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Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

It’s not about the person who wronged you. It’s about who you want to be.

  • Karen, 65, is very angry at her ex-boyfriend. It seems he asked her best friend out on a date, a few days after breaking up with Karen (when she wasin high school).
  • Paul, 45, can’t forgive his sister, because, as he sees it, she treated him like he didn’t matter when they were children.
  • Shelly talks of her resentment toward her mother, whom she is convinced loved her brother more than her. While her relationship with her mother eventually changed, and offered Shelly a feeling of being loved enough, the bitterness about not being her mother’s favorite remains stuck.

These people are not isolated examples or peculiar in any way. Many people hold grudges, deep ones, that can last a lifetime. Many are unable to let go of the anger they feel towards those who “wronged” them in the past, even though they may have a strong desire and put in a concerted effort to do so.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

Why do we hold grudges when they are in fact quite painful to maintain, and often seem to work against what we really want? Why do we keep wounds open and active, living in past experiences of pain which prevent new experiences from being able to happen? What keeps us stuck when we want to move on and let go? Most important, how can we let go?

To begin with, grudges come with an identity. With our grudge intact, we know who we are—a person who was “wronged.” As much as we don’t like it, there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity. We have something that defines us—our anger and victimhood—which gives us a sense of solidness and purpose. We have a definition and a grievance that carries weight. To let go of our grudge, we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the “wronged” one, and whatever strength, solidity, or possible sympathy and understanding we receive through that “wronged” identity. We have to be willing to drop the “I” who was mistreated and step into a new version of ourselves, one we don’t know yet, that allows the present moment to determine who we are, not past injustice.

But what are we really trying to get at, get to, or just get by holding onto a grudge and strengthening our identity as the one who was “wronged”? In truth, our grudge, and the identity that accompanies it, is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this “other,” the experience that our suffering matters. As a somebody who was victimized, we are announcing that we are deserving of extra kindness and special treatment. Our indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently—because of what we have endured.

The problem with grudges, besides the fact that they are a drag to carry around (like a bag of sedimentized toxic waste that keeps us stuck in anger) is that they don’t serve the purpose that they are there to serve. They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt. At the end of the day, we end up as proud owners of our grudges but still without the experience of comfort that we ultimately crave, that we have craved since the original wounding. We turn our grudge into an object and hold it out at arm’s length—proof of what we have suffered, a badge of honor, a way to remind others and ourselves of our pain and deserving-ness. But in fact our grudge is disconnected from our own heart; while born out of our pain, it becomes a construction of the mind, a story of what happened to us. Our grudge morphs into a boulder that blocks the light of kindness from reaching our heart, and thus is an obstacle to true healing. Sadly, in its effort to garner us empathy, our grudge ends up depriving us of the very empathy that we need to release it.

The path to freedom from a grudge is not so much through forgiveness of the “other” (although this can be helpful), but rather through loving our own self. To bring our own loving presence to the suffering that crystallized into the grudge, the pain that was caused by this “other,” is what ultimately heals the suffering and allows the grudge to melt. If it feels like too much to go directly into the pain of a grudge, we can move toward it with the help of someone we trust, or bring a loving presence to our wound, but from a safe place inside. The idea is not to re-traumatize ourselves by diving into the original pain but rather to attend to it with the compassion that we didn’t receive, that our grudge is screaming for, and bring it directly into the center of the storm. Our heart contains both our pain and the elixir for our pain.

To let go of a grudge we need to move the focus off of the one who “wronged” us, off of the story of our suffering, and into the felt experience of what we actually lived. When we move our attention inside, into our heart, our pain shifts from being a “something” that happened to us, another part of our narrative, to a sensation that we know intimately, a felt sense that we are one with from the inside.

In re-focusing our attention, we find the soothing kindness and compassion that the grudge itself desires. In addition, we take responsibility for caring about our own suffering, and for knowing that our suffering matters, which can never be achieved through our grudge, no matter how fiercely we believe in it. We can then let go of the identity of the one who was “wronged,” because it no longer serves us and because our own presence is now righting that wrong. Without the need for our grudge, it often simply drops away without our knowing how. What becomes clear is that we are where we need to be, in our own heart’s company.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

It can be really hard to let go of grudges, but it turns out that holding on to them might have some consequences to make it worthwhile. According to a new study out of Erasmus University, holding a grudge can act like a literal weight on your shoulders. And this is only one of several studies that suggest there are negative consequences to staying angry.

In the study from Erasmus University, which was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers asked participants to reflect either on a time when they had forgiven someone or on a time they had not forgiven someone. Afterward, subjects were asked to jump five times in the air as high as they could without bending their knees. Those who reflected on forgiveness jumped 30 centimeters on average; those who thought about holding a grudge only jumped 22.

In other words, holding grudge makes it as though something really were literally weighing you down.

I mean, in reality of course it’s all in your head, but it functions as though it’s real. Which sort of begs the question whether expressions like “carrying the weight of the world” or “that’s a weight off my mind” exist because humans subconsciously picked up on this phenomenon, or if our minds only act this way because of our language. But that’s a chicken and the egg problem for another day.

As strange as the Erasmus study may seem, however, it is certainly not alone in suggesting that holding a grudge has consequences well beyond whatever it might happen do to your relationship with that person. In fact, there may even be health consequences to holding grudges.

In a study from Hope College that measured facial muscle tension, sweating, heart rate, and blood pressure, researchers found significantly higher stress responses from participants when they were asked to imagine holding a grudge against someone or seeking revenge than when asked to imagine having empathy with offenders or forgiving them. “When people think about their offenders in unforgiving ways, they tend to experience stronger negative emotions and greater [physiological] stress responses,” one of the researchers explained to WebMD. And while they were only measuring short term effects, it’s possible that there could be similar long-term effects as well, which is not at all good considering the health effects long-term stress can have.

Another study from Concordia University found that staying bitter towards other people could also have consequences for physical health. One of the researchers explained, “Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health.”

In fact a 2009 survey from the University of Georgia found that people who were more likely to hold grudges were also more likely to have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain (though no link was found between grudges and other ailments such as cancer or stroke).

So what does this mean? Well, probably that it isn’t healthy to hold onto negative emotions about other people and that doing so doesn’t just weigh you down but can have real consequences for your health. So if you find yourself holding onto petty grievances a lot, you might want to figure out a way to forgive and forget.

And if you’re grappling with people who have hurt you in more serious ways. well, I’m definitely not going to tell you that you have to forgive them before you’re ready — or forgive them ever for that matter, especially if they haven’t changed their behavior or expressed sincere remorse. But for your own sake, see if you can find a way to let go of the bitterness. Because you deserve to feel better and to stay healthy.

There are times when we end up having a conflict with someone we are close to and this can affect us in many ways. One may have heartbreak and thus his/her emotions may turn bitter. Not only this, but you may also prohibit yourself from forgiving that person who said you bitter things and broke your heart. You feel sad, angry, betrayed, bitter and resentful all at the same time. Even though you want to get rid of the bitter feelings and grudges, you may not be able to do so, owing to the fact that the incident hurt you significantly.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

But do you know that holding on to grudges is not at all a good thing to do? We understand that you may want to let that person know what you are feeling but then do you realise that this is affecting you the most. This is because you aren’t able to move on from the toxic memories.

If you are still not convinced about why holding on to grudges is bad for you, then today we are here with a few reasons for the same. Go through these reasons.

1. Holding on to grudges means recalling the bitter memories and allowing the negative emotions to overpower your mind and heart.
2. There’s no wise in replacing happiness, love and positivity with hatred and toxic feelings.
3. Life is too short to feel resentment over something that hurt your feelings and made you feel miserable.
4. By holding on to grudges against someone, you are letting a toxic person a never-ending presence in your life. You are keeping that person alive in your conscious mind.
5. You are constantly hurting yourself by giving attention to the moments you hate from the bottom of you heart.
6. Holding on to grudges is no less than relieving the horrible and haunting memories of something that broke your heart.
7. You are replaying those resentful and bitter memories again and again and are wasting your emotions.
8. You are hurting yourself further by going through those bitter words, incidents, etc. By doing so, you aren’t allowing yourself to move on and focus on positive things.
9. Thinking about the incidents that caused you pain and made you feel miserable, causes you stress and may affect your mental health.
10. Grudges hurts you more than the person you are no longer talking to. The other person may not realise that you are still not able to move on despite the fact that you have broken ties with each other.
11. When you are holding on to the grudges against someone, you are the one who is most affected. This is because the other person has moved on but you are still not able to move on.
12. You may argue unnecessarily with someone you love. This will further ruin your equation with people in your life.

It’s not about the person who wronged you. It’s about who you want to be.

  • Karen, 65, is very angry at her ex-boyfriend. It seems he asked her best friend out on a date, a few days after breaking up with Karen (when she wasin high school).
  • Paul, 45, can’t forgive his sister, because, as he sees it, she treated him like he didn’t matter when they were children.
  • Shelly talks of her resentment toward her mother, whom she is convinced loved her brother more than her. While her relationship with her mother eventually changed, and offered Shelly a feeling of being loved enough, the bitterness about not being her mother’s favorite remains stuck.

These people are not isolated examples or peculiar in any way. Many people hold grudges, deep ones, that can last a lifetime. Many are unable to let go of the anger they feel towards those who “wronged” them in the past, even though they may have a strong desire and put in a concerted effort to do so.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

Why do we hold grudges when they are in fact quite painful to maintain, and often seem to work against what we really want? Why do we keep wounds open and active, living in past experiences of pain which prevent new experiences from being able to happen? What keeps us stuck when we want to move on and let go? Most important, how can we let go?

To begin with, grudges come with an identity. With our grudge intact, we know who we are—a person who was “wronged.” As much as we don’t like it, there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity. We have something that defines us—our anger and victimhood—which gives us a sense of solidness and purpose. We have a definition and a grievance that carries weight. To let go of our grudge, we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the “wronged” one, and whatever strength, solidity, or possible sympathy and understanding we receive through that “wronged” identity. We have to be willing to drop the “I” who was mistreated and step into a new version of ourselves, one we don’t know yet, that allows the present moment to determine who we are, not past injustice.

But what are we really trying to get at, get to, or just get by holding onto a grudge and strengthening our identity as the one who was “wronged”? In truth, our grudge, and the identity that accompanies it, is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this “other,” the experience that our suffering matters. As a somebody who was victimized, we are announcing that we are deserving of extra kindness and special treatment. Our indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently—because of what we have endured.

The problem with grudges, besides the fact that they are a drag to carry around (like a bag of sedimentized toxic waste that keeps us stuck in anger) is that they don’t serve the purpose that they are there to serve. They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt. At the end of the day, we end up as proud owners of our grudges but still without the experience of comfort that we ultimately crave, that we have craved since the original wounding. We turn our grudge into an object and hold it out at arm’s length—proof of what we have suffered, a badge of honor, a way to remind others and ourselves of our pain and deserving-ness. But in fact our grudge is disconnected from our own heart; while born out of our pain, it becomes a construction of the mind, a story of what happened to us. Our grudge morphs into a boulder that blocks the light of kindness from reaching our heart, and thus is an obstacle to true healing. Sadly, in its effort to garner us empathy, our grudge ends up depriving us of the very empathy that we need to release it.

The path to freedom from a grudge is not so much through forgiveness of the “other” (although this can be helpful), but rather through loving our own self. To bring our own loving presence to the suffering that crystallized into the grudge, the pain that was caused by this “other,” is what ultimately heals the suffering and allows the grudge to melt. If it feels like too much to go directly into the pain of a grudge, we can move toward it with the help of someone we trust, or bring a loving presence to our wound, but from a safe place inside. The idea is not to re-traumatize ourselves by diving into the original pain but rather to attend to it with the compassion that we didn’t receive, that our grudge is screaming for, and bring it directly into the center of the storm. Our heart contains both our pain and the elixir for our pain.

To let go of a grudge we need to move the focus off of the one who “wronged” us, off of the story of our suffering, and into the felt experience of what we actually lived. When we move our attention inside, into our heart, our pain shifts from being a “something” that happened to us, another part of our narrative, to a sensation that we know intimately, a felt sense that we are one with from the inside.

In re-focusing our attention, we find the soothing kindness and compassion that the grudge itself desires. In addition, we take responsibility for caring about our own suffering, and for knowing that our suffering matters, which can never be achieved through our grudge, no matter how fiercely we believe in it. We can then let go of the identity of the one who was “wronged,” because it no longer serves us and because our own presence is now righting that wrong. Without the need for our grudge, it often simply drops away without our knowing how. What becomes clear is that we are where we need to be, in our own heart’s company.

I loved these bits of advice from Beliefnet’s Renita Williams.

We all have experienced hurt and pain in our lives. Sometimes we are exposed to experiences so painful that they leave marks that are difficult to heal-especially if we feel somone has wronged us or harmed us.

1. Acknowledge the problem

Figure out what it is that’s causing you to hold a grudge. You have to know what the problem is in order to solve it. When you allow yourself to see the real issue you can then make a choice to move forward from there.

2. Share your feelings.

A grudge can form when an issue isn’t fully confronted. Without being judgmental about yourself or another, clarify your feelings on the situation. Then, decide if this is something you will work on in your own heart or by contacting the other person involved. Only when you are ready, communicate with the other person about the issue. Whether you work it out on your own or involved the other person, you may feel more relieved by releasing that built up tension and all involved can have a better understanding of the situation and able to resolve the issue.

3. Switch places.

To get a better understanding of the other person, try putting yourself in their shoes. This will give you a better understanding of their point of view and behavior. Maybe the person in question was in a lot of pain. This doesn’t justify their negativity, but it will help you understand it. The more you understand the other person and their behavior, the easier it is not to let go of a grudge.

A natural response may be to develop a grudge, or even a hatred of the person who has caused us pain. But the person who holds the grudge always suffers more!

The longer we hold a grudge the more difficult it is to forgive and move on. You can begin to free yourself when you begin to forgive. Here are eight ways to get a grip on the pain and find the strength to let it go.

4. Accept what is.

Choose to create your own healing, with or without an apology. Don’t wait for the person you are upset with to come around. For all you know they are already past the issue and not putting as much thought into it. Even if they don’t offer an apology, it doesn’t mean they are not remorseful. Some people are unable to apologize or may not fully understand that the person they hurt may need to hear one.

5. Don’t dwell on it.

Once you have decided to move on, keep on moving. Don’t put too much thought into the situation or continuously discuss it. It will only make things worse and harder to get over. If ever the issue is brought up in conversation, change the subject or just look at it as the past and leave it there.

6. Take the positive.

For every negative situation there is a positive. If you take this as a learning experience, you will benefit from knowing more about yourself and the other person. Choose to learn a valuable lesson or walk away with a better understanding that can help you let go of the issue and not resent the other person.

7. Let it go.

Letting go allows room for peace and happiness. A long lasting grudge will only drain you physically and emotionally and can surely affect your health. You will use more energy than you can imagine by holding a grudge than you will by letting go.

8. Forgive.

Of course forgiving doesn’t mean you will forget the issue. It’s just acknowledging your differences and accepting that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes we should learn from. Forgiving isn’t the easiest to do especially when you’ve endured a lot of hurt and pain, but it’s the only way to truly let go and have peace.

Click here to see the original gallery on Beliefnet.

Last medically reviewed on December 11, 2010

We normally speak on here about how to stop holding a grudge, but how do you deal with people who hold a grudge against you? When people hold a grudge, you can definitely do no right and you are pretty much always being discriminated against. Any excuse to lay blame and view your intentions in a negative light are jumped on, with little chance of redeeming yourself. This can be particularly true of self-righteous grudge holders.

Comments

Could you be more specific?

There are many examples. People can even hold a grudge because they don’t like your face. Don’t like the way you dress. They can hold a grudge if they feel you have done something wrong. If they feel you have something they should have and don’t. I am asking in a general way. What is the best approach people here have learned to deal with people who hold grudges in general.

If it was someone I could walk away from, I would do just that.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

If I do not just ignore their jabs, being a very bad person myself, I just prick them with subtle jibes to reinforce their grudge until they either blow up or realize what’s happening and go away.

It beats watching TV.

EDIT: Alright. Sometimes the jibes are not that subtle. And I secretly laugh at them when they get angry.

EDIT2: Alright! Most times I just laugh at them openly or rather smirk at them infuriatingly.

@AllbuddhaBound‌ , you can’t control the other person’s feelings. If they choose to hate you, they will hate you no matter what. Try to ignore it if possible would be my advice. They are the one holding on to the hot coal of rage, thus burning themselves, not you.

@victorious, just my opinion, you had better hope the person you are purposely infuriating is not prone to violence!

Although as an individual, we cannot change a person’s feelings, things have been done in the past to end grudges against certain people. Minorities have been the victim of personal grudges for ages. Just look at the situation in Missouri. At least awareness has made people active enough to respond when they sense this discrimination. Without public knowledge and education, the discrimination goes on unabated.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

It’s more helpful to you to focus on the person who is holding a grudge against you than to dilute the pain you are in by making huge sweeping generalizations about ‘people who hold grudges’. That’s a bit of advice coming from personal experience.

There is a ton to be learned from a person who seems to, no matter what, dislike you or judge everything you do as having an evil or stupid intent .

What there is to learn is always about YOU, and very little about the other person. After all, you can do ZILCH about the other person’s thoughts and behavior, but you can examine yourSELF. Not ‘blame’ yourself as so many people automatically think — let’s all grow up and get out of junior high school here .

So what does this person’s behavior ‘do’ to you? How does it impact you? What kinds of feelings and thoughts arise in you, in response? Do you secretly believe this person is correct about you? Do you think they have lost their marbles and are just acting crazy? What do you think or believe triggered this behavior that is targeting you?

Again — no blame or judgment. Just mindfulness in all it’s honesty and compassion for yourself and the person targeting you .

Here’s how to let it go.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

Sometimes it’s just hard to let things go. But it should come as no surprise that when you have a hard time moving on from a grudge, it’ll be bad for your health. Negative emotion can start a destructive cycle—it leads to biochemical changes such as an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone), which interferes with your body’s natural healing mechanism, which leads to less self-care (such as exercise), which creates physical pain, which leads to more dark emotions, which can cause low self-esteem. and so on and so on. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)

Super-stressed lately? This yoga pose can help:

The good news is that if you’re able to acknowledge you are holding a grudge, you’re halfway to releasing it. To fully let it go, try a forgiveness meditation. Each night in a quiet room with your eyes closed, repeat this as often as you need, either out loud or to yourself: “I forgive those who have wronged me. I forgive myself. I let go of all anger, resentment, and pain. I welcome an abundance of love, peace, and joy. Thank you, mind. Thank you, body.” Do this every night until you feel you no longer need it. Even if you don’t reach 100 percent forgiveness, just repeating the words helps. Research overwhelmingly supports that meditation makes it possible for you to improve your mental and physical state. So when in doubt, meditate!

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

If you were under the impression that bad fights of the past don’t manage to work their way into your relationship’s present, we hate to say it, but you’ve gotten some misinformation. Just like having ongoing bad blood with your BFF can cause lasting tension long after you remember what you fought about, holding a grudge against your S.O. can have a seriously negative effect on the future of your romance. Yep, worse than that time you tried to build an IKEA wardrobe with your bae.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, you don’t even need to mention a previous argument with your S.O. out loud in order to bring its wrath into the present day. Participants who did nothing more than think about an old conflict when in a new disagreement with a partner were more prone to dramatic negative reactions than those who weren’t harboring those bad thoughts.

Therapist Kasey Lafferty has seen the effects of grudge-holding all too often in her own practice. She credits grudges with a wide range of less-than-dreamy relationship behaviors: partners being more easily triggered, more frequent or intense fighting, a sense of entitlement from the offended partner, a lack of empathy and an increased tendency for S.O.s to shut down mid-conflict.

“A grudge has the potential to affect all aspects of a relationship — your communication, your connection, your sex life, your parenting and more,” Kasey says. “I also find that grudges have a powerful ability to stunt the growth of a relationship or to cause people to regress in their relationships.”

Since we’re only looking for growth and improvement in our relationships, we’re lucky to have some expert tips from Kasey on how best to overcome and manage our hard feelings.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

7 STEPS TO MOVING PAST YOUR GRUDGE

1. Admit it (to yourself and your partner). In order to move past the tension, it’s important that you first own the fact that you’re struggling to let go of your resentment over a past grievance. Stop trying to brush it under the proverbial carpet. The more honest you are, the easier it’ll be for you and your S.O. to communicate about what’s really going on and find a way to move forward.

2. Find the root of the problem. Whether you engage in some personal soul searching, confide in a trusted friend or talk through the situation with your bae directly, it’s important that you understand how this grudge started and why you’ve been holding on to it so tightly. Sure, you must have felt wronged right after the original issue, but if it’s months or years later, look for a different reason to get to the heart of the problem.

3. Get talking — more. Your partner can’t read your mind, so if you don’t take the time to tell them about your feelings, they won’t be able to help you. Kasey has some tips for conversational fair play to help ensure your dialogue moves things in a good direction. “Things like negative tone, mean words, being critical, blaming, being loud and being dismissive all decrease the likelihood that your partner will respond in a positive way,” she says. “It’s more likely to fuel a negative conflict or shut down the conversation.”

4. Take a minute. Finally opening up about a topic that has hurt you on an ongoing basis can be emotionally draining. Don’t be afraid to ask for some space or take a step back before continuing the conversation.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

5. Be clear about boundaries. “Often, grudges come from an intentional or unintentional betrayal,” Kasey says. “It’s okay to establish boundaries to protect yourself from it happening again. There’s a difference between being forgiving and being a doormat.” Amen, sista.

6. Find a confidante. As you work through the process of getting rid of your grudge, it can be helpful to get some outside perspective. Seek out a friend who can look at your situation without judgment and help you identify if the bad blood in your relationship is rooted in a simple misunderstanding. Alternatively, if you and your partner need a little extra support once you’ve gotten the ball rolling with conversation, talking to a therapist together might be a good option.

7. Ask yourself an important question. Are you holding a grudge against your S.O. because of a one-time issue (perhaps an accident on their part) or is it bound to be a more regular occurrence? “If you’ve talked about it with them before but it keeps reoccurring, it may be time to look at ending the relationship or getting professional help,” Kasey says.

How have grudges affected your relationships? Tweet us @BritandCo!

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

Remember, you don’t forgive someone for his or her sake – you forgive them for your sake.

Stephanie A. Sarkis, Ph.D.

A Lesson from Friedrich Nietzsche

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once likened forgiveness to weakness. Insisting that “God is dead” and that we are all sheep-slaves, it’s quite clear that Friedrich was a ‘tad’ more cynical than is considered healthy (a typical demeanor of philosopher-scholars.)

Had the great German philosopher understood the effects of stress on the body and mind, the end of his life may have come under slightly more favorable conditions. Nietzsche’s relentless pessimism, obsessive pursuit of “truth and inquiry,” and tireless work habits almost certainly contributed to his most unfortunate demise.

Mr. Nietzsche eventually suffered a complete mental breakdown and loss of all cognitive faculties at the age of 44. He then spent the rest of his life in a near-catatonic state in the care of his mother before dying of syphilis.

Like many others, past, present, and future, Friedrich Nietzsche was chronically stressed out. His inner and outer lives were turbulent, and he was always fighting his own demons, not to mention the expectations of his uber-religious and demanding mother.

Why Holding Onto Negative Feelings Is Really Bad

Why do we hold onto feelings like anger, anxiety, callousness, frustration, irritability, malice, rage, and resentment? Usually, something unfortunate occurs, and we delay forgiving ourselves or someone else – sometimes for life. While allowing a bit of bitterness to brew under the surface may not seem all that bad, it’s toxic to our physical and mental health.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider the effects of stressful events in early childhood – a time in one’s life that is supposed to be carefree and joyful. In an article titled “Early Childhood Stress Can Have a Lingering Effect on Your Health,” Dr. Joseph Mercola writes:

A study revealed impaired immune function in adolescents who experienced either physical abuse or time in an orphanage as youngsters. Even though their environments had changed, physiologically, they were still responding to stress. How the immune system develops is very much influenced by the environment.

The notable words within the above passage are: ‘physiologically; they were still responding to stress.’ As in, there is no longer a threat, but the body is still reacting as if there is. Both medical experts and laymen refer to this as being “wired for stress,” and this wiring kills people.

Why holding a grudge is bad for you (and how to let it go)

Dr. Mercola is referring to trauma – the end-result of prolonged exposure to stress. Mercola goes on to explain that childhood trauma causes lasting physical changes in the developing brain.

To be clear, environmental stimuli are (typically) more impactful for a child than an adult. However, this is not always the case, as combat veterans and other adult victims of trauma diagnosed with PTSD show.

In short: although the nervous system and immune system development slow as we age, changes do occur throughout life. Holding onto feelings that bother us – which our body perceives as nothing more than chronic stress – can lead to mild to severe physical and mental health conditions.

The Effects of Chronic Resentment

Chronic resentment, which is another way of saying chronic stress, can kill you. Consider that over 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related health complaints.

Per the American Psychological Association (APA), “Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for the heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated stress hormones, (and elevated blood pressure)can take a toll on the body.”

WebMD lists the symptoms of long-term stress as follows:

– aches, pains, and tense muscles
– anxiety and depression
– chest pain and rapid heartbeat
– frequent colds and infections
– headaches
– insomnia
– loss of sexual desire and/or ability
– low energy
– upset stomach (constipation, diarrhea, and nausea)

Neurologically, long-term resentment can lead to a decrease in the production of new brain cells. Emotionally, the individual will likely become more emotional and forgetful.

While we may tend to ignore the physical signs of resentment, according to the late neuropharmacologist Candace Pert, “the body is your subconscious mind. Our physical body can be changed by the feelings we experience.”

Learning to Forgive

Self-forgiveness is essential for self-healing.

If you are harboring feelings of anger and resentment, it is crucial to understand that your subconscious mind is in a state of continuous (perhaps low-level) stress. This “background stress” can take its toll on your body and mind.

With that said, it’s enormously beneficial to practice forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness implies that you’re making peace with the pain and trying to let it go – it is something that you do for yourself.

To begin the process of forgiveness, first find a peaceful place that allows you to be alone with your thoughts. Then, try the following four steps:

1. Recall the incident. The first step is about acceptance; accepting that it happened; accepting how you felt and still feel about it, and how you reacted.

2. Acknowledge lessons learned. The second step involves bringing to mind how the event affects you. It’s likely that you’ve experienced a bit of growth or learned some valuable lesson about yourself and others.

3. Decide to forgive. Think about the other person involved. While it may be hard, remembering that all of us are flawed and have weaknesses may help alleviate some of the negative emotions you’re experiencing.

Finally, say “I forgive you,” either to the other person or yourself. You may feel that explaining why you forgive them – and that’s completely okay, even healthy!

We part ways with one final quote, courtesy of Louis B. Smedes:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”