Illustration by Leigh Rubes

Let’s admit it. Most of us have held a grudge in our life time… perhaps we are even still holding one. Why? It may be that we feel wronged by someone and think that by harboring feelings of resentment, we make him/her feel pain equal to ours. Holding a grudge may also serve a protective function, as a reminder of someone with whom we’d best maintain boundaries. It’s also possible that if we truly thought it over, we might not come up with a good reason for holding a grudge; it’s simply a remnant from a previously unresolved emotional issue.

In one episode of Northern Exposure, Chris accidentally runs over a dog and seeks out its owner. He apologies to her, falls in love with her, and then proceeds to kill her parakeet. The ending is fuzzy to me but I recall she insists that he must lose something he loves in order for there to be balance. (In case you watch the reruns, I won’t spoil what this loved thing is.)

Tips on Handling Grudges

  • Ask yourself what the relative weight of “the wrong” is. Is it something that could happen again? Is it serving a protective function? If it is of a serious nature, then perhaps the grudge is serving a useful function. An example would be a toxic relationship that has ended and holding the grudge is a reminder to steer clear of this person. If you still hold strong feelings that are unresolved, it may help to re-frame things to think of this as not a grudge but as healthy boundary-setting. The anger might not be helpful but the caution is.
  • If you can address it in a productive way with the other person, it might be worth it to try and clear things up. This may not be possible to do. Write a letter (but don’t mail it) to help get the feelings out. Tear up/shred/burn/delete the letter. Open the window and visualize the grudge leaving your being.
  • Take the perspective of the other person. Write down the situation using “I” for the other person. Try and see things through their eyes. Doing so may offer insights you didn’t see before such as that the intent was not to hurt you or that the other person was doing his best in a bad situation.
  • Keep in mind that holding a grudge doesn’t mean the other person suffers. It’s likely he/she has forgotten about it (perhaps never really knew why it caused you to feel so strongly).

Quote of the Week

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.

-Attributed to a number of people including Nelson Mandela