Why It’s Bad To Hold Grudges & How Can You Let Go of Them?

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A grudge expects revenge and payback. But revenge doesn’t even the equation. And paybacks never satisfy either party. Click To Tweet

A grudge is something we do to ourselves.

Almost everyone you know would have hurt you at some point in your life. You might have even ended a few relationships because of the hurt they gave you. But you kept the anger and the anguish inside, as a grudge.

It pops up as memories and thoughts when you feel dispirited or frustrated, and rips open your vulnerable past.

What Is A Grudge?

Grudge is a typical emotion complex that negatively affects our personality, motivation, wellbeing, and achievements. The key components of a grudge are anger and resentment.

Why Do You Hold Grudges?

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 back something more than an apology.
  3. By holding onto a grudge, the victim can extract bigger tangible benefits, especially if the perpetrator is in a close relationship.
  4. The act of holding a grudge pressurizes the offending person to be wary of repeating the transgression.

Why Is A Grudge Bad?

Grudges are bad because they bottle up feelings of anger and remorse. Holding grudges can be unhealthy, displeasing, and stressful to the person holding them.

A grudge is a toxic desire to get back at someone who has wronged us. A grudge makes us seek vendetta and do things we might regret later in an even bigger way.

Grudges can hold us back from moving on with our lives. A grudge can demotivate us from working consistently on a hard task. It can frustrate us into abandoning our goals.

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

Instead of focusing on the positive, or moving forward positively, grudges keep our minds stuck in the past. This often leads to negatively fantasizing about our perpetrator’s losses and doom.

Some people take out their grudges on others, but there is an even worse way to handle it: to deny it exists at all. It is our defense mechanism to protect us from the fright or the fury of the wrongdoer.

By stifling the memory, we also gag the accompanying negative emotions. This stops us from building resilience (our ability to cope with adversity and adapt to changes) and flexibility (our ability to respond to difficult situations with actions based on current feedback).

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

How To Let Go of A Grudge?

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:

I. Forgive and Stop Expecting Compensation

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

We trigger a grudge when we forget people are imperfect and prone to mistakes, and we refuse to forgive them. But forgiving is the exact opposite of holding grudges.

And, forgiving doesn’t come easy. Often, it is a long process, from beginning to forgive to completely forgiving.

Many are resistant to and revolt at the idea of a pardon. Some even savagely criticize those who speak for forgiveness. Like this lady who responded 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!”

We suggest you understand the idea of forgiveness before deciding to forgive or not.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you accept and behave as if there was no wrongdoing. It doesn’t mean you have exonerated the perpetrator of all guilt, and they are free to do it again. It also doesn’t mean you automatically agree to heal and restore your relationship with the transgressor.

Forgiveness involves putting a stop to the negative effects of the violation in your mind and life.

By forgiving, you reject playing the victim’s role. It lets you choose your own happiness, instead of continuing to define yourself in terms of victimization.

Let’s explore forgiveness from a psychological point.

2 Dimensions of Forgiveness

Forgiveness has two independent dimensions:

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

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

The second dimension is secondary. You may choose not to return the relationship to normalcy. Forgiving does not mean you need to forget their vile act; you don’t.

forgiveness diemsions

4 Types of Forgiveness

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

  1. Hollow forgiveness (no intrapsychic but interpersonal) – when you tell them “I forgive you” but do not forgive them actually in your mind.
  2. Silent forgiveness (intrapsychic but no interpersonal) – when you forgive them in your mind, but do not let them know.
  3. Total forgiveness (both intrapsychic and intrapersonal) – when you forgive them in your heart and tell them you have forgiven them.
  4. No forgiveness (neither intrapsychic nor interpersonal) – 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.” And you have no responsibility for helping them release their guilt.

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Forgiving them means you will not seek any revenge or demand any compensation. When you forgive, 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. Click To Tweet
I. Psychology of Forgiveness: The Need to Forgive

II. Understand Your Grudge Better

After a while, it can be hard to remember what it was you are 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:

1. 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?”

2. Think and write all your grudges against them

It would be obvious to you what still makes you angry and bitter thinking of 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, bitterness against them. It will help you identify your emotions around your grudge.

3. Change your perspective and cut them some slack

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. Can you see that, in a way, we are social animals living in a world of many unwritten social contracts?

So, if a breach of contract happened, why should we expect them to compensate us before we let go of our grudge?

4. Replace the emotions whenever the hostile memories appear

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

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

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

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III. 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

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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 could be not so important for others but were exceptional achievements for you.

Choose one and do it regularly.

3. 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 start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the culture of work-from-home, almost all prestigious universities have released their courses for open 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.

4. 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, yours will be unique.

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

IV. Write A Grudge Letter

This is an offbeat way to handle your grudge. But it works. It is a simple process.

  1. Write a letter to the person you are holding a grudge against
  2. Write in details 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 forgiving
  5. Replace their thoughts with positive thoughts and actions

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, your grudge is against yourself.

It’s the memory of the times when someone didn’t appreciate our efforts, meant we are not good enough, behaved like we didn’t matter. For all those times, the grudge we grew was against us.

A 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.’

• • •

How Do You Begin The Process of Forgiving Yourself?

How Can You Build Trust In A Relationship After Cheating?

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, 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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