Holding a grudge can be harmful to your physical and mental health. But there are strategies you can try to help you move past your anger and hurt feelings.
Holding a grudge happens when you can’t let go of feelings of anger or resentment toward someone who wronged you.
It can be in response to something that actually happened or a perceived threat or action against you.
When you feel that someone’s hurt you, it’s difficult to move past it right away — or ever. You may constantly think about that person or the incident, playing it over and over in your mind.
Holding these negative feelings and ruminating on them can affect you physically and emotionally. But there are ways to help you let go of your grudges and move on.
Research has found that holding grudges can be harmful to your health.
A 2009 study found that holding grudges was associated with poor physical health. People who reported “bearing grudges for years” were more likely to have medical issues such as heart disease, stomach ulcers, and chronic pain.
Holding grudges can often mean holding anger and stress.
A 2021 large-scale study analyzed the daily emotional responses of over 20,000 people and found that “intense high-arousal negative emotions” such as anger and stress were associated with higher blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) reactions.
On the other hand, “low-arousal positive emotions” such as calmness and serenity were associated with decreased blood pressure and heart rate reactions.
Ruminating about past conversations and hurts has also been found to affect your mental health. A 2020 review found that ruminating can prolong and worsen negative moods and make you more vulnerable to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Holding anger can lead to a range of challenges, according to a
It can trigger violent and aggressive behaviors and has been associated with several mental health conditions such as:
In a 2021 analysis, researchers examined why we hold grudges.
The researchers found six main components of holding a grudge, including:
- a need for validation
- moral superiority
- an inability to let go
- severing ties
- expectations of the future
If you’re having trouble moving past lingering anger and resentment, you can learn how to stop holding a grudge, heal, and move on. Here are some strategies you can try.
Meditation has many science-based benefits, such as:
These benefits can help you regulate your anger and stress while promoting calm and relaxation.
A regular meditation practice may help you work out some of the emotions behind your grudge, and over time help make those feelings more manageable.
Journaling can be a great way to work through your feelings.
Getting your feelings out on paper can help take away some of their power. Try to write down everything that comes into your head about the other person.
A journal is a safe space for you to let out your feelings, and no one gets to see it but you.
There’s no time constraint or pressure with a journal. You can write in it as often or as little as you want.
Over time, you may be able to process your feelings around the grudge and start to move past it.
Write a letter but don’t send it
This classic therapeutic exercise can help you get your anger and resentment out in a healthy way.
Consider writing a letter addressed to the person you’re holding a grudge against. Don’t hold back. Be brutally honest about your feelings — don’t worry, they won’t ever read it.
After writing this letter, many people feel like a load has been lifted off their minds. The mere act of getting these feelings out can be just as satisfying as actually sending the letter.
To really help put the grudge to rest, destroy the letter — rip it up, bury it, or soak it in water until it disintegrates. As you watch your letter disappear, imagine your grudge is disappearing with it.
Change your perspective
Sometimes, we get so obsessed with a grudge that we develop a sort of tunnel vision. Even months or years later, we’re so committed to our anger that we start to lose perspective.
Try to step out of your own feelings for a moment and think about how the other person feels.
Did they intentionally hurt you? Does your grudge stem from a pattern of feeling disrespected by this person? Is it possible their intentions were good, even if their actions had negative consequences for you?
Maybe it really was a one-time mistake.
This doesn’t help in every circumstance, of course. You’re entitled to your feelings, and you certainly don’t have to let this person back into your life. But it can be helpful to frame the situation in a new light.
Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Can you think of something cruel or thoughtless or impulsive you said or did in the past? Something you regret, that still makes you cringe and wonder why you acted that way? Is there someone in your past who holds a grudge against you?
Maybe the person you’re holding a grudge against also feels guilty and regretful. Perhaps their hurtful actions stemmed from their own issues, and they would take it back if they could.
None of this excuses their behavior, but it may help you understand and start to make peace with it.
Not forgiving the person who wronged you is the essence of holding a grudge. If you forgive, you may be able to let go of your grudge and start to move on with your life. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget what happened, or that you’ve decided it wasn’t actually that bad. It simply means that you’re choosing to move on.
But forgiveness isn’t always possible in every situation. If you’re a survivor of abuse or trauma, the concept of forgiveness can be a complex topic to discuss.
Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance on forgiveness as it relates to you and your unique situation.
Holding grudges is a common human phenomenon. It’s OK to be upset, angry, or sad when you feel that someone has hurt you.
If you’re holding a grudge and it’s affecting your mental or physical health, you’re not alone.
By devoting a little time and effort to letting go of your grudge, you can let go of these painful feelings and start to feel better.
If you need additional help, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can provide you with helpful tools to manage your emotions and even resolve conflict if possible.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health and support.