holding a grudge

Are You Holding a Grudge?

I heard recently of a man who’s holding a grudge, who hasn’t spoken to his father in over a decade. The two had a falling out, and though the son can’t remember exactly what the problem was, he’s adamant that he is not going to be the one to try to put things right. How sad—10 years of a relationship lost, which can never be recovered. Some people who carry a long-term grudge think it doesn’t impact the rest of their lives. But the reality is that it’s hard to truly silo these kinds of strong emotions—they tend to leak out into other parts of life, no matter how much we try to stop that from happening.

Untreated resentment goes underground but pops up elsewhere in the form of mistrust, cynicism, irritability, and defensiveness. If you’re holding a grudge, admit it and deal with it—not only for yourself but for the people around you who may be the current victims of your past problem. Here are four steps for letting go of that grudge and moving forward in your life.

1. Face the hurt.

Don’t run away from your feelings or try to relieve them too quickly.

Take some time to identify and acknowledge why you are hurt. Perhaps these 3 Ways to Get to the Root of Anger will help. Only by knowing exactly what your pain is can you start to deal with it. Don’t run away from your feelings or try to relieve them too quickly. Name what happened. Give yourself time and space to acknowledge what the impact has been. When you know the size and shape of what you are dealing with, it is easier to handle.

2. Seek some perspective.

Difficult as it may be, try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Sometimes people do terrible, unconscionable things to others who truly are innocent victims. But often, we bear some measure of responsibility for what happened. No, that father never should have spoken so unkindly to his son. But perhaps the son needs at least to acknowledge the years of his rebellion and ingratitude that preceded his father’s hurtful outburst. Those actions don’t excuse what the father may have said or done, but they may give some perspective.

3. Own your part.

After you’ve gained perspective, be willing to acknowledge your part in what may have gone wrong. It can be taxing to take the high road—you have to work hard as you climb—but you see the rest of life much more clearly when you gain some altitude. And maybe showing your willingness to admit mistakes might be the nudge the other person needs to do the same. There is no guarantee, of course, but at least you have done everything in your power to accept responsibility. There have been occasions when my wife Susan and I have been in conflict and the times I think she’s been mostly “at fault,” I have chosen to focus on understanding and asking for forgiveness for the part I played in it all. She’s done the same.

4. Bring it up and let it go.

If you plan to talk to the person face-to-face, make sure you first spend some time considering The Right Way to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation. If you are not able to meet in person, consider calling or writing a letter. If you are able to share with the other person what you remember about the source of your conflict, admit any mistakes you may have made in it, and clearly but calmly explain why you have been mad at him or her, the person may be ready to acknowledge his or her part and ask for your forgiveness.

Maybe that’s not possible because that person won’t speak to you or is no longer alive. If that’s the case, choose to forgive even so. Remember the old saying that living in unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s not a question of choosing to forgive and forget. It’s about remembering and choosing to forgive so you don’t feel the need to keep remembering and holding a grudge. When you’re no longer nursing a grudge, you free up a lot of energy and emotion that was tied up in yesterday to invest in your life today and tomorrow.

Sound off: Can you think of someone against whom you are holding a grudge? What might you gain by facing it and moving on?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there someone you are mad at? How can you get past it?”