Do you hold grudges? I am sorry to say that sometimes I do. Grudges can feel like a real burden but at the same time can be really difficult to let go. They can also affect the quality of life in the present. Of course, there can be small everyday irritations. There can also be times when I become really annoyed or even hurt by something (or someone). Usually, however, I am able to deal with these day to day events,  and they do not develop into a grudge. And of course, there are times when I recognise that the person I am most upset by is myself. But how can we let go of a grudge that has lasted for some time, and that is really getting us down?

When I ran groupwork courses, I used to ask participants:

‘If you were in a group, how would you sabotage it to stop it working effectively?’

Participants would come up with wonderfully creative and often very funny strategies that might sabotage what a facilitator was trying to do, and ways to prevent other group members from learning. From this exercise, they were then able to identify the opposite behaviours that were most supportive of the group dynamics, its members, and that are needed for the work to be effective.

When thinking about ways to let go of a grudge, I wondered whether I could use a similar strategy. In other words, how can I keep a grudge going?

Of course, all situations are different and not all the following factors will apply, but let us imagine that the issue is about a breakdown of a relationship within a friendship group. In our imaginary situation, no one has been physically hurt, and there may be ‘fault’ on both sides. Assuming that I feel like the wounded party, how might I hold onto my grudge in these circumstances? Perhaps I could:

  • Focus on the past, and so not allow myself to embrace the present
  • Hold onto my distress – maybe feeling helpless, rejected, taken for granted, misunderstood, perhaps feeling angry, hurt, or overwhelmed. Feel that I am the victim in this situation
  • Keep reminding myself of what caused the upset in the first place, rehearsing it in my mind in full technicolour – perhaps not quite remembering it accurately
  • Keep telling my story of hurt or resentment to anyone who might listen, especially my nearest and dearest who have heard it many times before
  • Not listen to feedback or suggestions from people who care about me
  • Exaggerate the event to explain my emotions, in my own mind and when speaking to others. Perhaps mix up the main issue with others related to the people I have a grudge against to show that they are the problem rather than I
  • Believe that such behaviour is typical of them and that they intended to be manipulative, dishonest, and to take advantage of me
  • Feel unable to empathise or understand their point of view, and avoid discussing the issue or my concerns with them
  • In my down moments imagine the worst happening to them
  • Refuse to believe that I have had any responsibility in what has happened or that I might have behaved differently at any stage
  • Not really know how to take care of myself, nor how to move on …

Not surprisingly this was a topic that came up in a recent discussion about forgiveness held at our Quaker meeting. There were a number of suggestions about what might help us in letting go of the burden of a grudge and its link to forgiveness:

  • Ultimate forgiveness needs to begin with self-healing, understanding and believing that we can either help or hinder this process. Forgiveness itself though may be seen as a gift or something given by grace, rather than something that can be forced. However, if we can be open to the possibility, this may help.
  • We can try to be honest about the powerful and often negative emotions we are experiencing, and acknowledge the power of them
  • If we can learn to accept ourselves, the other person, and the situation ‘as they are’, this may help us to be grounded more in the present than in the past
  • We can try to dwell less on what has happened, using techniques such as ‘thought-stopping‘ to change the direction of negative thoughts.

Looking back at the list I generated earlier I am also minded to consider part of Advices & Queries No. 17:

Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Therefore if possible perhaps we could try to acknowledge any part we may have had in what happened (assuming this is so). We could also try to understand the perspective of the person who has harmed us, even perhaps empathising with them. It may also be necessary to realise that although we may not be able to forgive, we may be able to lay down our burden and forget. We may also be able to learn through the experience.

So what does this mean for me? There is something that happened to me several years ago. I won’t rehearse it … yet again … but will say that I have been left with a heavy weight – a grudge – that I have felt unable to leave behind. And I know that this has affected the quality of my life in a number of ways.  However something that was said in the discussion really hit home – it’s strange how that can happen, especially when it seems so obvious. In this case, a very wise Friend observed that in order for things to move on, there needs to be a deep desire to change. So I am left asking myself, do I really want to let this grudge go? And … I do … and I will, so wish me luck!