Holding onto a grudge is something that, being human, we do. At one time or another, you probably have found someone's behavior or intentions unforgivable. But holding a grudge is harmful and counterproductive. A grudge works like a slow leak, a small hole through which your energy continually seeps.
Letting go of a grudge is actually healing. Finding a more constructive way to deal with your feelings is the key - you don't have to wait for the offending person to apologize.
Why Do We Hold onto Grudges?
Grudges stay with you, like chewing gum on the bottom of your shoe. You probably have a belief that holding onto resentment will prevent you from ever being taken advantage of again. Ironically, a grudge maintains the illusion of having control while actually making you more vulnerable.
For example, if your co-worker is giving a special presentation at a staff meeting, you may decide not to attend because of a grudge you hold against her. As a result, you are uninformed of a crucial decision made at the meeting, and this may affect your job performance.
Maybe you hold onto a grudge because you want to get even. You may believe that letting go of your grudge is too easy on the other person. In reality, revenge is rarely satisfying.
The Mental Stress
A grudge and the need to get even can become all-consuming. As you replay what happened to you over and over again in your mind, the sense of being wronged grows disproportionately. The intense negative emotions you feel begin to drain you of mental energy, not the energy of the person you are angry with.
The Physical Stress
Anger doesn't just affect your head. According to the Mayo Clinic and the American College of Cardiology Anger can cause an irregular heart beat, and potentially contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and other health problems.
The Block to Progress
As long as you nurse a grudge, you don't think about constructive solutions to problem. The grudge "blinds" you. Expressing the hurt and asking for an apology builds assertiveness and the ability to move on.
How to Get Rid of a Grudge
- Review the situation carefully and calmly
- Determine if the slight was real or imagined
- Think of alternative explanations - put yourself in the other person's shoes
- Did the person really mean to hurt you?
- If they were insensitive, was it deliberate or an accident?
Practice having a conversation with yourself. It might sound like this:
The Grudge: "If I'm nice to others, they should be nice to me."
The Nudge: "It would be great if the world worked that way, but it doesn't. I'm wise enough to realize that people aren't always fair or nice."
The Grudge: "I just can't stand that this has happened to me."
The Nudge: "Of course I can stand it. I don't have to cave in emotionally and turn all my good feelings over to this one bad incident."
The Grudge: "That person is evil and horrible and deserves my hatred."
The Nudge: "This person is human, like me. They have bad days, problems in their lives and pressures that I don't know about. I can't control all the difficult people I meet in life, but I can control how much I let them get to me."
A Ritual Letting Go
Still Struggling to let go? For some people, a personal ritual that symbolizes the internal struggle can help you let go. Your serious side may say you're being silly, but if it gets you back on track, try it. Here are some examples that others have used:
Banish the grudge - write your feelings down, put them in an envelope and send them to a fictional address in Siberia (skip the return address). Chances are the letter will never reach Siberia, but it won't find its way back to you either.
Record the grudge - talk about your feelings while you record them. Yell, curse or cry, but get it out of your system. When you are finished drop the CD in a recycling bin, record over it or save it for some day in the future when you can laugh at the moment.
Whatever the method, the important thing is to concentrate on the good feeling of letting go.
Written by Marcia Carteret, M.Ed. and Interculturalist. Ms. Carteret is a writer and lecturer on a range of mental and physical healthcare topics. She has been a regular contributor and consultant to COPE. To learn more about Marcia go to www.dimensionsofculture.com.
Edited by Mary Sue Mcclain
COPElines are published by COPE, Inc.
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