Resentment, Guilt, Forgiveness: What Should Everyone Know About Them?

Konstantin Olkhovoy, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, replies.
Konstantin Olkhovoy | 23 January 2021

Topics of resentment, guilt and forgiveness are large, endless even. There are countless books, articles, lectures on these topics. Here I will tell you about the things that are important for everyone to know.

Unforgiven Grudges Are Pain Points in a Person’s Soul

How often do we hear that we must let go of grudges and forgive? And, it seems, this should be an obvious thing, and even more so for a Christian who understands the importance of forgiveness. But why, in the vast majority of cases, a psychotherapist is faced with the topic of this or that grudge? The grudges, which prevent a person from living. These unworked grievances burn out a person’s soul.

We often approach the topic of forgiveness formally: we say “I forgive” without sincerely forgiving. We pretend to have forgiven someone by formally fulfilling social and religious “norms and rules.” We do not open the abscess, but drive it deep inside. But this abscess does not go anywhere. So grievances are ulcers hidden deep inside us, which may not hurt for a while, but in the end they still begin to hurt, cause “inflammation”, etc. A classic example is children’s grievances against their parents, which they hide from themselves. These grievances are often quite fair. Moreover, a feeling of guilt for this grudge is added to it. This feeling of guilt can be more painful than the pain itself, “After all, parents are sacred! They must be honored! How can you hold a grudge against them?!” So we try to suppress this resentment again and again, not realizing that suppression does not heal, but only drives the problem deeper. But honoring your parents does not mean that there is no need to sort out your pain and resentment associated with your parents.

Almost Every Person Has an Unforgiven Grudge

Unforgiven grudges are one of the most common problems in marital relationships, when family life turns into an ever-increasing ball of mutual grievances. Over time, this lump reaches gigantic proportions. It almost inevitably leads to the destruction of the marriage. And it doesn’t matter whether it will be a legal divorce or cohabitation of strange and hostile people.

But there are also quite “strange” grievances. Grievances that most people do not admit to themselves. They will say about them, “This is definitely not about me! It is impossible, disgusting, outrageous and immoral!” I’m talking about resentment against one’s loved ones for the fact that they have … died. It sounds very strange. But ask yourself, “Aren’t I offended that they have left me? Am I not offended by my parent/ spouse/ child/ a deceased close one for leaving me here alone, for having hurt me so much by leaving me?” Our mind will scream that this is nonsense, that they did not want to leave us alone and that our loved ones are not to blame for the fact that they died. But someone small and unhappy within ourselves knows that the right words don’t make it easier for us, that pain and resentment live on. From my own experience, I will say that this resentment, in one form or another, is present in almost all people who have experienced loss.

Don’t Be Afraid to Admit It

If something has really hurt you, do not hesitate to admit it, first of all, to yourself. Any attempt to get away from resentment, saying “oh please, everything is fine, I’m not offended at all” or “what are you talking about? I forgave you a long time ago!” This will only drive the abscess inside. No. Admit it, “I feel hurt, I feel very hurt and very bad.” Only by allowing yourself to feel this, you can get out of the state of (open or hidden) resentment.

Do Not Collect Grudges!

This is a very important point. If you are offended by a person, it is better to tell him/her about it right away and try to figure out the problem together. Do not collect five, ten, one hundred grievances in yourself. The more there are, the more difficult it is to deal with them later.

Formal Phrases “I’m Sorry – I Forgive You” Without Genuine Forgiveness Are Meaningless

What do we mean by the word ‘forgive’? Forget and pretend that nothing happened? Should we rejoice just as before at seeing the person who hurt you? From a psychotherapeutic point of view, to forgive means letting go. That is, not to experience pain, anxiety, anger, or rage towards a person.

If you feel that some unforgiven resentment (incoming or outgoing) gnaws at you, try to sincerely release it. Yes, this means working with your soul. “That’s it, I no longer want to be offended, because this makes me feel bad. Me, not the person who offended me. It devours me and does not allow me to live.”

The problem is that people very often ask for forgiveness or forgive formally, “Oh, forgive me, please”. “It’s OK, I’m not offended.” This way there is no real letting go of the problem. Believe me, formal phrases “I’m sorry – I forgive you” don’t work.

Should We Forgive Those Who Do Not Ask for Forgiveness?

Certainly. But how? Will the words “I have to forgive” solve the problem? No. After all, what is resentment? This is our reaction to actions that hit our weak point. But if we just tell ourselves that “we must forgive the offense,” our weak point will not go anywhere. We will remain its hostage. But if we tell ourselves that we want to forgive, then we have to find the source of resentment in ourselves. We have to find this weak point, we have to work it out. And then the offense will be released, because it will have no point of application. And our soul will become a little freer.

What If The Person Doesn’t Want Your Forgiveness?

It is important to understand that there is always some kind of psychological game behind the phrase “I have never asked anyone for forgiveness”. Why doesn’t a person admit his guilt? What benefit does he derive from it? Therefore, if this is not an extremely close person to you, it is better to formalize further communication. Not to punish him, but to protect yourself. What about a close one? For a close one, we can fight, knocking in his heart again and again. And get through. Or … retreat, realizing that this is no longer our close one.

You don’t have to say it out loud, you have to tell yourself. A person has done something once or several times and doesn’t think that he did anything wrong. It means he can do it again, and I have to be ready for it. I do not hold a grudge against him, I’m not angry at him, but I just know that this can happen again. In the same way as I do not hold a grudge against a thunderstorm, hurricane or earthquake, but at the same time I understand that they can be dangerous for me, and I try to somehow protect myself.

You Can Ask Somebody For Forgiveness Not Only With Words

Do not forget that there are people who find it very difficult to ask for forgiveness with words. Maybe a person doesn’t want you to be offended, but he simply cannot utter these three cherished words. But often such people, with all their appearance and their actions, try to show that they were wrong. Thus they apologize to us. Should you count this as a request for forgiveness? I think yes. This behavior often carries much more weight than the words that again lead us to the problem of formalism, “What, did I break your leg? Oh, I’m sorry!”

It Is Very Important to Learn to Admit that You Were Wrong

A reader wrote to us, who was afraid, “It seems that you have to ask him for forgiveness, although, perhaps, you are only partially to blame. But what if the person takes your request for forgiveness as an acknowledgment of your surrender?”

On the one hand, we are most likely dealing with some kind of distorted relationships here. Why is someone so afraid that their apology will be perceived as surrender? Don’t you think that if you expect from the person to say, “Aha, you have surrendered!” in response to your apology, doesn’t it mean that your relationship is developing in some scandalous and destructive way? Do you need this at all? Is this not a reason to radically change the relationship?

On the other hand, it often happens that a person is absolutely right in content, but wrong in the form. If, for example, you did not like something in the behavior of the other person and you made an ugly scandal about this, yelled so that the person left in tears. Of course, you should say, “I’m sorry, I made a terrible scandal, I was absolutely wrong. But at the same time, I still do not like the behavior to which I reacted so foolishly and in such an ugly way.”

It is important for any child and adult to learn to admit their mistakes. You are not required to admit your guilt for everything. If you feel that you are wrong about something, you need to apologize for specific things. And when you sincerely admit your mistake, when you jointly analyze why it happened, how to fix it, how not to repeat it in the future – this is much more effective for you and for those around you than just shouting, “I am guilty, forgive me, I’m sorry!” This is what a healthy relationship is, when people try to work through a situation, understand what caused the conflict and sort out their mistakes.

Throwing a Burden From One’s Soul, Do Not Cripple Others

There is a saying that if you have once caused evil to a person who doesn’t know about it, if you feel that you are guilty in front of him, but you are afraid to hurt him with your words, if this could destroy his family or even his life, if the situation is already incorrigible, ask him for forgiveness mentally. Solve this problem without his participation, sort it out yourself with your soul. The main thing is to sincerely realize that you were wrong.

Remember: Resentment Is Not Inevitable! You Can Work with It and Solve It

But one must clearly understand that this is spiritual work: great, hard and almost always very painful. Maybe there are such people who can ask for forgiveness and forgive easily and cheerfully, but I have never met such people in my life, either among the laity or among the priests. It is difficult work, but necessary. Because if we don’t work out our resentment, at some point in our life it will start eating us.

Not Every Grudge Can Be Dealt With By Yourself

In some cases, a person needs outside help. What are the options? For example, you can sort out the problem with the person, against whom you are holding a grudge. But only if he is sincerely ready to help you, ready to work with you. If you can’t resolve the issue between you two, you can turn to a psychotherapist for help, who will help you look at what you can’t look at yourself.

Translated by pravmir.com

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