Grudges tend to stick — but you can let them go, even if the other person doesn’t. Your emotional and physical health can benefit.
A grudge is holding on to hurt or anger toward another because of an actual or perceived wrong. Grudges can be short-lived or persist over a lifetime, creating potential health risks.
Being the focus of someone’s grudge can be painful and confusing. You may want to heal the relationship, but the other person is still angry or withdrawn. You may also have to deal with your anger or hurt over the person’s grudge.
For the good of your mental and physical health, health professionals recommend letting go of grudges, whether your own or someone else’s.
The hurt, guilt, or anger you feel about another’s grudge may fade. If not, help is available. To help you let go, you can turn to:
- supportive friends
- wellness practices
People hold grudges for all kinds of reasons ranging from serious to trivial. Here are some of the most common sources of grudges:
- feeling left out
- pent-up resentment
- family disagreements
- unrealistic expectations
People most likely to hold grudges are those with a negative approach to life and hold on to emotions like:
Other factors may also contribute to grudge-holding, such as:
- cultural background
- family upbringing
- a personal history of hurt or trauma
One 2021 study found six traits common to grudge holders:
The grudge a person nurses against you is about them, not you. They are the one who harbors resentment and keeps the fire burning. You can let go of the grudge’s hold on you, even if they do not.
Dr. Frederic Luskin, is the founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and author of the book “Forgive for Good.” In a New York Times article he said “Holding onto a grudge really is an ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation that you haven’t been able to master.”
Grudges often begin with the simple misconception that people are all good or all bad. This type of thinking ignores the complexities of human relationships and leans into all-or-nothing thinking.
An absolute judgment can foster the grudge holder’s identification as a victim. They may feel unable to take any responsibility for the grudge or heal it.
Sometimes, there is little you can do to heal another person’s grudge against you. It may have deep roots in the person’s psychological makeup and personal history. Acceptance may be your best next step.
Acceptance does not mean excusing the grudge or accepting the person’s blame. It means that you acknowledge the grudge and move on with your life.
Forgiveness is a powerful ally to your health. Research shows that forgiveness can:
- lower the risk of heart attack
- improve sleep
- reduce pain
- decrease levels of:
Anger, on the other hand, can become toxic over time. Although it can be a healthy first response, 2019 research shows that long-term anger can contribute to many health risks, including:
- heart disease
- immune response
Tips to consider
Is someone holding a grudge against you? Here are some tips for moving forward:
- Accept. First, acknowledge the grudge. Let it be. Avoid ruminating on it or discussing it in depth with other people. Decide what, if anything, you can do toward healing.
- Make amends. You probably don’t agree with the grudge holder’s view. But try slipping into their shoes. You might find hurt feelings or a tangible loss that your actions caused. See if you can help in any way. An apology at this point may go a long way.
- Forgive and let go. Forgiveness does not mean to excuse or forget. It is the choice to let go of the negative emotions you may be holding about the grudge or the person holding it.
- Move on. For your own mental and physical health, it is important that you move on with your life. The choice you get is how to respond to the grudge and what effect you’ll let it have on your life.
You may not be able to change the circumstances that led to someone’s grudge (even if it’s your grudge) but you can:
- accept that immutability
- make amends, either with your person or group directly (or within yourself)
- move past the grudge
When you feel triggered or reminded of the grudge it may help to repeat a mantra or affirmation to validate your growth beyond the grudge. As author Criss Jami pens in his poetry book, “Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile:”
“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.”