Is Holding a Grudge Worth It? You be the judge.

Grudges. We feel hanging on to one in our heads is the mental equivalent of a hoarder holding on to junk in the attic.

Many of us have experienced the feeling, according to the typical definition that it's similar to anger and great hurt that lingers and is sometimes ready to boil over when provoked for different reasons.

Some carry a grudge (or grudges) around like an extra 100 pounds; others lug it around in smaller quantities. Some grudges consume a person, and they become so exasperated they want to share it with others. Other grudges are dulled through the years and rear an ugly head only when triggered by a specific event or mention of the person who caused it.

But the bottom line is the same. The grudge remains present and is hard to release, causing corrosive action while lurking in one's head.

So, what can you do to remove it forever? Try thinking to yourself. "It happened a long time ago and is no longer a big deal." That might work if you keep at it, but often it takes more than one effort. You can confront the person to whom your grudge is aimed with a direct conversation. Doing so will help free your brain of the grudge.

Margaret harbored what she terms a low-grade grudge for decades and without prior planning she dealt with it. In a Zoom call, she confronted someone she knew growing up who had said to her decades ago, "Too bad you're chubby because you have such a pretty face." That remark stuck with Margaret for years. On the Zoom call, the topic of grudges came up, Margaret decided then and there to bring up the incident and air her feelings to the person. The person apologized and confessed that she didn't remember saying it. It made Margaret feel great finally to let go of it. What a weight off her mind.

We asked some experts for their remedies. According to Barbara's friend, psychotherapist Jill Davis, she believes that releasing a grudge is far healthier than hanging on to it. Davis, an MSSW with a private consulting practice assisting pre-med and medical students, has a method. "I find that it helps me to see the person who has mistreated me as separate from me, as someone with their own karma (for lack of a better word) who acts from their own needs, insecurities, emotional damage, narcissism, righteousness, whatever, which makes it possible to forgive them, let go and move on." 

Davis says such situations force us to examine our own behavior. "I try to see if there is something in it that played a role in our negative interaction," she says. 

Carol Papini, also an LCSW-R, is another believer in the importance of eliminating a grudge. "Do so for your own health, not because of how it affects the other person," she says. Her suggestion is to ask yourself, "'Why am I holding on to it?' Then work yourself free, however you can. You know you've succeeded," she says, "when you no longer need to say anything about it, if the person's name comes up. You don't feel anything internally, physically or mentally and that's great."

Nevertheless, some people still revel in holding on to a grudge such as author Alex McElroy who wrote an article recently for the New York Times Magazine, Jan. 18, 2022. The headline says: "Why Holding a Grudge Is So Satisfying." The author writes: "...I sidestepped grudges like a superstitious child skipping over cracks in the sidewalk. But at some point I began to find enjoyment, even solace, in holding a grudge."

Is a grudge ever more than a grudge? Is it really residual anger and resentment? Times reporter McElroy says "no." They write, "Let me be clear about terms: A grudge is not a resentment. Sure, they're made of the same material - poison - but while resentment is concentrated, a grudge is watered down, drinkable and refreshingly effervescent, the low-calorie lager to resentment's bootleg grain alcohol.

"Resentments are best suited for major mistreatment: the best friend who ran away with your wife, the parents who pressured you into a career you told them you hated, the ex who emptied your checking account. Grudges, however, work best in response to small and singular harms and annoyances: the neighbor who parked in front of your driveway, the cashier who charged you for a drink you never ordered. Did someone truly, existentially wrong you? Don't waste your time growing a grudge - save it for something pettier," says McElroy.

Davis believes that the author's distinction between grudges and resentment is an artificial construct. "Grudges, resentment and anger all spill into one another--one feels angry at someone who has mistreated them, and part of that anger represents resentment at how they have been treated. In the way that I use the term, a grudge forms when someone doesn't let go of that anger and resentment," she says. "But to me, this is all semantics as the author felt that grudges were short and minor while resentments were long lasting."

However, they're dealt with, holding on to these negative feelings zaps our energy. Says Davis, "We have limits on how much energy we have in the world, and we have to choose how we want to expend that energy. It takes energy to worry, to be angry, to stay in touch with the people whom we care about, to read a book, to work," she says. Davis finds that staying angry doesn't replenish her or others or lead to a peaceful mind. 

As we write in our book, Not Dead Yet, we prefer to live in the moment and not hold onto a grudge, which keeps bringing us back to the past. Exceptions occur if we're honest since we're humans with feelings. But when they pop into our brain, we try to banish them fast and not get or stay stuck. Here are more ideas that are on our play list. Try them and see. 

  *   Write down the grudge. Seeing it on paper might make you realize how trivial it may be and lead to healing. Even if it seems like an important grudge, ask yourself if you really want it to continue affecting you.

  *   Be good to yourself. Identify what needs healing, who needs to be forgiven and for what and why. Take your time. It may take a few efforts.

  *   Talk to someone. Consider a support group or therapy or even a close friend to air the grudge. The person or people might show you how the situation has some humor and you might laugh at yourself.

  *   Walk in the other person's shoes. Did they have a limit on the number of guests for their birthday dinner or wedding? Were they too nervous to explain that they were leaving you out and said nothing? Cut them some slack.

  *   Tackle the emotion by acknowledging it, how it affects your behavior. By doing so, you might take yourself off the hook. You might be able to honestly tell yourself that you felt excluded, were sad and hurt then, but now you've moved far beyond.

  *   Diffuse it by hitting it head on. Not invited to an event? Email and ask if they overlooked you? Rather than guess, get to the crux of the matter and explain your hurt. We often make assumptions that are incorrect. Talk it out in person or Zoom or Facetime rather than tackle back and forth in an email. Some may not want to discuss it at all, however.

  *   Consider a statute of limitations on a grudge. Hey, it's been four decades, enough already? Even a year sounds long in the scheme of life. Set your time frame, then bury it, flush it down the toilet, throw it out the window or in a river, but get rid of it! If you need to take the literal steps (do so and have fun in the process).

  *   Toast yourself when you've tossed it aside. Celebrate your efforts with champagne, cake, fresh flowers or a medal for Best Grudge Remover.

The acid test is to forgive yourself for not being perfect. You'll see how all the steps lighten your emotional load and free up positive energy for enjoying life more.


  • Susan Berger

    On target…as usual!

  • Marianne

    I loved this article. Grudges are so unhealthy as I watch several people in my life embrace them like badges of honor. Having said that, it doesn’t mean I forget when someone has hurt me or those I love. If that individual senses a change in me and asks if he or she has offended, I will answer honestly but I rarely bring it up unless the person continues to be insensitive. However, if it is really offensive, I am not afraid of confrontation and I will call someone out as it is happening. I have done that with several of my employers and family members. Later I may share the situation with a friend who has suffered or continues to suffer a similar slight. By then it is more of a point of reference as the initial emotion of hurt that could cause a grudge is pretty much gone. My mantra is forgive but don’t forget. That has always served to protect me in the future.

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