The old adage “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” may be truer than we realized. Harboring grudges is not only bad for mental states, studies have shown it can also affect overall physical health. Our daily interactions with different people are bound to lead to misunderstanding and disagreements. Be it family, friends, or coworkers, we’ve all been wronged by someone at some time in our lives.
The real problem comes in when people can’t let go of the hurt. Grudges won’t fix the problem. Clinging to resentment won’t bring healing or happiness. The path to healing comes from letting go. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the work. Even though most people are aware that they cannot alter the past, there is still a chance that past hurts have a real impact on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being today and into the future. However, by making a conscious, determined choice to let go and move on, people can lessen the impact that past hurts have over their future. Moving on is difficult. If lingering resentment is causing undue stress and is seriously affecting your life, it may be time to talk to seek professional help.
Mental and Emotional Health
When people experience emotional hurt, they may end up dwelling on the circumstances and individual that caused the harm. Then hostility and resentment builds up inside and can have a negative impact on mental, emotional, and social wellness. If left unchecked, those negative feeling can lead to bitterness and anger. People may find themselves lashing out. They may also become depressed or anxious. If left to fester, resentment robs people of the ability to enjoy their present surroundings and experiences. Carrying around negative thoughts can warp a person’s perspective and reality. Holding grudges leaches away positivity, replacing it with negative emotions. People who harbor resentment can weaken valuable relationships with others and disconnect from their spiritual beliefs.
Harboring grudges effects more than just a persons mental and emotional state. There are also measurable negative impacts on hormonal balance and physical wellbeing in general. Resentment and anger activate the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system and spikes levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While this response is essential for survival in actually dangerous situations, heightened stress over the long-term is seriously detrimental. People who are bitter and angry over long periods suffer physically. Heightened stress reduces the ability to heal. The stress response raises blood pressure. Prolonged feelings of resentment negatively affect metabolism, immune response, and organ function. Giving in to the negativity of grudges can lead to headaches, insomnia, skin problems, stroke, and heart attacks. In many ways, holding a grudge sabotages the body’s ability to maintain its health.
In a study done in 2000, researchers at Hope College studied 70 undergraduate students. The students imaged four various responses to situations: remembering hurt, holding a grudge, empathizing with the offender, and granting forgiveness. The researchers measured physical signs of agitation such as facial muscle tension, amount of sweating, heart rate, and blood pressure. Participants also rated how the scenarios made them feel. According to the researchers, when the subjects thought of their offenders in unforgiving ways, they tended to experience stronger negative emotions and had higher physiological stress responses. On the other hand, forgiveness stimulates the release of the “love” hormone oxytocin which helps manage stress and has a positive physical impact on the body.
How to Let Go of Grudges
Letting go of negativity and resentment is not easy, but it’s better for physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing in the long-term. Plenty of people carry grudges unwillingly. They wish they could drop them and live free from the mental burden of past negativity, but they just can’t seem to let go. For some, the grudge becomes a part of the person’s identity. Anger and victimhood begin to define them which, in turn, provides a sense of purpose and a desire for sympathy. To let go of the grudge means to let go of part of their identity. With the right mindset, people can stop thinking of themselves as a victim and learn to live in the present moment rather than dwelling in past injustice.
While forgiveness of the other can help, the true path to freedom comes from self-love and self-care. To let go of grudges, people must transfer focus off of the person who hurt them and moves their mind away from reliving the suffering. Shift focus on their own feelings and experience. In re-focusing attention, people can discover kindness, compassion, and empathy that the grudge obfuscated. In this way, people can let go of the identity of being someone who was wronged and move on to loving themselves.
To accomplish this, the bearers of grudges need to shift focus to what they actually felt and away from the person or situation that hurt them. People who hold grudges tend to dwell on the story, reliving the chain of events. Instead, redirect the mind to the emotions. Consciously separate the hurtful feeling from the person who caused them. Make a conscious effort to remove the sadness, hurt, and anger from the past situation.
Eventually, the mind recognizes that those negative feelings no longer serve a purpose. The feelings of sadness, hurt, and anger become unattached from the person and situation that caused them. The mind’s need for retaining the resentment slowly fades away. Typically, the most difficult step of moving beyond negative feelings is separating them from the person who caused the pain. People usually feel better mentally and physically once they do.
For people who find it very difficult to let go of grudges, professional counseling can help. You could also try a center like Neurocore for noninvasive, drug-free brain training.