Grudges: Why It’s Bad To Hold Them And How To Let Them Go

A grudge is like a stray bullet inside our head that keeps us in constant danger.

Almost everyone you know has hurt you at some point in your life (as the R.E.M. song goes, Everybody Hurts, Someday). You could have even ended a few relationships because of the damage they caused you.

However, when most of them went off their own ways, you held on to the anger and the bitterness, as a grudge. It pops up as memories and thoughts at times when you feel sad or frustrated, ripping open your vulnerable past.

A grudge seeks revenge & payback. But revenge doesn’t settle the score & paybacks don't please either. In the end, a grudge is a dangerous tool that we use to hurt ourselves. Click To Tweet

What Is A Grudge?

A grudge is a toxic desire to exact revenge on someone who has wronged us and make them pay us back. It frequently leads to actions that the grudge-holder later greatly regrets. The key components of a grudge are anger and resentment.

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

Grudge: Why It’s Bad And Why You Shouldn’t Hold It

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.

Grudge seeks revenge

Here are the reasons why holding grudges are harmful:

▪ People who hold grudges tend to engage in black-and-white thinking (also known as all-or-nothing thinking). In this, people view the world and others’ actions as either all good or all bad — without any room for in-between possibilities.

▪ 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 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).

[• You’d love to check this out: How To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve And Calm Down]

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

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

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.

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.” 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. 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 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:

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?”

Video by HIP.

2. 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.

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. (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?

4. 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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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

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, 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.

IV. 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 forgiving.
  5. Replace their thoughts with positive thoughts and actions.

Why Do You Hold On To 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 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.

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, it was a grudge we built against ourselves, also called self-grudge.

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 Rebuild Trust In A Relationship After Cheating?

• • •

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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