Make It Stop: “I Hold Grudges”

I hold grudges. If someone does something thoughtless or rude or mean, I’m like a dog with a bone that won’t let go. I don’t like this part of my personality, the part that carries a deep well of anger and hurt. How do I learn to let go of the grudges I hold?

Congratulations on realizing the time has come to make a change! That’s wonderful. It sounds like you’re a passionate person with a strong sense of right and wrong. It can be upsetting when others don’t share your values. As you may know, they call it “carrying a grudge” for a reason because it’s a burden to hold it. So let’s explore how you can kick that burden in the jarbles.

As you get older and tuck more life experiences under your belt, your perspective shifts. A range of realizations takes hold.

First, you realize that your time on this planet is limited. Do you really want to funnel the energy you have into negative emotions? Every day, you have a set amount of energy, like one of those hour-glass timers with sand in it. As you turn the timer upside down, the sand drains from the upper reservoir into the space below. Do you want the sand granules of your day—or your week, or your life!—to go towards something negative, like carrying a grudge, or do you want it to go towards something positive, like literally anything else? It’s up to you to decide which direction the sand flows: stewing in hatred or putting it aside and focusing on things that bring you joy. It’s in your control.

Second, you might also realize that it’s not your job to mete out moral justice like some caped superhero. Usually, if people make bad life decisions, they make them in all areas of their life, not just in their dealings with you. You learn that’s it’s easier, cheaper, and kinder to remove yourself from the situation then to stick around and judge someone for it.

Also, once you’ve been around the block a few times, you realize that there are motivations or factors for people’s behavior that elude you. What you see as deceit or untrustworthiness or carelessness might be a symptom of a larger problem. Sure, there are terrible people out there, but maybe they’re dealing with hardships you can’t see.

You usually don’t get the full story until years pass and the other person has dealt with the troubling issue. Then they might have the self-awareness to communicate what their deal was:

“Sorry I was such a dick to you in high school. I now realize that you being such a happy person made me feel like a freak because I was always miserable.”

“Sorry I was a lousy boyfriend. My father’s illness completely freaked me out and I wasn’t able to be emotionally available to you in the way you needed.”

“Sorry I was such a bratty sister. Mom always looked at you like you were a golden child. I shouldn’t have projected my frustrations with her onto you.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions. I’m saying that you should stop and pull the lens back. Look at the situation from their shoes. Most people aren’t supervillians plotting your downfall. Most people do the best they can with the information they have at the time. Even if you can’t trust a person, trust that with some time, all can be healed.

Lastly, one of the biggest realizations to have, is that letting go of grudges is a gift you give yourself. You’ll realize that having peace gives you more pleasure than living with pain. Letting go of grudges means doesn’t mean that you’re weak, it means you’re prioritizing your sense of well-being above all else. Once you absorb that lesson and apply it every day, then you will grow into the person you are meant to be.

Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.