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Healing Resentment Through Forgiveness

It’s no secret – health care workers (HCWs) have gone through a lot over the last year. In addition to all the pandemic-related work stressors like fear of exposure, emotional overload, and dealing with frequent death, many HCWs have faced some difficult interpersonal challenges. Maybe you have family members who deemed COVID-19 a hoax or friends who made some risky decisions that upset you. Even if everyone in your immediate circle took the pandemic seriously, you might harbor resentment toward government officials or your workplace’s leadership. It’s normal to be angry at the people who you feel let you down, and holding a grudge can be tempting – especially because others’ actions (or inactions) directly hurt you. Forgiving people for the harm they caused isn’t easy, but it is for your own well-being –it’s one of the best ways to reduce the animosity you feel and get yourself to a place of peace.

Why is it so hard to forgive? 

Letting go of hurt is never easy, but many people resist forgiveness because they don’t truly understand what it is. Forgiving isn’t the same as forgetting; it doesn’t mean you’re letting someone off the hook or condoning their past actions. It also doesn’t mean that you have to go back to the relationship you originally had or even be friendly with someone. Forgiveness is a conscious decision to release your feelings of anger or resentment toward whoever harmed you – regardless of whether or not they actually deserve it. 

Why is forgiveness important? 

Many people view granting forgiveness as a way to preserve a relationship or make the person in the wrong feel better, but it actually helps you – even if you aren’t concerned about the other person’s feelings, forgiving them supports your own mental wellness. You don’t have to tell anyone, including the person who wronged you, that you forgive them. 

Cultivating forgiveness is for you. Being hurt by others is part of life – forgiveness comes from your own attitude, not others’ actions. You can choose to stick to your anger at people’s behavior during COVID-19, or you can choose to accept what happened, reevaluate your relationship with, or trust of, that person, and move forward in a way that feels best for you. 

How can I forgive when it feels impossible? 

Remember that the act of forgiving is a process, not a one-time event. It might take some time to work through your emotions because you can truly forgive. You aren’t obligated to operate on anyone’s timeline but your own. If that means you can’t ever forgive them, that’s okay too. 

Forgiveness takes work, and it may not come naturally to you. Here are some ways you can start the process of forgiveness in your own life:

  • Look at the other perspective. It can be hard to have sympathy for someone who has wronged you, especially at the level of harm that HCWs have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing the other side’s point of view doesn’t make their actions right, but understanding their side can reduce the anger you feel towards them. Think about what factors played into their behaviors – what information were they getting about COVID-19? How were the other people in their circles handling the pandemic? 
  • Work on self-soothing. At the end of the day, you can only be responsible for your own actions and reactions. Even when someone causes you pain, you have control over your own reaction to the situation. Integrate self-soothing techniques into dealing with your anger, like focusing on your breathing, doing something creative, or getting some exercise. 
  • Watch out for rumination. When you’re experiencing big emotions, it’s easy to dwell on the same negative thoughts. This often makes the negative emotions even stronger than they were in the first place because your mind is spending so much time focused on them. If you catch yourself quickly, you can usually stop this thought spiral before it becomes all-consuming. 
  • Imagine their apology. Sometimes you just won’t get the apology or closure that you want from someone else. With COVID-19, it’s pretty likely that you won’t – most people truly believe that however they acted throughout the pandemic was “the right way.” Instead of waiting for them to come around, imagine them apologizing to you or role-play the conversation with an empty chair. Acknowledging what you actually want to hear from them can help you process your resentment. 
  • Seek out help. The challenges you have faced throughout COVID-19 are far from normal, and it’s okay if you don’t know how to – or simply don’t want to – handle the emotional fallout on your own. Take a mental health screen to see if you’re dealing with symptoms of a mental health condition like depression or PTSD. For more resources to increase your resiliency, check out the Frontline Worker section of MHA’s COVID Hub or our Tools2Thrive toolkit. For immediate support 24/7, you can reach out to Magellan Health’s COVID-19 first responder crisis line at (800) 327-7451, the Disaster Distress Helpline at (800) 985-5990, or the Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741-741.