Are You Interested in Ridding Yourself of All Resentment?

Someone treats you with disrespect and you feel resentful. Such an initial reaction is common and actually good because you are saying that you are a person who deserves respect. Yet, if the initial resentment lasts, and continues to last for years, it eventually can chip away at your happiness, at your self-esteem, and make you miserable. At that point, it is healthy to try to shed the resentment.

As another challenge, it is possible that you have a history of others treating you unfairly that could go back to your childhood, your adolescence, and into your adulthood. Sometimes we still have an unconscious resentment that is abiding from decades ago. These resentments can be part of our current psychology, shaping who we think we are and affecting our level of well-being. 

I have found that there is a particular psychological exercise in which you can engage:

  1. Diagnose those people and incidences that have hurt you.
  2. Assess your current level of resentment resulting from these.
  3. Take scientifically-supported steps to rid yourself of these resentments, all of them that have occurred in your life. 

The exercise is the Forgiveness Landscape.  What is this and how does it work?  

The term Forgiveness Landscape is an expression first used in the book, The Forgiving Life (Enright, 2012), to refer to all of the people who ever have been seriously unjust to you. When people first construct their forgiveness landscape, they often are surprised at:

  1. How many people are on the list.
  2. The depth of the anger left over, even from decades ago.

When we are treated deeply unfairly by others, the anger is slow to leave. If we push that anger aside, simply thinking we have “moved on” or “forgotten all about it,” sometimes this is not the case. The anger can be in hiding, deep within the heart, and the only way to get rid of it is surgery of the heart—forgiveness.

Would you like to examine your own forgiveness landscape to see how many people in your life are still in need of your forgiveness? You might want to write down your answers to the following questions.

The first set of questions:

Think back to your childhood. Is there anyone who was very unfair to you and if so, what is your anger level now on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 signifying no anger leftover and 5 signifying lots of anger when you reflect on this person and the actions toward you.

More specifically from your childhood, are there any incidents from your father that still make you angry? From your mother? A sibling?

What about from peers or teachers, is your anger still high when you recall the incidents?

The second set of questions:

Let us now focus on your adolescence. Follow the pattern from the first set of questions. Then let us add any coaches, employers or fellow employees, and romantic partners to the list. Are there people who still make you angry in the 4 or 5 range of our scale?

The third set of questions:

Who in your adult life has made you significantly angry, in the 4 to 5 range of anger? We can add a partner, any children, relatives, friends, and neighbors to the list.

Now please rank order all of the people from those who least offended you to those who most offended you. Now, look at that list to see your forgiveness landscape. There is your work, right there on the list. I recommend starting with people lower on the list. Forgive them first because they in all likelihood are the easiest to forgive because the anger is less. As you work up the list, you will gain in your expertise to forgive, which is good preparation for forgiving those on the top of the list—those who are the most challenging for you.

You can find more on this way of forgiving in the book, The Forgiving Life, which walks you systematically through this exercise. Enjoy the challenge. Enjoy the journey of forgiveness, which can set you free in so many ways.

References

Enright, R.D. (2012).  The forgiving life.  Washington, D.C.: APA Books.

Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015).  Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope.  Washington, DC: APA Books.

Lee, Y-R & Enright, R.D. (2014) A forgiveness intervention for women with fibromyalgia who were abused in childhood: A pilot study. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 203-217. 

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