Why hold a grudge? Holding a grudge typically involves repeatedly reminding yourself how somebody wronged you and how they deserve your continued anger, disappointment, resentment, and retribution. It’s a unique self-inflicted pain requiring incessant internal reminders of being hurt by someone’s indifference, willful behavior, or obliviousness. Who would want to reignite the emotional distress of feeling dismissed, ignored, rejected, or hurt?
When you think about it like that, holding a grudge seems completely toxic to the person holding it. However, humans usually do things for very good reasons even though they may not be apparent at first blush. What could possibly be the benefit of holding a grudge? It helps you protect yourself. If you keep replaying and reminding yourself why you’re wary of somebody or avoid them, you protect yourself from future hurt. Another benefit is it’s easier to deal with feeling angry than it is to deal with feeling deeply disappointed, sad, or grief stricken. Anger can feel empowering while the other options might be draining and depressing.
Nobody really wants to hold a grudge, no matter what it looks like it to an observer or to the person the grudge is held against. The reason it’s so difficult to let go of a grudge, especially if it’s a reoccurring issue with someone, is part of you thinks if you don’t remind yourself this is how that person has operated in the past you’re much more likely to be negatively affected by their behavior in the future. Almost like a psychic pain inoculation.
Adding to the unpleasantness of holding a grudge is the self-downing that can come from knowing how people view you. You can be seen as petty, unforgiving, emotionally ungenerous and even self-destructive.
This really complicates things as it feels like a double hit: now you feel the inner dissonance of holding a grudge, and the sense that people are judging you for being slow to forgive. Their judgment can easily lead to self recrimination, even feelings of guilt and shame. I’m here to tell you that holding a grudge is just a self-protective mechanism. It doesn’t make you a bad or mean person. Everyone knows it doesn’t feel good to hold a grudge. The only reason you would do it is if it had some utility.
Forgiveness is wonderful when you’re ready to forgive. However, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. A grudge is simply entrenching a bad memory so you won’t let what caused it happen again. When seen in that light, it de-pathologizes your harsh self-judgment and gives you some psychic ammo to counteract the negative feedback you might get from friends and family who don’t want you to suffer.
As with all emotions, the more you allow yourself to feel them the sooner they evaporate. When you tell yourself you’re horrible for holding a grudge it only cements your resentment. It even refuels it as people’s negative judgments can easily make you more defensive. That defensiveness means you’re going to come up with more reasons why you feel the grudge and hold it more tightly.
The next time you’re harboring a grudge against somebody look at how that might be protecting you from potential future pain. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, to explore why you’re feeling it, and to consciously decide what the next best course of action with that person might be.
This is a good example of how creating a default of self compassion will always help you. Instead of lambasting yourself for not instantly forgiving someone, it allows you to gently and patiently explore your own reactions to their behavior. Ultimately, the kindness you show yourself redounds to everyone’s benefit.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang