THE BLOG
08/01/2010 05:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Let Go of a Grudge

You haven't fully let go of a grudge
until you have apologized to the person you're holding it against.
Until you do, it will continue to eat away at you and make you sick

and unless you do, it will turn you into a bitter person
just like the parent you learned it from
and then you'll make others sick when they're around you.

A few years ago, I realized I had been holding a grudge against someone for twenty years. I wasn't aware of it except when I realized that this person and I had been very close friends until an upset happened, that in retrospect was a result of my taking something personally that wasn't meant that way. Shortly thereafter we moved away from each other because our jobs took us to different cities. Following that I never stayed in touch with him, because I was harboring this long standing animosity. When twenty years later I became aware of it, I felt guilty and ashamed. I called my former friend and told him that I believed I owed him an apology for not being in contact with him (truth be told, he had not reached out to me either), because I had been holding a grudge against him that was completely unfounded.

Not being as neurotic as me and not having felt a grudge toward me, my friend responded: "Hey Mark, it's great to hear from you. I never thought anything came between us. I just thought we moved away from each other and went about living our lives. Glad you called, what's been happening to you after all these years?"

I hemmed and hawed and filled him in about my life and then he filled me in. After we hung up, I felt better, but felt like an idiot. I felt he hadn't given it another thought, since he was not bothered by the kinds of hang ups that I have. Then a few days later, he called me and said: "Hey Mark, where will you be this coming weekend? Because if you'll be at your home in Los Angeles, I would like to bring my wife and kids to meet your family." Which is what we did. Apparently, my call had an impact. I also realized that I hadn't completely let go of my grudge until I called my friend to apologize. He didn't need to hear my apology, but I needed to hear me make it so that I could be freed from my negative feelings.

I think what holds us back from letting go of anger is that we don't forgive as long as we need to blame. And we need to blame as long as we are unable to admit and feel the hurt from being injured by someone else. And we are unable to feel the hurt underneath, because doing so makes us feel vulnerable and fearful of a second attack that we are convinced would be too much to bear.

Apologizing to someone you have a grudge against who has hurt you is about letting go of your anger at them. It doesn't mean giving a hurtful person a second chance to hurt you again. It also doesn't mean doing this with a violent or abusive person, who you'd do best to steer clear of.

One of the best approaches I know to short circuit your emotions when you're upset and before you become angry and start down the road of holding a grudge is to:

  1. Say to yourself, "I'm reacting!"
  2. Answer the question to yourself: "What am I feeling hurt or disappointed about right now?" (If you can't get through the anger to the hurt or at least to the disappointment, it may be because the narcissistic part of your personality is too strong).
  3. Answer the question to yourself: "What is my evidence that the other person meant to hurt or disappoint me? And might I be taking something personal that wasn't meant that way? And if I am taking it personally and it is not meant that way, I need to let it go."

Another approach to nip anger in the bud comes from one of my friends, Bob Pratt, President of Volunteers of America Los Angeles, is one of the least grudge holding and most even tempered people I know. I asked him his secret. He told me, "Whenever somebody does something hurtful to me, I assume innocence and that they are doing it, because someone has done something hurtful to them. So, the person who acts with Road Rage to you is behaving that way, because something bad happened to them. My view is one should stop evil people when you encounter them, but there really are very few evil people in the world. Everyone else is flawed including you and me. And just as I would like people to cut me some slack because of my flaws, I have a policy of doing the same to them."

I converted a Road Rager to a friend some years ago by virtue of the lesson that Bob has learned (i.e by having them see that my bad driving was because I was having a bad day). I was having one of the most frustrating days of my life where it seemed that everything I did went wrong. I was driving on Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles as it enters into the San Fernando Valley in a place called Sherman Oaks. I was so preoccupied that I cut off this older 6 foot 5 guy in his pick up truck, not once, but twice. After the second time, he pulled in front of me and stopped and I was so dazed I just stopped when he did. I could see that his wife was telling him not to go out to confront me. He didn't listen and stormed out of his truck to start a fight with me. He came over beside my window and started swearing and yelling at me. I was so out of it, I opened my driver side window to hear what he was saying. He continued to make threatening gestures at me.

When he paused for a moment I said to him, "Have you ever had such an awful day where everything has blown up in your face, and that you just wish someone would come along and shoot you to put you out of your misery? Are you that person?"

He immediately pulled back and said, "What?"

I repeated, "Have you ever had such an awful day where everything has blown up in your face, and that you just wish someone would come along and shoot you to put you out of your misery? Are you that person?"

He then said in a calming voice, "Hey, it's okay, calm down, it's all going to be alright."

"That's easy for you to say," I blurted back, "you haven't had a day where everything you have done turned to crap. Really, I'm not kidding."

He then proceeded to try to calm me down and reassure me some more. After a couple minutes he went back into his truck, and waved to me in the rear view mirror as if to say, "Now settle down, it's going to be alright." And then he drove away and in a few moments I did the same.

Please share in the comments what you have discovered that has helped you to let go of a grudge (I assume that if you enjoy holding grudges, you will not have read this far).

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