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—10 years of a relationship lost that 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 the time, except when there is direct pressure applied in just the right spot. But there’s an infection quietly affecting your well-being, whether you acknowledge it or not. That’s what holding grudges is like. Here’s how to let go of yours.
Some people who are carrying a long-term grudge think it doesn’t impact the rest of their lives. 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. 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 for those around you who may be the current victims of your past problem. Here are four steps for letting go of that grudge and moving forward in your life.
Untreated resentment goes underground but it pops up elsewhere in the form of mistrust, cynicism, irritability, and defensiveness.
1. 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.
2. 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 innocent victims. But often, 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 at least needs to 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.
3. 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 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.
4. 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. Clearly but calmly explain why you have been mad at the other person and you might learn that he or she is ready to acknowledge his or her part and ask for your forgiveness.
Maybe that’s not possible because this person won’t speak to you or is no longer alive. If that’s the case, choose to forgive him or her even so. Remember the old saying—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.