How Do You Stop Holding Grudges (And Why You Should)

A grudge is a stray bullet in your head. It keeps inflicting little injuries until you die.

Everyone you know has at some point hurt you in some way. Some you forgave. Some you broke up with because they had turned toxic.

Some stayed on for a long time because you were late to see the harm they were causing. Relationships with a narcissist are often like that.

When they finally leave, you are left holding a bag of grudges.

That rage and hate keep returning, making you restless to seek vengeance.

What Is A Grudge

A grudge is a toxic urge to wreak revenge on someone who has wronged us. Grudges frequently lead to actions (to make the offender pay back) that the grudge-holder later regrets. The key components of a grudge are anger and resentment.

A grudge is a typical emotional complex that negatively affects our personality, motivation, well-being, and achievements.

Why Do You Hold A Grudge

There can be 4 reasons for holding grudges:

  1. Holding a grudge places the victim on a moral high ground, a position borne out of righteous indignation. They often don’t want to give up their vantage point.
  2. A grudge keeps the offender captive in the victim’s mind with the belief they owe a recompense. If they offended you, then they must pay something back in addition to an apology.
  3. By holding onto a grudge, the victim can extract larger tangible benefits, especially if the perpetrator is in a close relationship with them.
  4. The act of holding a grudge pressurizes the offending person to be wary of repeating the transgression.

Why You Should Stop Holding Grudges

You should stop holding grudges because they store anger and remorse, both unhealthy emotions that keep your stress levels high. Self-forgiveness allows you to go forward without being held back by the past.

Here are the reasons why you should stop holding grudges:

1. Grudges Drive Unhelpful Actions

Grudges drive us to unleash our rage on the culprit.

However, acting on a grudge isn’t helpful because the vengeance obtained isn’t always an equalizer.

Moreover, revenge frequently returns as a bigger source of grudge. Vengeance feeds on itself and often becomes a vicious cycle.

And if the offender pays back the victim, whether by consent or by force, the victim may not feel fully compensated.

2. Grudges Cause Biased Thinking

People who hold grudges tend to engage in black-and-white thinking. This bias is also known as all-or-nothing thinking.

In this bias, people view the world and others’ actions as either all good or all bad — without any room for in-between possibilities.

3. Grudges Stop Progress

Grudges can hold us back from moving on with our lives.

Grudges keep our brains trapped in the past, rather than focusing on the positive or moving forward.

Holding a grudge prevents a person from progressing in life because it keeps them frozen in the moment when they were victims of wrongdoing.

A grudge can demotivate us from working consistently on a hard task. It can frustrate us into abandoning our goals.

4. Grudges Intensify Pains

A grudge replays the emotional pain when someone hurt us, causing us to relive the negative experience over and over again.

Holding grudges often leads to negative fantasies about our perpetrator’s losses and doom. Now, when the offender doesn’t incur the losses we fantasize about, it makes us even more bitter.

Grudges worsen our emotional agony, particularly when the opponent is too powerful, and can lead to self-harm.

A grudge is a dangerous weapon to hold because it hurts the owner before it hurts the target.

5. Grudges Stop Processing of Negative Emotions

Grudges drive us to vent our frustrations on others.

But there is an even worse way to deal with it: deny that it even exists.

Denial is the defense mechanism that protects us from a powerful offender’s terror or wrath.

By stifling the painful memory, we also gag the accompanying negative emotions.

When we don’t process our difficult emotions but escape or avoid them, it stops us from:

  • building resilience (our ability to cope with adversity and adapt to changes), and
  • developing flexibility (our ability to respond to difficult situations with actions based on current feedback).

A grudge seeks revenge and payback. But revenge doesn’t settle the score and paybacks don’t please either.

According to a 2021 study, tolerance of negative emotions and confrontation with one’s behavior are both elements of the self-forgiveness process.

Grudge seeks revenge

So we do need to let go of our grudges. But how to go about it?

How Do You Stop Holding Grudges

If you’re still weighing up whether it’s a good idea to let go of your ill-will against those who have wronged you, beware that holding grudges can corrode your happiness and peace.

So, here are a few highly effective ways to let go of your grudges:

1. Forgive And Stop Expecting Compensation

Forgiveness is the best and most recommended way to release your grudges.

We trigger a grudge when we forget that people are imperfect and prone to mistakes, and we refuse to forgive them.

Forgiving is the opposite of holding grudges. Grudges trap you in bitterness, whereas forgiveness brings peace to your mind.

Of course, forgiving doesn’t come easy. Learning to forgive to forgiving completely can be a long journey.

Many are resistant to and revolt at the idea of granting a pardon. Some even savagely criticize those who speak for forgiveness.

Like this woman who wrote on a social media post:

“I do not believe in forgiveness. Adults make choices, and bad choices have consequences. It’s on them. Not me!”

a. What Forgiveness Is Not

Let us understand the idea of forgiveness before deciding to forgive or not.

  • Forgiveness does not mean you accept and behave as if there was never any wrongdoing.
  • It does not mean you’ve absolved the perpetrator of their guilt, so they’re free to repeat it.
  • It also does not mean you have agreed to heal your relationship with the transgressor.
  • Finally, it does not automatically restore your trust in them.

Forgiveness is for you, first. It is putting an end to the emotional and physical pain that the violation is giving you.

By forgiving them, you reject playing the victim’s role. It lets you choose your own happiness, instead of continuing to define yourself in terms of victimization. Forgiving is not forgetting.

Let’s explore forgiveness from a psychological point.

b. Parts of Forgiveness

Forgiveness has two parts that are independent of each other:

  1. Letting go of inner anger and resentment (intrapsychic state), and
  2. Telling the offending person “I forgive you” (interpersonal act).

The first part of forgiveness is the most essential part of forgiveness. Forgiving someone essentially means you stop feeling angry or resentful over the transgression.

The second part of forgiveness is secondary. You may choose not to return the relationship to normalcy.

forgiveness diemsions
2 Parts of Forgiveness

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

― Mahatma Gandhi

c. Types of Forgiveness

Based on these two dimensions, there can be four types of forgiveness:

  1. Hollow forgiveness: when you tell them “I forgive you” but do not forgive them actually in your mind.
  2. Silent forgiveness: when you forgive them in your mind but do not let them know.
  3. Total forgiveness: when you forgive them in your heart and tell them you have forgiven them.
  4. No forgiveness: when you continue holding a grudge against them.

To forgive is to release the mental space occupied by your grudges. It means you cancel the debt you think they owe you.

While forgiving, there is no need to let them know you are forgiving them; you can forgive them “silently.” You have no responsibility for helping them release their guilt.

Forgiving them means you will not seek any revenge or demand any compensation. When you forgive them, you no more expect them to make amends for their past transgression.

Letting go of your grudge against a person is like forgiving a debt; you stop expecting the debtor to pay it back.

I. Psychology of Forgiveness: The Need to Forgive

A grudge seeks revenge. And the best revenge is a life well lived.

2. Understand Your Grudge Better

After a while, it can be hard to remember what it was you were grumbling about in the first place. Sometimes, you might have long since forgotten why you’re still angry, but by then the grudge has taken on a life of its own.

A few steps to know your grudge better:

a. Find the one you hold the most grudge against

It is fairly easy, as it’s usually someone you are or were close to. If it doesn’t seem obvious, ask yourself, “Whom I haven’t forgiven ever for what she/he did to me?”

b. Think and write all your grudges against them

It would be obvious to you what still makes you angry and bitter thinking about them. You may or may not go over the entire incident in your mind again.

What’s more crucial is you ask yourself what scars they left on you.

  • Did they make you develop a deep distrust towards all people?
  • Did they destroy your self-confidence and self-respect?
  • Did they replace your positivity and joviality with negativity and anxiety?

Then write down why you still harbor hatred, anger, and bitterness against them. It will help you identify your emotions around your grudge.

c. Change your perspective and give them some leeway.

Think of it this way. The person you accused might have already suffered enough. They might still be going through their painful process of guilt.

Our history of tribalism combined with our need to be liked by our social network—is a recipe for suffering and pain. (For your info, Facebook envy is real.)

In a way, we are social animals living in a world with many unwritten social contracts. So if we believe a breach of contract happened, they are okay to not realize it—it wasn’t written anywhere.

Then why should we expect them to compensate us for letting go of our grudge?

Forgiving a villainous person is like:

“Forgiven. Expelled from my life. No future access permitted.”

d. Replace the emotions whenever hostile memories appear

When the memory of that transgression surfaces, decide beforehand what you will get yourself busy with to turn the emotion dial.

Tell yourself you will get up and dance your heart out for 5 minutes whenever you remember the hurt.

Pack your bags to visit a new place. Even a trip to an art gallery in your city or to the nearest town might be helpful, as traveling makes us happier.

Forgiving does not mean you forget their cruel act.

You could choose any activity that suits your temperament, mood, situation, and time.

One proven way to turn your mood for the better is to express gratitude for all your positive achievements.


3. Find A New Passion or Hobby

Unfortunately, most grudges are long-lasting and sometimes stick to us like leeches for life. We need to indulge ourselves in a new passion to get over them.

a. Rediscover your long-ignored talents

Find an activity that used to make you relaxed and get happier, but something you stopped doing. Sit down and think for a while: did you love making simple cartoons to explain something to a group?

Or something else? Pick up that activity. Do it once and see if you want to keep it up or do something else.

Then do it regularly.

b. Write down your greatest positive achievements

It is an easy activity. What were you praised for, by anyone, in your entire life? Write each of those.

Think of everything that makes you unique among your social circle and family. Write them down.

Find out what things you did you were particularly proud of. They may not be so important for others but were exceptional achievements for you.

Choose one and do it regularly.

c. Start a new course of learning

If you can’t seem to find anything from your past to your interest, then start something new.

Since the Covid pandemic, many prestigious universities have released their courses for online access.

Go ahead and find something you could learn with deep interest. We have listed some open courses on Positive Psychology here.

You might subscribe to a YouTube channel on creativity, history, or science (like Scientific American), and go through the lessons for free.

✶Try learning Stoicism—an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy that is so practicable even today.

d. Share your passion with the world

Once you feel you have learned enough, start to showcase your knowledge and skills to the world. It serves two purposes. One, it helps you hone your expertise. Two, it gives you a chance to give back to the world.

You might start a blog or a podcast or a video channel. Even if there are countless other blogs and podcasts, you can make yours unique.

One podcast we are so much in love with is Scott Barry Kaufman’s The Psychology Podcast.

Once you start expressing yourself before the world, you will gradually grow your own style and voice.

4. Write A Grudge Letter

This is an offbeat way to handle your grudge. But it works. A simple, straightforward process, writing can heal us.

  1. Write a letter to the person you are holding a grudge against.
  2. Write in detail about how you feel about them in the letter.
  3. Do not post it. Burn it, shred it, or destroy it any other way.
  4. Do not speak to them or contact them about your forgiveness.
  5. Replace their thoughts with positive thoughts and actions.

How To Deal With Someone Who Has A Grudge Against You?


What personality type holds grudges?

Any type of personality is capable of holding grudges. However, a highly sensitive person (HSP), a narcissist, and an antisocial person are more prone to holding grudges.

Those unlikely to hold grudges are compassionate, altruistic, and kindhearted persons.

Some other types who do not tend to hold grudges are people who are forgetful, successful in their careers, and nonviolent.

What is a person called who holds grudges?

People holding grudges are often called vindictive, bitter, spiteful, revengeful, resentful, vendetta-seeking, antipathic, implacable, and rancorous.

Related Reading:

Final Words

Your grudge can be against anyone from your social circle. It could be your own personal outrage against someone you came across, or it could be generally directed against the world or society.

But sometimes you hold a grudge against yourself. It’s the memory of times when someone didn’t appreciate your efforts, made you feel useless, and acted as if you didn’t matter.

Self-grudges are quite common (just ask yourself). Unresolved, they can turn into shame and guilt.

Self-grudge often reshapes itself into guilt. And guilt, by definition, is marked by unpleasant emotions and self-criticism. (Baumeister & Stillwell, 1994)

If you’ve had your fair share of self-grudges, then note that if you can forgive the world, then you can forgive yourself too.

Let’s close this with a fitting quote by Chloe Neill: ‘The best revenge is a life well lived.’

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

• Our story: Happiness Project

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