In Consultation

In Consultation

Breaking the Chain of Resentment: How to Help Clients Move Past Old Wounds

By Steven Stosny

November/December 2015

Q: Many of my clients are stuck in resentment over past injuries, abuse, or unfair treatment. But when I try to get them to let go of the resentment and move on with their lives, I typically encounter strong resistance. Do you have any suggestions for me about how to get through to these clients?

A: Unlike most forms of anger, which are triggered by specific incidents, thoughts, or memories, chronic resentment is a more generalized state: no one resents just one thing. Most resentful people drag a long chain of bitterness through life. Specific injuries, abuse, or maltreatment that evoked a profound sense of betrayal may have initially forged the chain, but many of the additional links often involve overreactions to minor incidents. It’s important to recognize that even removing the beginning links of the chain (resolving whatever offenses started it) will do little to affect the many links that have been added over the years. And since resentment can greatly distort thinking through oversimplification, confirmation bias, inability to grasp other perspectives, and impaired reality-testing, it often becomes a worldview and way of life. Another reason that it’s often hard for people to let go of resentment is that the low-grade adrenaline rush it brings—which temporarily increases energy, confidence, and a sense of righteousness—feels better than the self-doubt and low energy that comes when feeling vulnerable.

But the problem…

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