Letting go of grudges and annoyances

I have a confession to make; I am naturally disposed to holding a grudge. It’s not an attractive part of my personality, but it’s there nonetheless and I have to accept that it sits there in my psyche in a dark corner making itself known from time to time.

I’m not alone, of course; it’s part of the shared human experience that many of us feel the same. Some people find it surprisingly easy to push annoyances, frustrations, and grudges away and carry on; but there are many of us who, at the very least, struggle to release those feelings of hurt or rage or petulance … or a combination of those or others.

What would I tell my child if they came to me and said that they were holding a grudge? I would try to help them let it go, of course, because what good would it do them to hold on to it. But I would also know that it’s easier said than done; the emotions can stay there in the back of your mind and fester, despite your best efforts.

My natural instinct is to get it out in the open and discuss the issue, perhaps ad infinitum, until it’s completed; but what if even that doesn’t feel like enough, or what if the two of you aren’t on the same page as to how much discussion is needed to get it all out of your system? That’s hard; it’s down to you to accept that, fundamentally, and decide how you’re going to handle that. I wouldn’t want to be perceived as sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it’s never happened, but how much conversation is too much before you move on?

If someone asked my advice on dealing with a grudge, what would I say? How should I advise those around me – those whose emotions I care about – to deal with something so complex, and how do I offer such advice without being a complete hypocrite? I’m not sure I can entirely answer the second point, because as ordinary a human being as any other, and my own emotions and reactions are as complex as everyone else’s. But I can aspire to be more than  am, because most people do, and I can consider what feels right.

The first question I have to ask is, “How do I change my feelings towards the situation from anger to calm?” There are a number of factors we would need to deal with;

  • Play the ball, not the man; that is, deal with the situation in hand, and don’t make it personal. Perhaps easier said than done, but tackle the issue that’s arisen and consider how to move beyond it. A part of that might involve accepting that it’s what the person genuinely believes, but it might also be a viewpoint held in the moment or part of a wider decision. Although it might feel personal in the moment, don’t make it personal towards the other person, even if they give you every opportunity or cause to; that just makes things a hundred times worse. Deal with the situation, the issue, and have the resilience to look at the bigger picture.
  • Talk to the other person if you can. Allow them to have an insight into your own feelings. That might not always be possible, of course, due to your own level of comfort, their level of comfort, or because of the situation – communication just might not be appropriate at that time. If it’s not, then accept that that’s the case.
  • Accept that the other person has a point of view as well. You don’t have to agree with the point of view – you’re holding a grudge, for heaven’s sake, it’s unlikely you’d be doing that if you did agree – but know that they have made a judgement based on their own views. Can you change their view? If they’re wedded to that view, but you want to continue a relationship with them, how can you separate the two? How can you play the ball, not the person?
  • Talk about how you’re feeling to others if you can’t talk to the person concerned. Don’t broadcast it far and wide, on social media for example (never be one of those people, I beg you), but seek counsel from someone you trust, and be open to their views. If you value someone’s opinion, bloody well listen to it.
  • Don’t be a victim. If someone or something has annoyed you, accept it, sure – own it and don’t hide what you’re feeling, but also don’t fester and wallow in your own emotions. That causes endless bitterness, and actually makes you a rather unattactive person; we will have all met people like that during our lives, and would you honestly want to live like that? I’d be mortified if I ended up like that; I simply couldn’t bear it.

But I’m conscious that anger and frustration can be deep-rooted; it’s part of our psyche in many senses, and can be particularly sensitive if the other person doesn’t admit that they’re wrong. I struggle with this at times, and I try a combination of different factors – some of which work and some of which often don’t.

  • Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  • Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
  • Write in a journal or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate.

Holding a grudge requires a lot of energy and effort, and most of the time, it’s simply not worth it – the feelings will just eat you up inside for as long as you allow it to. But are there ever occasions where holding onto the idea of a grudge might be a good thing?

There is a time and place to wipe the slate clean, it’s also important to consider if whoever hurt you deserves another chance. Ask yourself whether you’re strong enough to kick them to the curb if they hurt you again. If you’ve made peace with them and with yourself, then maybe “forgive and forget” really is the best option. But if you need to hold a grudge to remind yourself that they don’t deserve to be in your life, then absolutely do. Your friendship is precious, and no one should treat it like anything else. Remember those who don’t see your value, so if they come back and try to reconnect, you can confidently smile, shake your head, and walk the other way.

I don’t have a final answer to give to this; I wish I did, that could definitively answer the question one way or the other, but I struggle to forgive or live and let live in every single situation. I wish I could think differently sometimes, but that’s how I’m designed. It’s down to me to move beyond my basic programming and see how I can evolve – and how I can show the better part of myself of myself to the next generation. But I also need to show how people can protect themselves and keep their self-respect, as well as the respect of those around them. A difficult thing to consider, but a conversation we must keep having.

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