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The Many Problems Holding a Grudge Can Cause

Learning to let things go can dramatically improve your life.

Key points

  • Resentment cannt sustain people; instead, it drains them.
  • Holding a grudge typically becomes a struggle with yourself, not one vs. the target of your anger.
  • Letting go of the past and the animosity it stirs up can allow people to live healthier, happier, and longer lives.

Holding onto grudges, anger, resentment, or revenge fantasies will never harm your target more than it will harm you. The only person affected by such negative feelings is the one holding onto them. In fact, the longer we hold onto these negative feelings, the greater the damage they can do to our psychological and physical well-being. Sadly, collateral damage can also befall our remaining relationships. The more energy we mentally invest on the grudge and the specific target of our resentment, the more we crowd out the healthy and positive feelings we would normally feel for those we actually care about.

When you hold a grudge, while it may seem like you have "control" of a situation, and maybe even use that negative experience as a motivator to make promises to yourself like "I won't let that happen again." But you are actually giving that other person control of your motivations, thoughts, and behaviors. You are giving away your own sense of agency by allowing someone else to have an unearned influence over your choices.

Grudge Match: You vs. You

One of the most contradictory aspects of holding a grudge is the focus on what someone else did to you at some point in the past. Yet holding onto a grudge is all about what you are doing to you in the present. Ruminating on negative thoughts or encouraging others to join you in your rehashing of the past keeps those feelings of anger pumping stress hormones through your body. Having a source of stress always on your mind can lead to issues related to the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, its buildup can wreak havoc on the body’s natural functioning. Along with elevating blood pressure and heart rate, it can contribute to heart disease and metabolic issues such as diabetes and obesity. Not only that, but it keeps your breathing from being deep and full as your body gets locked in "fight-or-flight mode." If stress is ruling your thoughts, you're also more likely to have a clumsy accident, miss a turn, run into something, etc.

Psychologically, holding onto a grudge can contribute to the development of depression, which in turn may encourage you to isolate from others, sap your energy, and leave you unwilling to get off the couch or out of the house. Insomnia or oversleeping are additional common symptoms. For some, depression isn’t expressed or felt so much as “sadness,” but as anger or hostility. Nourished by a grudge, such feelings can lock you out even more from your normal way of living and engaging with others. When you carry a grudge, you carry a burden that only you can choose to put down. In effect, grudges are suffocating, keeping you from being able to breathe deeply, be present, and engage with the world around you.

Letting Bygones Be Bygones

To get past the resentment and a grudge, you need to accept that the event happened, and that it left unpleasant feelings and negative emotions in its wake. Then you need to acknowledge that it is better to take control of your emotions in the present and choose either to address them directly with the target of your grudge or to take the significant step of letting it go and getting on with the present and the people who matter to you right now. As much as it might hurt to admit it, the target of your grudge probably wasn’t threatened by your hostile feelings, nor will they be much affected by your decision to let it go. That’s why a grudge is really all about you vs. you.

It can be hard to give up a “cherished hurt,” as it can be comforting somehow to play the hurtful experience over and over again in your head. Doing so somehow justifies our anger and the grudge. But we need to realize that life moves forward and every moment we polish and cherish a grudge is a moment we allow that other person to keep up locked in the past. They say that living well is the best revenge. When it comes to moving beyond past grievances, no matter how well founded, letting go and moving forward is the choice that will allow you to live the best life that you can.