Your heart races, your muscles tense, you may even begin to sweat. You feel anger, aggression, resentment, humiliation, or annoyance. Someone offended you, mistreated you, or caused you pain, and you’ll never let yourself forget. And therein lies the problem. YOU never let YOURSELF forget. You relive the event, again and again, ruminating on the resulting thoughts and emotions, causing yourself undue excessive and prolonged grief and suffering without causing any distress to the focus of your grudge.
Holding a grudge is the feeling of deep-seated resentment or ill will. It is the recurring process of recalling past events as well as the thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions you felt during or shortly after the event. You feel disappointed about unmet expectations. You feel victimized and seek understanding and compassion you believe were withheld. Although a grudge feels uncomfortable, many people are unable or unwilling to let go of thoughts and emotions, leaving themselves stuck in the past, unable to fully enjoy the present, or effectively plan for the future.
The more you relive an event, the more vivid it becomes. Repetitive thoughts and emotions experienced over a prolonged time grow in intensity, leaving you with a much greater distress response than when the event occurred. Furthermore, reliving an event does not mean you remember it accurately. The stories you tell yourself can be reproduced into a completely different scenario, confirming your suspicions and justifying your emotions. You may even create new thoughts and emotions as your perception of the event changes, compounding the effects of your alleged hardship.
Unnecessary stress caused by holding a grudge is not only revealed in uninhibited thoughts and counterproductive emotions; reliving an event creates a circular pattern of emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions, impeding your ability to learn and grow as well as causing illnesses or ailments. My good friend and Tucson Chiropractor, Dr. Geoff Huls, often reminds me, “you can’t have a positive outcome from negative input.” His mantra is supported by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which endorses a complex mind-body connection in which counterproductive psychological, biological, and social factors disrupt your overall well-being, quality of relationships, and coping skills. Your body may respond to your grudge with high blood pressure, a stomach ulcer, back pain, fatigue, headaches, and sleep deprivation.
Not quite the response you were looking for.
Releasing a grudge and overcoming a distressing event from your past not only aids your healing and growth, but it may also lead to restorative attitudes and mindsets of others. The late Senator John McCain was shot down over Vietnam, captured, and held as a prisoner of war (POW) from 1967 until 1973. He was injured during ejection from the aircraft and was severely abused for several years. Before his death in 2018, he made more than 20 visits to Vietnam, including the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where he spent most of his time as a POW and helped normalize U.S.-Vietnamese relations.
Although he was quoted in 2000 as yet unable to forgive the prison guards, he continued his diplomatic approach, eventually overcoming his feelings, and found warm welcomes during every visit. Even previous enemies, including former prison guards, praised McCain for his toughness, stubbornness, and empathy, eventually expressing their admiration and compassion following his death.
Steps to overcome a grudge:
The importance of releasing and overcoming grudges is evident. However, the path toward freedom from the burden can be elusive, especially when recurring thoughts and emotions have created mental shortcuts and thinking traps. These overly rigid patterns in thinking, reinforced by your beliefs, narrow your field of vision, and lead you to miss important information. The stronger the belief, the harder it is to change. When you experience recurring damaging beliefs, they become evidence for your thinking pattern, support detrimental thoughts, and undermine your resilience, effectiveness, and well-being by keeping you from seeing the situation accurately.
Things happen. More often than not, you will not be able to prevent events from happening. The most successful people I know are able to say, “That happened. Now what?” They focus on the learning opportunity and control what they can control.
Focusing on what you can’t control leads to fear, anxiety, and a victim mentality. Divert your attention away from the person and event while focusing on the lived experience and learning opportunity.
Authority is empowerment. When you hold a grudge, you do not own the grudge. It owns you. You are giving up your authority and power and giving it to the object of your grudge. Take that part of your life back, so they no longer have authority over you. You can’t do anything with the emotion you don’t own, so process all emotions because all emotions are valid. If you feel it, own it with the intent of effectively processing and letting it go.
Looking at all contributing factors allows you to analyze all potential causes, take responsibility for your actions, and identify areas needing growth and development. Talk to a trusted mentor or friend and give them permission to be impartial. They may be able to provide the perspective you did not consider. Your ability to see your part in the event will significantly impact your ability to learn and grow. In the case of a true victim, where the event was no fault of your own, a therapist or counselor can facilitate healing, but the decision to enter the healing process is yours alone.
Forgive and let it go. Forgiveness does not mean you condone the action or behavior. You can move on and release your burden without tolerating further association with the person or similar behavior from others.
“Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” – Jonathan Lockwood Huie