Tim Herrera of The New York Times recently wrote about the benefits of letting go of your grudges. His findings are summarized below.
Chances are, if you were asked right now if you are holding any grudges, you could identify at least one, even if it seems small and petty. It’s also likely that you find it hard to let go of your grudges – essentially, what this would take is forgiveness. Forgiveness can get a bad rap and be viewed as a sign of weakness, when in reality, it’s one of the biggest signs of strength in a person there is. Forgiving others comes with a whole host of benefits: better anger management, lower stress, better physical health (specifically with our immune systems and heart health), and of course, better overall mental health.
Why It’s Hard to Let Go
Holding onto a grudge is a sign that some event has happened that you have not been able to successfully process and/or cope with, which can lead to both mental and physical distress because of the emotions you carry with you, like anger or sadness. The long-term negative effects of holding onto a grudge speaks to the ineffectiveness of grudge-holding as a coping strategy: processing a painful event might feel worse in the short term, but it benefits you in the long term.
How to Let Go
Getting rid of your grudges can reverse the negative effects of holding onto them, so there are many benefits to learning how to forgive and let go. While it can be hard to fully emotionally grasp the underpinnings of what it really means to forgive someone, the basics include understanding that the action is for you and your own benefit, not the person you’re forgiving; forgiving does not mean that you condone what happened; and that sooner is better than later, although it is never too late.
Dr. Frederic Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project has a four-step formula for letting go of grudges. When you have a grudge you’d like to dismiss, you want to first take a mental or physical break of some sort to help create emotional distance between yourself and the incident in mind. Next, you can use what therapists call narrative techniques to change how you recall what happened: you can retell the story in such a way that you are no longer a victim and can feel more empowered. Dr. Luskin’s final two steps are mindset changes: first, making a concerted effort to notice and name the positive things happening in your life alongside the negative, giving yourself a balanced worldview. Finally, you have to remember that life isn’t fair – one of the hardest ideas to come to terms with.
It’s also worth considering if you notice any patterns in the grudges you hold, whether that be the types of incidents you hang on to, particular people you hold grudges against, or the feelings that you are left with after something happens that would require forgiveness. This level of introspection flexes your forgiveness muscles, and it sets you up to better cope in the moment with future events that you can predict would leave you with the feelings you’re trying to process right now.
Dr. Luskin believes the most important thing to remember about forgiveness is that it’s possible to do, even if you don’t have a lot of experience with it – beginners to letting go of grudges can learn and practice the skills necessary to do so. Therapy is a wonderful space in which you can safely explore with someone trained to help you process past and present feelings – call Symmetry Counseling to get set up with a therapist if you think you would benefit from this kind of work.
Herrera, T. (2019, May 19.) Let go of your grudges. They’re doing you no good. What does holding onto grudges really get us?. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com