If holding grudges feels like your default, you’re not alone. Many people find it all too easy to hold on to anger in the form of a grudge. Letting go of a grudge may require intentional practice. Here’s how you can start:
1. Become aware of resentment
It’s possible to hold lingering feelings of resentment without knowing why. Acknowledging a grudge can offer a powerful step toward releasing it. In the summarized words of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, “What you resist, persists.” Facing up to uncomfortable memories, on the other hand, may help undo any control they have over your emotions and well-being.
2. Tune in to your emotions
If you think you might be harbouring resentment, it could help to ask yourself, “How do I feel when I think about memories of being wronged?” If feelings of rage or anger bubble quickly to the surface, this could suggest you’re holding a grudge. Paying attention to what memories trigger strong feelings can help you identify a grudge you haven’t released. If specific memories come to mind, a good first step involves naming, acknowledging, and validating your feelings about them.
3. Redirect rumination on past events
Holding a grudge often involves trouble letting go of anger about the event. You might have intrusive thoughts or rehash what happened again and again. It can be difficult to stop ruminating on past pain and distress once you’ve developed the habit, but you can break the cycle. One step to redirecting repetitive, grudge-related thoughts involves engaging in compassion reappraisal. This practice involves paying attention to the human qualities of the person who hurt you and the need for positive change in their life.
Fostering compassion for the person who wronged you can help you consider things from their perspective and process what occurred. Just keep in mind it doesn’t translate to justifying their actions. Instead, this approach can help free up emotional space for other thoughts and experiences.
4. Transform the experience into growth
In some cases, you may be able to turn the basis of your grudge into an opportunity for growth on your own terms. Some people find using past hardship as an opportunity to grow helps them regain a sense of empowerment in their own lives.
5. Foster self-forgiveness and acceptance
Forgiveness is a common prescription for grudges, but the role of self-forgiveness — related to self-compassion and acceptance — remains underemphasized. People who regularly practiced self-forgiveness had better health outcomes and avoided many of the harmful effects of long-term hostility. People who tend to treat themselves with compassion may also be more likely to extend compassion to others, thus reducing the chances they’ll hold a grudge. Here are some ways to engage in self-compassion and self-forgiveness:
- Practice mindfulness: In a nutshell, mindfulness means focusing your awareness on the present moment and the sensations you experience in that moment. Greater mindfulness can boost self-acceptance and peace of mind. It can also help you align your actions with your self-awareness.
- Address your inner critic: Responding with excessive judgment toward yourself may lead to anxiety and depression. It may potentially cause you to react harshly to others, too. Pushing back against negative self-talk offers one helpful step toward self-acceptance if you tend to be hard on yourself.
- Engage in self-care: Confronting self-judgment in your thoughts can pave the way toward self-acceptance but remember that actions often speak louder than words (or thoughts). Intentional acts of self-care, like taking time to make yourself a nourishing meal, offer a great way to reinforce self-compassion in daily life.