he dictionary defines a grudge as a feeling of resentment or rancor (deep-seated ill-will). Usually the events for which we hold grudges are long-time past, yet, deep in our heart is this little hard cold spot where the memory of that event, accompanied with anger and resentment, lives on as if it happened yesterday.
Nothing good can come out of holding a grudge. That dark negative energy comes up at the strangest moments, sometimes unconsciously, affecting other things in our lives. A striking example of this was a fire that raged in Colorado. This fire was started by an action taken in anger -- a woman was angry after reading a letter from her estranged husband and set the letter on fire -- and the fire raged out of control and destroyed everything in its path.
Isn't this how it is in our lives as well? Whether our anger is visible and rages infernally like an out-of-control forest fire, or whether is smolders deep within our heart affecting everything it touches, if we want to have inner peace, we must deal with it.
Sometimes these grudges are very old -- so old that we at times pretend to ourselves that it's water under the bridge and old news. Yet, the subconscious mind doesn't differentiate between the "old" angers and the newer ones -- anger is anger is anger. Whether it is recent or not, it still creates a hard cold place in your heart.
Once Upon A Time
I'm going to tell you a story that I must admit I am embarrassed about -- but maybe my "coming clean" will help you acknowledge your own buried resentments. I carried a grudge for over 30 years, and through those years, the memory of it often came up and re-ignited the feelings of hurt, resentment, and anger. Over thirty years ago my very best friend through school set her sights on my boyfriend and decided that he'd be better off with her than with me -- and proceeded to try and "steal him" away from me.
From the moment that happened, I threw her out of my life. I never spoke to her again and tried to act as if she did not and never had existed. For thirty years I held that grudge. Mind you (in my defense), the fact that for 29 of those 30 years we've lived anywhere from 300 to 2000 miles apart helped -- yet in my heart, no matter the distance, I held a grudge, feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry. For those thirty years, any time I thought about her, it was with anger and resentment.
Then in the later part of those thirty years, as I started to work on my personal growth, forgiveness was a topic that came up often. Well, I forgave a lot of people in my life, but never her. The feeling of betrayal and rejection was so firmly rooted, that I didn't want to forgive her. After all, she had betrayed my love for her. I wasn't about to forgive her for that.
Then, as the years went on, I started to wonder why she had acted as she did? Why does one turn away from a best friend and do something that one knows will hurt them? The next step in my thought process was that if I knew why she'd done it, then perhaps I'd be able to forgive her. So I proceeded to "track her down". After a series of phone calls, I got her phone number, but still didn't call.
It's Not About Them
Then one night as I was sitting quietly, it came to me that the reason I needed to call her was not to find out "why she did it" so I could forgive her, it was rather to ask her to forgive me for never having given her the chance to explain herself. You see, when I found out she had gone out with my boyfriend while I was out of town, I never spoke to her again -- not even in anger. I decided she did not exist -- I pretended she wasn't there. After all, such a betrayal cut deep, so I cut a deep chasm between us that could not be crossed. I never spoke to her again.
With the wisdom acquired in the 30 years hence, I now realize that I also betrayed our friendship at that time. I could have given her the benefit of the doubt and at least talked it over, and given her a chance to explain. I could have honored our past friendship and seeked healing then. I could have "given peace a chance".
So I realized that my call to her was about my asking her to forgive me, not the other way around. Rather a switch from my thought pattern of the past thirty years, but, as I like to say "It takes two to tango". Though I hated to admit it, I also had a role to play in our estrangement. I had reacted with anger and resentment, and not given her a chance to explain, and I had not tried to resolve the matter.
Well, I did make that call, and after a bit of discomfort, we got through it. We both asked the other for forgiveness. And we both realized that we each needed to forgive our own selves for our actions and our feelings for the past thirty years. It was like a weight had been taken off. What a feeling of freedom to finally let go of that old resentment. We were both able to laugh at ourselves for the fools we'd been. We then spent about an hour and a half on the phone "catching up".
What I now realize is that the feeling of resentment I carried around for years prevented me from totally opening my heart and trusting others in my life -- after all, if my best friend had betrayed me, then anyone else could, right? So this one event colored the rest of my life with feelings of mistrust and fear. This one event created a door in my heart that wouldn't open completely, because I didn't want to be hurt again like that.
Thirty years is a long time to carry around a hard stone around your neck. And it feels incredible when the rock is gone. But the rock must be released through forgiveness -- forgiveness towards yourself for holding on to it that long, and for the other person who was simply doing what they felt they needed to do (for whatever reasons, logical or not, loving or not).
Would You Rather Be Right or Be Happy?
Let's all encourage each other to get rid of the grudges we've been storing inside our heart and mind. They are not helping us in any way. After a while, these grudges pile up and create a stone wall around our heart blocking out love, joy, and true freedom.
We sometimes think that love, joy and freedom come to us from others, but rather they are generated from within us -- and the dark resentments we hold on to are great barriers to our creating these realities in our lives. Every grudge and resentment becomes a stumbling block on our path, tripping us up when we least expect it.
Sometimes these long-held angers can ignite fires that burn the other people we come into contact with. Sometimes they slowly poison our relationships. Most of the time, they take the joy out of our lives by reminding us of our "right" to be angry, to be resentful, to hate. Yet hatred, anger and resentment do not a happy person make. I am reminded of the question: Would you rather be right or happy?
Unfortunately, many of us have chosen to be right over being happy. We've chosen hanging on to our grudges (after all we were "right" and "they" were wrong) rather than forgive, let go, and move on. We must realize that the person we're punishing with our rancor is not the "other one" (after all they may be 2000 miles away), we are the ones being hurt now -- we are where the anger is residing and creating havoc. We are living in the midst of the raging inferno, in the middle of the toxic dump, drowning in the poisoned waters of our emotions.
Who are the ones that are being hurt by the old grudges? We are, and our children, and the people we live with and work with, and the people we come into contact with. The resentments we carry color all our interactions in one way of the other. Sometimes we become bitter, always angry, lashing out at others for any small pretense. Other times, we camouflage our resentments and they only pop up, we think, at stressful moments, or maybe we think they don't affect us at all.
Yet, whether the cancer of resentment that resides within us is visible or not, it has been creating havoc in our being. Melt it away with forgiveness -- first for yourself for carrying it around all those years, and then let the other person go as well. Look at their action for the lesson it holds for you. Learn to be a more loving person from it. Learn to be a better person than you were at the time, or that the other person was.
We can always get into "but I was right", yet does that bring peace to our heart? We need to really ask ourselves a hard question: Would we be willing to let go of this if it were a matter of life and death? Well, it is a matter of life and death. True inner joy and inner peace cannot exist in a minefield of grudges. So the choice is yours! You can deactivate the resentments by letting them go, or you can go through life never knowing when you'll step on a live mine that will blow up in your face, or in the face of your loved ones.
I've been asked "how does one let go?" You do so in the same way you let go of something you are holding. You simply open your hand and set it down. You make the choice to let go of the grudges you've been holding on to. Anytime those persons or the resentments come to your consciousness, remind yourself that you've chosen to let those go, and take a deep breath, let it out, and move on.
Choose to open your heart and release them. You may have to do this over and over again, until your subconscious "gets it", until it understands that you no longer are choosing to feed the fires of resentments with "I was right and they were wrong and they should be punished" attitudes.
When we let go of grudges, we feel better for it. More free, more joyful, and more peaceful. We let go of a chain that we had tied to our ankle for a long time. We can then step through life with a much lighter attitude, one which attracts many blessings our way.
InnerSelf Recommended Book:
by Colin C. Tipping.
This is NOT just another book on forgiveness; this one provides the necessary tools to help you forgive profoundly, more or less instantaneously and with ease. First published in 1997, this 2nd Edition builds on the success of the first edition which has changed lives. Unlike other forms of forgiveness, radical forgiveness is easily achieved and virtually immediate, enabling you to let go of being a victim, open your heart and raise your vibration.
Info/Order this book.
About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.