us that three elements compose self-compassion: Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.[2]

Self-kindness encourages warmth, understanding, and love towards ourselves when we fail or have to face painful situations.

Common humanity reminds us that we all fail, we all make mistakes, and we are all works in progress.

Primarily we’re all suffering, and we all participate with dysfunctional behavior to one degree or another. Therefore we all do immoral things to varying degrees, and we all want forgiveness when we do it. Mindfulness is maintaining a gentle observation of ourselves where we don’t avoid or suppress our emotions.

Practice forgiving

The funny thing about forgiveness is the more you can practice forgiving, and the more you can take your thoughts captive, the easier forgiving someone becomes. Forgiveness is like a muscle we have to strengthen.

Many people will tell you to forgive, but do not forget. Well, that isn’t how heart forgiveness – the attitude of forgiveness – works.

When you forgive but do not forget, you cannot forgive in your heart because, as a man thinks in his heart, so he is. When you think or dwell on the fact someone has hurt you, you’re reinforcing potential bitterness and anger within yourself.

The thoughts of the past will come, but we are to live in the present, not the past. When they come to take the thought captive, think of it as a moving cloud and remind yourself you have forgiven the person and move forward with your life.

Dr. Clinton and Dr. Hawkins, professional counselors, encourage you to think of forgiving and letting go like this:

Remember to forget

We’ll never entirely forget the transgressions against us, but we can decrease the strength of the memory. When someone reminds you of the offenses made against you, respond by saying, “I distinctly remember forgetting that,” and then move forward.

Bitterness and resentment are linked to many health issues. Scientists discovered the emotional manifestation of bitterness opens up the potential to many diseases. For instance, bitterness towards others results in swelling and inflammation that can lead to deformities, whereas bitterness towards yourself can produce degeneration.

There is a great exercise that will help you forgive your transgressors and move forward with a life you value. The exercise is called R.E.A.C.H.

Recall the hurt

Recalling the hurt in a mindful manner allows you to observe the events of the transgression objectively. During this time, you aren’t minimizing or maximizing the event, but working to see the reality of the situation as best you can.

One great way to do this is to journal about the transgression. Write down all you can remember and in the end, write a letter to the perpetrator explaining how it made you feel, but do not send the message.

Empathize with the person

Like it or not, we have all hurt someone. Perhaps you meant to hurt the person, or maybe you did not. Regardless, when you place yourself in the offender’s shoes, you begin to open yourself up to the infinite possibilities that led them to do what they did.

Altruistic gift of forgiveness

Asking yourself how you can selflessly forgive an individual is a great place to be. Remember, forgiveness is for you, not for the individual. Reflect on a time where you were forgiven and felt guilty about your wrongdoings.

Commit to forgiveness

Once your heart has arrived at mercy, ask yourself how you can commit to this decision. There will be days where the memory and pain come back with a vengeance, but if you commit to your forgiveness towards the transgressor, those days will become less and less.

Hold on to forgiveness

Some people tell family or friends of their forgiveness, others write a date in their journal of when they forgave to repeat back to those vengeful thoughts. Others look for a more concrete remembrance of their forgiveness.

Whatever you need to do to remind yourself and those thoughts of your forgiveness, do it.

Forgiveness is powerful. Forgiving people for their wrongdoings is the only way you will let go of bitterness and resentment.

Remember, you have two choices: either forgive the perpetrator and move forward in your life or refuse to forgive the individual and allow your emotions to eat away at you.

[1] Clinton, T., & Hawkins, R. (2009). The quick-reference guide to biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Neff, K. (n.d.). Self-compassion guided meditations and exercises. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/

Eva Goode, LCSW

Eva Goode
Primary Therapist for Trauma, All Points North Lodge

Increase understanding and empathy

I think one of the best ways to overcome bitterness and resentment is to increase understanding and empathy for the person whom we feel has transgressed us. However, I know this is not easy.

Trying to understand and look for the causes of why someone may be acting a certain way based on their history and experiences may help you to reduce resentment.

Once we can see these transgressions in a more empathetic approach, we may be able to reduce the personalization we’re experiencing.

Kristin Petrucci

Kristin Petrucci
Corporate Mindfulness Expert | Positive Psychology Coach | Founder, KPSpeaks

Unless one is careful, bitterness and resentment can creep in slowly over time, or burst within you in a millisecond depending on the event or series of events in one’s life. I believe some practices can inoculate you in a way to not harbor ill feelings in your mind and heart.

Practice gratitude

Stop resentment and bitterness, before they have a chance to attach their tentacles to you. One of the best practices positive psychologists have suggested is gratitude.

Now, how can someone practice gratitude in a way that will release bitterness and resentment?

I suggest starting with the Loving Kindness Meditation daily for two weeks, at least. Then at least three times weekly to keep resentment and bitterness at bay. Try this five-minute meditation.

Adina Mahalli

Adina Mahalli
Certified Mental Health Consultant and Relationship Expert | Founder, Enlightened Reality

Choose not to be bitter

It’s important to realize that others don’t make you bitter; you choose to be bitter. If you’ve been wronged, you can choose to hang on to it and allow it to consume you to the point of bitterness or let it go. Of course, it’s painful when we’re hurt by someone we cared for.

Forgiveness is the key to healthy living, and it’s all on you. That doesn’t mean forgetting, excusing the harm done, or even reconciling with the offender. Forgiveness brings inner peace that can lead to less anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improved mental health.

Accept that everyone has flaws

It is vital to end your role as the victim and accept that everyone has flaws. The wrong that was done to you is more often than not more of a reflection of the offender and have very little to do with you. It has no purpose in your mind or your life, and your life should not be defined by how you’ve been hurt.

Jamie Bacharach

Jamie Bacharach
Licensed Medical Acupuncturist and Health Coach | Head of Practice, Acupuncture Jerusalem

Come to terms with the causes

To overcome bitterness and resentment, you need to come to terms with the underlying causes of these feelings. Bitterness and resentment are often left dangerously unaddressed in the mind of the person feeling this way.

For starters, think about the bitterness and resentment that you’re feeling. Confront these feelings mentally – ask yourself why you feel this way, and when these feelings began to surface.

Reconcile with your feelings

Once you’ve come to terms and managed to reconcile your feelings mentally, you should have hopefully put a dent in them. However, if these toxic feelings are lingering, more drastic measures may be required.

Think about having a conversation with the person or persons involved with the feelings of bitterness and resentment that you’re having. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and the role you think they play in the way you’re feeling.

For example, if you feel resentment towards your boss because someone else was given a promotion that you feel you deserve, don’t let those feelings lie unresolved.

It’s important to work up the courage to have a conversation with your boss about these feelings. Only then will you find genuine, lasting inner-peace with the situation.

Related: How to Find Inner Peace

Russelyn L. Williams

Russelyn Williams
Author, The Wholeness Action Plan

We must be willing to forgive

To overcome bitterness and resentment, one must choose to do so. This sounds so simple, but I believe that some circumstances hit so hard that we miss the fact that we have a choice in how we will respond due to the pain. Secondly, we must be willing to do what it takes, including to forgive.

This has to be our disposition, no matter how hard the journey of forgiveness may be.

I’m intentional in stating forgiveness as a journey because the pain will not automatically disappear because we’ve decided to forgive. Eventually, things will get better after we’ve walked out forgiveness for a time.

We’ll even begin to learn that the experience that caused the bitterness and resentment can result in something more positive.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. I grew up seeing my mom physically abused at times by my father. I had a choice to view my father with respect or to view him in bitterness due to his mistakes.

I chose to forgive him. I made the choice that I’d be whole regardless of my experience. I learned from that how bad my father needed others to show him grace, and that made me sensitive to the idea that I also need grace for when I am wrong in areas.

I genuinely do not believe anything goes wasted in this life. I think through making a choice, choosing to forgive, and doing the work that comes with that; we can overcome any bitterness or resentment that presents itself.