Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.
—Anne Lamott, author
Although you may not realize it, grudge-holding is an insidious form of self-sabotage. Forgiveness and letting go of anger, possibly held on to for years after the fact, are tremendous steps toward emotional freedom and personal empowerment. They are acts of self-care. Hurt and anger directed at another or ourselves are psychic blocks. They keep us chained to the event that caused our pain, and they waste precious emotional energy and time. Right about now, you may be thinking, “No way! I will never forgive ______________ for ______________. It was awful and they do not deserve forgiveness!” But hang in there for a moment and let us explain.
Think of forgiveness as something you do for you. It is not about the person who wronged you, nor is it condoning what they did. It’s about unlocking the chains that keep you shackled to both the past and the pain. You may be adamant that the wound you have experienced should not be released without punishment of the transgressor, but, we promise, the only way to find freedom is through forgiveness. You may believe you must cling to your anger and resentment to punish the person who hurt you. But, as Anne Lamott reminds us, the only person you are hurting is you! Take a moment to connect with the resentment you hold for someone who has hurt you. How does it feel in your body—suffocating, constricting, upsetting, anger-producing? By consistently returning to it, you stay stuck in those feelings and re-injure yourself over and over again. In his Psychology Today article, “Chains of Resentment,” Steven Stosny, PhD, founder of CompassionPower, shares how a member of a class he taught described the effects of resentment. “Dragging the chain of resentment through life is like carrying around a bag of horse manure.” Okay, he did not say “manure.” Stosny continues: “You want to smear the bag of horse do-do in the face of the person you resent. So, you carry it around, waiting for the opportunity, and carry it around, and carry it around, and carry it around. And who stinks?”
According to Clifford B. Edwards, author of The Forgiveness Handbook, “Forgiveness liberates you from the oppressive burdens of negative judgments, unresolved emotions, and the chafing restrictions of limiting beliefs from the past. You forgive so that you can be clean mentally and emotionally” — and we would add spiritually to this — “so that you can move forward in your life powerfully, with purpose, clarity and confidence. You forgive so that you can be free, fully self-expressed, and able to achieve your dreams.”
But why, even when we say we want to move on and let go, do we remain stuck? The answer is that we have been trained throughout our lives to hold grudges. It’s a constant theme in our music, soap operas, and films. All children witness their parents, teachers, and friends react to being “wronged” and unwittingly take on their habits. Subconsciously, many of us believe there is some benefit to adopting the label of being the person betrayed by a loved one, cheated out of a promotion, treated unfairly by a coworker, etc. We want everyone to know about it, so we gather evidence and enroll others into our sorrowful story. By showing the world that we were so obviously victimized, we announce to all that we deserve understanding, kindness, or special treatment. This is what we “get” out of the situation. As Alanis Morissette sings in her wonderful song “This Grudge” on her album So-Called Chaos, “This [grudge]—has served me greatly, ever the victim.”(We recommend listening to this song to hear more about how grudge-holding holds us back.)
And you carry around a sack of manure on your back, sometimes for years or even a lifetime. You adopt it as a part of your identity and may even wear it as a badge of honor, proving to the world that you have suffered greatly. The irony is that displaying the evidence of your suffering does not accomplish the goal of making you feel less hurt; the burden you carry only weighs you down. And it grows heavier over time.
Look closely and you will see that grudge-holding keeps you out of integrity. Integrity comes from your heart. Grudges are your monkey at work, filling you with stories of how you have been wronged, continuing the cycle of pain. When you hold a grievance, kindness, understanding, and empathy for others—and yourself—are far away.
Published with permission from Beyond Resistance: Coping with the Stress of the Trump Era.