By Dr. Rob Carpenter:
Dear Dr. Rob: Should I give up a grudge I have against somebody if they really hurt me?
In a word, yes. Although grudges are very easy to acquire, the only victim of having them is you and me. Even if somebody hurt us, offended us, or betrayed us, holding onto a grudge over the long term has very negative mental, emotional, and physical health consequences that could keep us trapped for weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime. In other words, having a grudge can make the hurtful person or people’s initial act or acts toward us far outlast their welcome.
Mentally, if we never forgive those who we hold grudges against we are choosing to hold on to painful memories that can trigger negative brain chemicals to release into our bodies. Over time, these negative chemicals can accumulate and literally rewire our brains, causing our neurotransmitters to break down. Once this happens, our thoughts toward the person (or people) who hurt us can become uncontrollable and lead to a host of other negative feelings and behaviors (many of which are self- or others-destructive).
Emotionally, if we never forgive those we hold grudges against we are choosing to hold on to anger, pain, heartbreak, rejection, or a litany of other emotions that can weigh our souls down. Even if those who hurt us never apologize, it is our responsibility to take control of our emotional management and not outsource it to the very people who hurt us in the first place. It is also our responsibility not to project our negative emotions onto other people in our lives who didn’t hurt us because we are looking for somebody to blame. Again, even if we’re justified to feel anger or sadness—and we probably are—we should not give away our emotional power to anyone (and if we have, we should take it back right away).
Physically, if we never forgive those who hurt us the stress of their memories can literally lead us to sickness, illness, and death. There is a link between unforgiveness and holding grudges on the one hand and weak immune systems and premature death on the other. People who never learn to let go of their painful memories are very susceptible to more actual bodily pain if they choose not to forgive, so it is best for us just to let it go. Our health and our lives are not worth remaining in unforgiveness.
But even if you agree with the above, you might be wondering how the heck we get rid of a grudge if we have one (especially one we’ve been holding for a long time)? Here are 3 simple steps to do so.
1) We can verbally forgive the person or people who hurt us. Even the simple act of saying “I forgive [insert name]” is healing. Now, we may have to do this many times in some cases because the pain runs deep, but just saying “I forgive” makes it easier to forgive because the voice we trust the most is our own. The more we say it, the more we’ll believe it.
2) We can list out 5 positive traits we like about the person we’re forgiving. I realize this may be VERY DIFFICULT to do, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we make an actual list of the things that are good about those who have hurt us, it will make it harder to hold on to a grudge against them. And even if we don’t think they have any positive qualities, they do. Just as we are a mixture of light and dark, so too are they.
3) If possible, we can reach out to those we are holding a grudge against and let them know how we’re feeling so we can forgive them. This could be a text, email, or phone call, but simply letting them know how we’re feeling and that we have no hard feelings is a powerful step toward letting them go completely and having the kind of healing and power we deserve to have in our lives.
Dr. Rob is an author, filmmaker, and host of The Dr. Rob Show. He advises celebrities, pro athletes, and everyday people on how to live their best lives and has been published in The Oxford Business Review and The Harvard Journal for Public Health, among others. His book, The 48 Laws of Happiness: Secrets Revealed For Becoming the Happiest You, is available where books are sold.
Read our interview with Dr. Rob here!