Are you still angry at someone for what they did to you years ago: an unkind parent, a colleague who bullied you or a friend who backstabbed you? Everyone holds negatives feelings towards someone or something. The question is, who is your grudge hurting more: you or them?
Holding Grudges from the Past
I have met far too many people drowning in emotional debt
, from men in their fifties who are still angry at their father to women in their thirties upset and humiliated by what a kid in the playground said about them.
It’s easy to harbour negative emotions. Negative emotions lie in negative memories and negative perceptions. There will be people who you feel angry, frustrated, upset or hurt by, but you can’t remember or work out why you feel this way. Or there will be places, images, objects and pictures which will bring about a bad taste in your mouth, make your heart beat faster or cheeks burn up.
The negative emotions you experience from holding onto a grudge are stress responses. Stress responses can be life-saving when a threat is imminent, but ancient threats are not conducive to your survival or mental wellbeing.
People know holding onto grudges is unhealthy and distressing, but they continue to self-flagellate to hold on to their victim status and silently punish those who wronged them. Internal anger, resentment, hatred, hurt and humiliation can mutate into powerful and destructive wraths, but the only victim inflicted by your intense passion is yourself.
“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
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.
It’s vital to recognise that emotional grudges take all forms. You are only ever exposed to grudges embedded in anger where one person develops an intense hatred for another for something they did or said. Still, 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 or intimacy issues may be because you’re subconsciously holding onto hurt from a previous relationship (platonic, romantic or familial).
Emotional grudges not only impede your growth and mental stability, but they can also hold you back from living the life you want. You may have told yourself you’re not into reading when, in actuality, you’re holding yourself back from reading because of buried resentment you have for a teacher. 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 wait 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 assumption the begrudged has that they deserve an atonement.
A Healthier Perspective
You aren’t owed anything in life: 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 is an act of self-respect.
The healthiest approach to forgiveness is to give it for the sake of your health and mental well-being and see it as part of your process of moving on and growing up. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you’re allowing the offender to repeat their offence, nor are you undermining your experience. When you forgive someone, you merely acknowledge what you felt and move 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 your offenders but for yourself. You and the people around you deserve to experience your best self at all times.