I heard recently of a man who hasn’t spoken to his father in over a decade. The two had a falling out over something and though the son can’t remember exactly what the problem was, he’s adamant that he is not going to be the one to try to put things right. How sad—ten years of a relationship lost which can never be recovered.
Unresolved conflict of this kind is like a splinter that’s left unaddressed in one of your fingers. You may not notice it most of time, except when there is some direct pressure applied in just the right—or wrong—spot. But there’s an infection there that’s quietly affecting your health and well-being, whether you acknowledge it or not.
Some people who are carrying a long-term grudge think that it doesn’t impact the rest of their life. But the reality is that it’s hard to truly silo these kinds of strong emotions—they tend to leak out into other parts of our life, no matter how much we try to stop that from happening.
Untreated resentment goes underground but it pops up elsewhere in the form of mistrust, cynicism, irritability, and defensiveness. [Tweet This] You internally decide you’re not going to let anyone else get to you the way that person did. If you’re holding a grudge, admit it and deal with it—not only for yourself but to those around you who may be the current victims of your past problem.
Here are four steps to letting go of that grudge and moving forward in your life.
Face the hurt.
Take some time to identify and acknowledge why you are hurt. Perhaps these 3 Ways to Get to the Root of Anger will help. Only by knowing exactly what the pain is can you start to deal with it.
Don’t run away from the feelings or try to relieve them too quickly. Name what happened. Give yourself time and space to acknowledge what the impact has been. When you know the size and shape of what you are dealing with, it is easier to handle.
Seek some perspective.
Difficult as it may be, try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Sometimes people do terrible, unconscionable things to others who truly are the innocent victims. But oftentimes we bear some measure of responsibility for what happened.
No, that father should never have spoken so unkindly to his son. But perhaps the younger man needs to at least acknowledge the years of rebellion and ingratitude on his part that preceded his father’s hurtful outburst. Those actions don’t excuse what the father may have said or done but they may give some perspective.
Own your part.
After you’ve gained perspective, be willing to verbally acknowledge your part in what may have gone wrong. It can be taxing to take the high road—you have to work hard as you climb—but you see the rest of life much more clearly when you gain some altitude. And maybe showing your willingness to admit mistakes might be the nudge they need to do the same. There is no guarantee, of course, but at least you have done everything in your power to accept responsibility.
There have been occasions when Susan and I have been in conflict about something and while I think she’s been mostly “at fault,” I have chosen to focus on understanding and asking for forgiveness for the part I played in it all. She’s done the same.
Bring it up and Let it go.
If you plan to talk to the person face-to-face, make sure you first spend some time considering The Right Way to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation. If you are not able to meet in person, consider calling or writing a letter.
If you are able to share with the other person what you remember about the source of your conflict, admit any mistakes you may have made in it and clearly but calmly explain why you have been mad at them, they may be ready to acknowledge their part and ask for your forgiveness.
Maybe they don’t or that’s not possible because they won’t speak to you or are no longer alive. If that’s the case, choose to forgive them even so. Remember the old saying that living in unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s not a question of choosing to forgive and forget, it’s about remembering and choosing to forgive so that you don’t feel the need to keep remembering and holding a grudge.
When you’re no longer nursing a grudge, you free up a lot of energy and emotion that was tied up in yesterday to invest in your life today and tomorrow.
Can you think of someone against whom you are holding a grudge? What might you gain by facing it and moving on? Share your thoughts here.