By Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
Asked how long he holds a grudge, one fellow replied, “Until hell freezes over.” Another said, it depends on two things: 1) the intent, and 2) the gravity of the situation. Yet another person said, “If the person is an idiot, I simply consider the source and dismiss both the person and the comment or situation.” And the final person asked, said, “I turn the other cheek.”
The only reason this topic came up has to do with a father-in-law who never lets grudges die. He doesn’t listen to Diane Sawyer for the national news because she went to work for President Richard Nixon's administration in 1970. At first she served in the White House press office, and after Nixon resigned, she helped him with his memoirs. He can never forgive her and will always hold the grudge and never watch her deliver the national news.
He cannot forgive a doctor for coming to an appointment late; he cannot forgive a fellow (a former husband of his granddaughter) because of a belief/theory that he took a lockbox from his home; he cannot forgive a nurse who gave him wrong advice (non-essential).
He holds grudges, too, against John McCain not just for his flip-flops on his principles but for bringing us Sarah Palin. He holds more serious grudges against Newt Gingrich because he is a multiple adulterer, a draft dodger, a dead-beat dad, an advocate of family values and yet asking for a divorce while his wife was in the hospital, and his house banking scandal (he bounced 22 checks) — among other things. At one website it says, “Gingrich was apparently dating [Callista] Bisek all during [the] Clinton-Lewinsky adultery scandal, even as he proclaimed family values and bitterly criticized the President for his adultery.” These grudges will never die.
There are many reasons we hold grudges according to the Psychology Today website. In an article there, “How to forgive others,” by Alex Lickerman, M.D., six reasons are listed. Mine are adapted from his. First, one reason we hold grudges is that we can’t let go of our anger. Second, we want to satisfy our sense of justice and, thus, we hold the grudge because we believe the offender doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. Third, not to hold a grudge is to condone what the offender did. Fourth, our grudge doesn’t let our offender off the hook without punishment. Our grudge is our personal punishment of our offender. Fifth, to hold the grudge is to harm as we've been harmed. It feels satisfying Sixth, we feel the offender is incapable of good behavior; thus, our grudge reduces the other’s sense of humanness. The grudge prevents us from believing they have any positive characteristics at all.
The essential message with respect to holding grudges is that when you hold a grudge you let someone else (the other person) severely influence your thinking and, perhaps, your behavior. It gives the other person too much power, and it diminishes your own power and control. There is a great deal of negative energy involved in holding grudges, thus, it hurts you, not the other person. Holding a grudge serves no good purpose.
Now, I’m not saying that there are no reasons for initiating or holding grudges, but how long to hold them has a lot to do with the kind of infraction committed and the importance of the issue to the individual who was wronged. Within relationships, a variety of elements determine the answer to how long to hold them. Think about it. How much relationship history is involved? How much do you value the relationship? How much do you value the other person? How strongly do you feel the other person is committed to the issue? Do you think the other person is likely to change his or her commitment over time? You get the point: there are many issues involved.
At the website, TheHappySelf: Personal transformation for thinking people, the essay, “Don’t hold a grudge!” offers six specific steps for getting over grudges through forgiveness. There are many websites with suggestions and guidelines for achieving forgiveness, but I thought these were reasonable and achievable. First, commit to letting go by admitting that you have grudges, and the longer you harbor them the less peace of mind and the more personal misery and suffering. Second, shift your focus by spending your time and energy on happier things. Third, make a grudge list by listing on a sheet of paper every grudge and resentment that occurs to you. Be honest. Now, fourth, confess. Tell a confidante about each of the grudges listed. Not only will this offer relief, but it will make you feel better, too. Fifth, read over your grudges one by one, and say goodbye to each one — goodbye to the misery, pain, and suffering they have caused. Sixth, forgive yourself and move on.
Remember, by forgiving yourself and moving on, you are doing something that will benefit yourself by improving, strengthening, and advancing your thinking and behavior. Why? Because constant thinking about the people or events that made you establish the grudge in the first place only heightens the feelings that make you moody, anxious, irritable, and short tempered. Carrying the grudge erodes your best thinking, corrodes your behavior, and wears away your happiness and contentedness.
It always helps me to remember that I cannot control the actions of others. To try is to waste valuable time and effort. What I have total control over is my own thoughts and actions. This is power. Thus, if I can stop all the negative thoughts about events, actions, and situations that others have caused, I can stop reliving that hurt and move on. It is important, I have found, to realize I have the choice to move on. I have the power. I just have to remember to exercise the power I have.
To answer the question that is the title of this article, no one has cornered the market on how long grudges may be held. The best answer to the question, how long should you hold grudges is another question: How quickly should you dispense with grudges? The answer is clear: as quickly as you can. The essay at TheHappySelf website closes with the comment: “Grudges are the domain of small, petty people, not you, life is too short to be hung up on hate for the whole time that you are here, and being unforgiving may make you feel invulnerable, but it will most definitely cost you happiness in the long run.”
Now, all this information comes a little late for my father-in-law mentioned in the opening examples. There is no doubt he will take his grudges to the grave. But, that makes me wonder. He is 97-years-old! Perhaps holding grudges is the key to longevity.
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The best website I have discovered on letting go of grudges and forgiveness is the MayoClinic website, on Adult Health. The article there, “Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness, is written by Katherine Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., a member of the Mayo Clinic staff. The article covers what forgiveness is, the benefits of forgiveness, why it’s easy to hold a grudge, the effects of holding a grudge, how to reach a state of forgiveness, what happens when you can’t forgive someone, whether or not forgiveness guarantees reconciliation, how to interact with the person who hurt you, what happens when the person you want to change doesn’t, and, finally, Piderman considers the question, “What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?” This is a great article.
At LiveStrong there is a great deal of information in the essay, “Handling Forgiving and Forgetting,” that covers what is forgiving and forgetting, the negative consequences of the absence of forgiving and forgetting, the signs of the absence of forgiving and forgetting, and the steps to develop forgiving and forgetting in a relationship.
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Copyright November, 2011, by And Then Some Publishing, L.L.C.