When someone hurts us or betrays our trust in some way, it can be pretty easy to hold a grudge against them for days, weeks, months, or even years. A grudge is defined as a “feeling of ill will or resentment” usually “harbored because of some real or fancied wrong.” Generally speaking, we hold grudges because we feel that they give us power over the person who has wronged us.
“Grudges come with an identity. With our grudge intact, we know who we are—a person who was ‘wronged.’ As much as we don’t like it, there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity. We have something that defines us—our anger and victimhood—which gives us a sense of solidness and purpose,” explains LCSW Nancy Coller in an essay for Psychology Today. “To let go of our grudge, we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the ‘wronged’ one, and whatever strength, solidity, or possible sympathy and understanding we receive through that ‘wronged’ identity.”
While harboring resentment can definitely feed the ego in some ways, it comes with a heavy price tag. Several studies have shown that holding onto negative feelings such as resentment and anger can have a negative impact on your health. One study, for example, found that adults who clung to feelings of anger and hostility for a decade or longer experienced a greater percentage of cognitive decline. A separate study found that participants who harbored feelings of unforgiveness performed more poorly on a fitness test in comparison to those who forgave.
“Metaphorically, unforgiveness is a burden that can be lightened by forgiveness,” the author’s of the second study explained. “These findings suggest that forgiveness may lighten the physical burden of unforgiveness, providing evidence that forgiveness can help victims overcome the negative effects of conflict.”
In other words, if you’re harboring a grudge, it’s probably a good idea to let that hurt go. Here’s how:
Acknowledge the problem
It’s hard to release resentment if you’re in denial about the fact that you’re harboring feelings of ill will in the first place. Acknowledge what the person has done to upset you.
Commit to forgiving without an apology
In the perfect world, people would be fully prepared to offer sincere apologies when we let them know that they have hurt us. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. Some people are fully aware of their actions and how they negatively affect others, they just don’t care. For this reason, it’s important to be able to forgive whether yu receive that apology or not.
Speak your piece
Depending on whether or not you feel that it’s worth it, it might be helpful to address the offender and let them know how their actions affected you. If this is not possible or you believe that it will be counterproductive, write them a letter letting everything off of your chest, but don’t send it.
Realize that forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous
Just because you have chosen to forgive the offender doesn’t mean that you need to mend fences. It’s possible to forgive without revisiting that relationship.
Release what happened
The hardest part is releasing what has happened. When someone hurts you, it’s easy to continuously relive those moments in your mind and through conversation with others. Select a date and mark it on your calendar. From that day on, commit to letting go. This means that you won’t dwell on or talk about what happened anymore.