On Grudges and the Importance of Letting Go

“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.”

Posted Aug 14, 2015

Source: iStock

If someone has ever held a grudge against you, you know how trying and tiring it is. You feel like they need to just “move on,” especially if you have apologized and offered a mea culpa. Even if you haven’t, you might think the passage of time is enough to let bygones be bygones. Of course, sometimes it’s a bit different when someone wrongs you. Being wronged can hurt, and it could engender all sorts of negative feelings towards your wrong-doer. It is normal to feel upset or angry with other people sometimes, however it’s not healthy to be stuck in the same state of hostility and internal unrest for extended periods of time. Grudge-holders tend to amplify their hurt and intensify the negative emotions, and they also tend to prolong their own suffering as a way of letting others – especially the wrong-doer – know that they have been mistreated. Meant as a tactic to “teach a lesson” to a wrong-doer, it never works the way they intended; the one who really suffers is not the wrong-doer – it’s the grudge-holder. 

So why is it so easy to form a grudge and so hard to let go of it? Many people hold on to their grudges for years, even when the party who had hurt them has long since moved on (or even passed away) and no one seems to remember the entire matter. Despite the fact that grudges are painful and require energy to perpetuate, grudge-holders believe that grudges can be justified, in some instances even encouraged. For those who have never held a grudge against another person it might be challenging to comprehend the grudge-holder’s point of view and characteristic rationale, which typically includes:

  • It’s easier to hate than forgive someone
  • Not everyone deserves forgiveness
  • Grudges help shield oneself against future hurt
  • Grudges help guard oneself from wicked people
  • Grudges help oneself feel “being right”
  • Grudges feel satisfying as a way of punishing the wrong-doer
  • Grudges can give a sense of purpose to a grudge-holder
  • Grudges can help recover from a serious offence and stand up for oneself in the future

The wording of their reasons varies, yet it essentially comes down to the same point – protection and comforting of the self. Even though a grudge-holder’s anger and bitterness are directed toward the person who wronged them, grudges are really not about penalizing the wrong-doers – they are about consoling those who’ve been wronged. What grudge-holders don’t realize, however, is that holding on doesn’t make the wrong be righted.  

Speaking of aggression, if you happen to hold a grudge against someone, don’t bottle up your emotions and negative feelings; doing so increases production of a stress hormone in your body and can cause a host of serious health problems. While passive-aggressive grudge-holders suffer longer than those who find a constructive way to release their frustration or those who are able to forgive, a study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that people who give in to outbursts of anger as a way of coping with the pent-up negativity are at considerably higher risk of cardiovascular complications following the episodes of anger.

While forgiveness is the most frequently cited remedy for ridding oneself of a grudge and moving forward with life, it certainly doesn’t come easily to most of us. If you find yourself willing to let go of your grudge but held back by your negative feelings and inability to forgive the wrong-doer, explore some of these five steps to identify what’s in your way of letting go, and how to finally release the negativity from your life:

Identify your triggers. What is the source of your grudge? No, it’s not that person you just thought of. It is what that person has done to hurt you, and its aftermath, and what that hurt means to you. There may be multiple components to your grudge, so you need to analyze what actually happened between you and your wrong-doer. Did you two discuss the incident? Was that person really wrong or was it a misunderstanding? Was it truly a major offense or just an unfortunate accident? Be honest with yourself! Did he or she apologize? If so, why are you still discontented and unable to put the matter to rest? Did the wrong-doer hit a nerve of something very dear to you? Did they apologize in a manner you felt was inadequate for the “crime”? Once you have your answers, try to impartially reconcile the intensity of your grudge with the severity of the said misconduct; your grudge can grow more exaggerated with time, and the real reason for your anger may not be worth the energy spent on sustaining your grudge.

Acknowledge your feelings. All of them. Anger might be the strongest emotion you can identify, but it rarely walks alone. Resentment, frustration, sadness, envy and jealousy are some of the less obvious yet very potent feelings that feed into your grudge. Don’t try to deny or ignore them if you really want to overcome your grudge. Recognize the emotions and then make a conscious choice to release them. You can put a time limit; say, “I will be sad for the next two hours and then I will let the sadness go forever.” It’s like losing a part of you at first, but then you might find you can fill the emptiness with something more positive and creative.

Let the past stay in the past. Let’s face it, every moment is a new one and holding grudges is not productive. It doesn’t punish the other person, it doesn’t teach him or her a lesson; more often than not, it doesn’t even bother your wrong-doer that you are holding a grudge. The only person whose life your grudge is affecting is you. Stop dwelling on it. Leave the grudge behind. Stop punishing yourself, and spend that time and energy on things that make you happy. Grudges get in the way of your progress in life; live in the “now” and make the most of the relationships and opportunities that each day has to offer.

Focus on you. Do it for yourself. By making yourself miserable you are actually doing your wrong-doer’s job. Doesn’t your well-being matter to you? Be optimistic and talk to yourself positively: you are powerful because you don’t let the wrong-doing affect you; you are strong-willed because you don’t let your grudge take over your life; you are magnanimous because you choose to forgive or forget the one who wronged you.

Be patient with yourself. The longer you hold on to the grudge, the harder it will be to let go of it and the more damage it will do to you. But once you have set your mind to overcoming your grudge, you can allow yourself some time for it. Healing is a process that requires time and patience, and so does forgiveness. For your own sake, try to forgive the other party. Sometimes there is little justification for what was done to you and forgiveness is not an option; in that case, do your best to forget and let go of any feelings associated with it – and do it for you.