Getting over Grudges

It might be momentous bad experiences from our past or little things that irritate us on a daily basis. Regardless of its context, sometimes we find it hard to let these go, burry the hatchet, put the pass behind, forgive and forget, kiss and make up…shall I continue?

By Samineh I Shaheem

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Published: Sat 21 Apr 2012, 10:23 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:41 PM

This psychological act of hanging on to hate, resentment and anger is referred to as bearing a grudge. There are those people who permanently hold grudges against anyone who has hurt them. They might think that remaining bitter is a show of strength or victory over the disagreement. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further than the truth.

Grudges, like all things that trigger stress, eventually cause destruction on our bodies as well as our minds. The inability to release anger affects both our physical and emotional immune systems. This lagoon of pent up emotional poison can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, confusion, depression, an inability to concentrate, sadness, hopelessness and a whole host of other negative emotions that cripple our everyday existence.

Now there is a clear difference between forgiving and forgetting, even though the two are very closely intertwined. Forgiving does not mean you have accepted the act of injustice. Rather, it means that you have made a conscious decision to gradually release the anger and resentment you feel toward someone who has done you wrong or hurt you. It is the act of untying yourself from thoughts of retaliation and revenge and instead choosing to embrace peace, happiness and hope.

Forgetting on the other hand means that you ultimately don’t remember the event. However this may not always be useful because it is the memory of a hurtful situation, which will protect you and prevent it from reoccurring. Once you forgive, the emotional grip is less, leaving only the lesson of the experience to be remembered.

According to the health website, if you can bring yourself to forgive, “you are likely to enjoy lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and a drop in the stress hormones circulating in your blood. Back pain, stomach problems, and headaches may disappear. And you’ll reduce the anger, bitterness, resentment, depression, and other negative emotions that accompany the failure to forgive.”

Letting go of a grudge is an emotional act, which transpires when we have gone through four very important stages.

These stages are:

1. Allowing enough time to pass

2. Talk to the person who has hurt you so that they admit their mistakes and perhaps through this, you are made aware of your contribution to the problem. If you don’t feel comfortable communicating with them directly, write them a letter.

3. Empathies with the person, allowing you to think that everyone makes mistakes and maybe their actions were not entirely intentional

4. Witnessing a change in their behaviour. If the person has genuinely taken on board your reaction to their actions and is making an effort to change, this helps dissolve the strong emotions we once felt, replacing it with compassion and mercy.

The absence of any of these stages results in negative emotions once again being activated, not allowing us to move forward or to forgive.

Being unforgiving is an expensive emotional and physical practice. Research through the International Forgiveness Institute has shown that there are signs we should watch out for when its time to try and let go of grudges, such as:

  • Dwelling on the events surrounding the offense
  • Hearing from others that you have a chip on your shoulder or that you’re wallowing in self-pity
  • Being avoided by family and friends because they don’t enjoy being around you
  • Having angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slights
  • Often feeling misunderstood
  • Drinking excessively, smoking or using drugs to try to cope with your pain
  • Having symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
  • Automatically thinking the worst about people or situations
  • Regretting the loss of a valued relationship
  • Feeling like your life lacks meaning or purpose
  • Feeling at odds with your spiritual belief

The emotionally intelligent individual understands that rebuilding a worthwhile relationship is much more of a mature option than harbouring rage and bitterness. Now if all of this other information isn’t enough to convince you how damaging holding a grudge can be than perhaps you can tap into your selfish dimension and acknowledge the fact that the only person being damaged is you. Actively holding on to a grudge is psychologically and sometimes even physically exhausting and it prevents you from focusing on the more positive aspects of your life. As the saying goes, ‘to make a mistake is human, but to forgive is divine.’

Remember, learning more results in living more…over to you.

Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross-cultural consultant at HRI. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. She co hosts a radio program (Psyched Sundays 10-12pm) every Sunday morning on Dubai Eye discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community.

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