Why It Hurts and How to Let Them Go

In the distant (or not so distant) past, someone hurt you. They might have made fun of your favorite outfit, thrown you (metaphorically) under the bus at work, or bullied you at school. Years may have passed since the event, but the memory of it still makes your blood boil.

To put it simply, you hold a grudge.

Grudges are not uncommon. According to an informal Trustpilot poll of 12,000 people across six countries, the average adult holds seven grudges at once. The survey found that some of the most common grudges include:

  • false accusations
  • Treason
  • lend something and not get it back
  • bullying in childhood
  • someone who steals credit for something you’ve accomplished
  • misleading advertising

Holding anger and resentment towards another person over real or perceived wrongdoing only harms you, even if that person caused real or perceived harm.

According to a 2021 analysis of 20 interviews, resentment can fuel feelings of moral superiority and proving difficult to let go. They can also negatively affect your quality of life. For example, they might make you seek validation, sever ties with others, or shape your expectations for the future.

Here’s how grudges can damage your health over time, and why letting go of them can be in your best interest — plus a few helpful strategies for letting them go.

Holding grudges can be detrimental to your emotional and physical health. A grudge can:

  • Make more pessimistic: In a 2014 study, participants who held onto grudges had greater difficulty completing a fitness test because they rated hills as steeper than those who released their grudges. According to the researchers, holding a grudge can be a physical strain for some people.
  • Isolate yourself from others: A small 2016 study found that social isolation predicted less forgiving behavior — in other words, more resentment. In short, if you already tend to keep others at a distance, holding a grudge can serve a self-protective function at the expense of being close to others.
  • Increase your risk of cognitive decline: Corresponding Research 2018People who held onto higher levels of hostility—characterized by cynicism and distrust of others—experienced greater cognitive decline over a 10-year period than people who routinely practiced self-forgiveness.
  • Negatively affect your mental health: Holding a grudge can increase your chances of developing anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, according to a 2019 study.
  • Add to your overall stress: Holding onto grudges can increase your stress levels, which can then contribute to high blood pressure, heart problems, weakened immunity, and inflammation. But acc Research 2016For example, using forgiveness as a coping mechanism can help counteract the negative health effects of long-term stress.
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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 resentment. Letting go of a grudge can take intentional practice.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Become aware of resentment

It’s possible to hold lingering feelings of resentment without knowing why. According to the Trustpilot survey mentioned above, a third of the people they asked about grudges couldn’t remember why they were still holding onto it.

Acknowledging a grudge can be a powerful step in letting go of it. In the summed up words of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: “What you resist endures.”

Facing unpleasant memories, on the other hand, can help undo any control you have over your emotions and well-being.

2. Adjust to your emotions

If you think you’re holding grudges, it might help to ask yourself, “How do I feel when I think about memories that have been wronged?”

If feelings of anger or rage quickly surface, it could indicate that you are holding a grudge.

Noticing which memories trigger strong feelings can help you identify a grudge that you haven’t let go of yet. When certain memories come to mind, a good first step is to name, acknowledge, and validate your feelings about them.

Here is an example:

Instead of criticizing yourself for these feelings or just pushing them away, you could try something like this: “I get angry when I think about how my boyfriend used to spread rumors about me. It makes sense that I feel that way because it was a really painful experience at the time.”

3. Redirect rumination about past events

Holding grudges often means letting go of anger at the event. They might have intrusive thoughts or keep repeating what happened.

It can be difficult to stop thinking about past pain and suffering once you’ve developed the habit, but you can break the cycle.

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One step to redirect repetitive thoughts associated with resentment is to engage in a reappraisal of compassion. This practice involves paying attention to the human qualities of the person who has hurt you and the need for positive change her Life.

In 2011 research, reevaluating compassion helped a small number of people:

  • lower their heart rate
  • relax your eye muscle tension
  • experience fewer negative emotions when remembering a past mistake

Research from 2014 compared emotional suppression and compassion processing. Researchers found that reevaluating compassion helped promote a greater sense of calm, more empathy, and a positive attitude toward coping with thoughts rather than thinking about them.

Fostering compassion for the person who wronged you can help you see things from their perspective and process what happened. Just remember that it doesn’t mean justifying their actions. Instead, this approach can help free up emotional space for other thoughts and experiences.

4. Convert experience into growth

In some cases, you may be able to turn the basis of your resentment into an opportunity for growth on your own terms. Some people find that using past difficulties as an opportunity for growth helps them regain a sense of empowerment in their own lives.

Post-traumatic growth is an example of transformation after a difficult or painful event. Through this process, you can make sense of what happened and gain strength and resilience as a result of your lived experience.

Some examples of turning a grudge into growth are:

  • Established and led a local self-help group for people who have experienced similar injustice or betrayal
  • Growing up to have a meaningful, successful career after a school counselor scoffs at your dreams
  • Develop your assertive side and help amplify the voices of others in the workplace after being fired and ignored early in your career

5. Encourage self-forgiveness and acceptance

Forgiveness is a common recipe for resentment, but the role of self-forgiveness—in the context of self-compassion and acceptance—remains underemphasized.

Corresponding Research from 2018People who practiced self-forgiveness regularly had better health outcomes and avoided many of the harmful effects of long-term hostility.

One possible explanation: People who tend to treat themselves with compassion may also tend to extend compassion to others, making them less likely to hold a grudge.

Here are some ways to engage with self-compassion and self-forgiveness:

  • Practicing mindfulness: In short, mindfulness is focusing your attention on the present moment and the sensations you are experiencing in that moment. More mindfulness can increase self-acceptance and peace of mind. It can also help you align your actions with your confidence. You can practice mindfulness through meditation, journaling, and many other practices.
  • Address your inner critic: Reacting to yourself with excessive judgment can lead to anxiety and depression. It can also potentially make you react harshly to others. Fighting back against negative self-talk is a helpful step toward self-acceptance if you tend to be hard on yourself.
  • Get involved in self-care: Dealing with self-judgment in your mind can pave the way to self-acceptance, but remember that actions often speak louder than words (or thoughts). Conscious self-care, like taking the time to prepare a nutritious meal, is a great way to increase self-compassion in everyday life.
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Here’s how to create your own self-care checklist.

The above steps can help, but they’re not always enough.

If your grudges tend to linger and fester, when thoughts and feelings related to them keep popping up, affecting your mood and ruining your day, it may help to get in touch with a trusted mental health professional.

A therapist can provide guidance to uncover the roots of uncomfortable feelings surrounding resentment, such as anger, disappointment, or even hatred. From there, they can also help you contextualize or give meaning to your feelings and the events that occurred.

According to a small 2017 study, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help regulate anger and prevent rumination over angry thoughts.

Study participants used cognitive reappraisal, a CBT technique, to put the incident that upset them from a third party’s perspective. This change of perspective helped them be less angry and more flexible in their thinking about the event.

How to find the right therapist

Eventually, holding grudges can affect your emotional and physical health, but it’s possible to let them go — and even seek forgiveness — without condoning a wrong done to you.

Practicing mindfulness, self-acceptance, and self-care can help you release deep-seated feelings of hostility, while finding opportunities for growth can help you heal.

Not sure where to start? A therapist can provide more guidance.

Courtney Telloian is an author whose work has been published on Healthline, Psych Central, and Insider. She previously worked on the editorial teams of Psych Central and GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include holistic health approaches, particularly women’s wellness, and mental health issues.

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