Are there people in your life who you’re still angry at for what they did to you many years ago? Maybe a parent was unkind to you during your childhood or a colleague at work mistreated you for years. All of us have someone or something we hold negative feelings towards. The question is, who is your grudge hurting more: you or them?
Holding Grudges from the Past
I have met far too many people in life who are drowning in emotional debt. I’ve met people in their fifties who are still angry at their father for what he did or said when they were twelve and people in their thirties still upset and humiliated by what a kid said about them in the playground when they were five years old.
All of our negative memories in life harbour negative emotional connections, but sometimes we don’t even need memories to harbour negative feelings towards somebody. There will be people in your life who you feel angry, frustrated, upset or hurt by and you can’t exactly remember the specifics as to why you feel this way about them, you just do. Just thinking about certain places, people or years of our lives can bring about a bad taste in our mouths, make our hearts beat faster or our cheeks burn up.
These negative emotions we experience from holding onto a grudge are, in reality, stress responses. Stress responses can be life-saving when a threat is imminent, but ancient threats are not conducive to our survival or our mental wellbeing. Yet despite how awful they make us feel, we hold onto grudges either because we want to self-flagellate, remain a victim or to silently punish those who wronged us. Our internal anger, resentment, hatred, hurt or humiliation mutate into powerful and destructive wraths, but the only victim inflicted with our intense passion is ourselves.
“The grudge you hold on to is like a hot coal that you intend to throw at someone, only you’re the one who gets burned.”– Gautama Buddha
All of us know that stress is unhealthy, yet most of us fail to recognise grudges and emotional baggage as stress. Long-term stress has devastating health consequences including high blood pressure, weight gain and increased risk of heart disease. As they say, holding onto a grudge in the hope that it will punish those who wronged you is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die and it’s important to start recognising that emotional grudges take all forms. The only grudges we’re ever exposed to are those embedded in anger: where one person develops intense hatred for another for something they did or said, but emotional grudges aren’t always this easy to identify.
You can hold an emotional grudge against a town, a restaurant or an item of food because you associate it with something negative. The underlying cause of your commitment of intimacy issues may be because you’re holding onto hurt from a previous relationship (platonic, romantic or familial) which you’re unaware of.
Emotional grudges not only impede our growth and mental stability, but they can also hold us back from living the life we want. You may have told yourself you’re not into reading when, in actuality, you’re holding yourself back from reading books because of the buried resentment you have for your English teacher at school. Or, you may not visit a particular place that you used to love because it reminds you of someone who hurt you.
People who hold onto grudges are waiting for the person or thing they’re holding a grudge against to make it up to them, either on an unconscious or conscious level. They’re holding out hope that their prolonged feelings of hurt and anger will be atoned by the offender who should feel, morally, in their debt.
Begrudged individuals take on the mindset of a creditor: they believe an emotional debt is owed to them by the offender, and for every year that passes without repayment, the emotional debt accrues more and more interest.
The main fault in this approach is the begrudged’s assumption that they are owed an atonement.
A Healthier Perspective
We aren’t owed anything in life. We aren’t owed apologies, forgiveness, acceptance, good fortune, happiness or success. You can waste your life, energy and good health holding onto emotionally draining and toxic grudges, hoping the offender will come along, redeem themselves and free you from this internal haunting or you can take control of your life and free yourself.
Gandhi taught us that “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong” because it requires courage, discipline and, above all, modesty. Forgiveness requires you to get over yourself and your hurt feelings and take back control of yourself. Forgiveness isn’t about condoning what another person has said or done to you; forgiveness, for all intents and purposes, is an act of self-respect. Forgiveness should be given for the sake of your health and mental well-being; it’s part of your process of moving on and growing up. It doesn’t mean you’re allowing the offender to repeat their offence, nor are you undermining your experience; you are merely acknowledging what you felt and moving past the thoughts and feelings which are holding you back from living your best life.
Let go of your emotional baggage and grudges, not for the sake of those who have hurt you but for yourself and the other people in your life who deserve to experience your best self at all times.