It’s not easy to forgive and forget. Yes, we know it’s the right thing to do but when we feel we’ve been wronged by someone, we tend to hold on to a grudge. The hurt we go through at times can run deep and can cause us to feel sadness, distress, anger, betrayal, and resentment. Months go by, sometimes years, but we can’t bring ourselves to forgive and forget.
Unfortunately, grudge-holding can negatively impact your mental and physical health. Leading psychologists say that clinging on to a grudge forces us to replay a story about an event over and over in our heads and think about all of those negative emotions associated with it. For example, someone in your family made some very nasty comments about you behind your back. Or maybe a very dear friend betrayed you in a way you could have never imagined. You can’t let go of those feelings of hurt and keep replaying what happened in your mind time and time again.
This eventually causes us to carry negative, tense energy in our biology leading to significant negative impacts on our mental and physical health.
What does holding a grudge do to your health?
While we all may fall into holding an occasional grudge, some people can hold on to those feelings of resentment, bitterness, and anger longer than others. Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, is not easy to forget, after all. But ultimately those thoughts trap you in feelings of persistent anger and stop you from moving forward in life. You become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can't enjoy the present.
More importantly, a long-lasting grudge can also affect your health.
It can impact your mental health
Grudge-holding can have a negative impact on your mental health. In one study, researchers found the participants who had held onto anger and hostility for close to a decade experienced greater cognitive decline than those who were more prone to forgive
Another study found that forgiveness can help people overcome the negative effects of a conflict. Studies also show that constantly thinking about an unpleasant event makes it feel like it happened more recently and, therefore, can make us feel drained and frustrated.
If these results seem surprising, just take a minute to think about a grudge you still hold or might have held at some point in your life. Since nothing gets resolved or changes, you end up feeling more frustrated or bitter.
Built-up resentment can add to your stress and thereby increase feelings of anxiety and depression in people. Researchers have shown that repressing anger and blaming others can trigger more negative feelings.
Furthermore, holding on to anger makes us waste a lot of our time thinking of revenge. This includes mulling over acts of aggression, which is never healthy.
It can have a negative effect on your physical health
Studies indicate that living in a chronic state of anger and resentfulness can profoundly increase your stress, leading to an overall negative effect on your physical health.
Chronic stress can disable your body’s repair mechanisms and can hurt the immune system or affect your digestion, sleep, and cardiovascular health. Research shows that excess anger can impact your decision-making ability as well. Memory and perception of reality of those who tend to hold on to grudges may also get affected.
Accept that you need to let go
So, now that we know it’s important not to hold on to grudges, it’s time to talk about how to let them go. Research shows forgiveness and acceptance can lead to a more emotionally balanced outlook and help us lead a healthier, stress-free life. The first step towards forgiving someone is to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. But forgiving someone who hurt you or betrayed you isn’t that easy. That act that hurt or offended you may always be with you, but forgiveness can help you be free from those negative feelings.
This isn’t to say that you should immediately decide one day that you will forgive the person who wronged you and everything will be okay. You can’t rush to forgiveness and try to minimize what happened. Simply pushing aside your feelings of resentment means you’re refusing to accept the hurt. This, too, is wrong. You are suppressing that emotion and over time they get stored up. So what should we do?
Tips For Letting Grudges Go
The following steps can help you let go of grudges.
* Accept what happened. Allow yourself to feel the pain rather than avoid it. Be honest with yourself that harm was caused and then find the path forward. If you don’t fully acknowledge that you have been holding on to a grudge, you can’t get through it cleanly.
* Consider how clinging on to the grudge has affected your behavior and other aspects of life. If necessary, write those points down. Once you fully realize the amount of harm this is causing, it will allow you to see that it’s time to move on.
* Decide to forgive. This doesn’t mean that you have to forget the offense or reconcile. It also doesn’t mean that you condone what they did or try and rationalize their behavior. Remind yourself that you just need to stop giving power to the conflict. You can't go back and create a better version of the past, so accept that you can’t continue to remain in this self-imposed cycle of suffering and need to forgive to move on.
* Understand that true forgiveness takes time. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. Take your time and focus on making progress. Remind yourself every day that you must let go of some hurt and anger.
* Once you decide to let go of your grudge, make sure you don’t dwell too much on the situation. Again, this won’t happen overnight. But dwelling on the grudge or talking about it with others regularly will make it harder for you to let go.
* Visualize letting go of your grudge. Imagine a thick rope connecting you to the person you want to forgive. Then, visualize letting the rope go, little by little. Do this as a form of exercise every day for a few minutes. Eventually, you will be in a better state of mind to forgive.
* Once you finally allow yourself to forgive, you will realize a whole new person has emerged from inside you. A person who has several layers and can feel. Embrace that new person and let this transformation have a positive impact on your mental well-being.
Related: 7 Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Turning Over a New Page
Ultimately, forgiveness is the path to our mental and emotional freedom. So, as important as it is to acknowledge your grudge-worthy emotions, dwelling on those feelings will only cause you harm. Forgiveness is your best way to make meaning out of the suffering you went through. Forgiving isn’t easy, especially if you’ve gone through a lot of pain. However, it’s the only way to truly have peace.
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