One of the things that I have noticed over the course of my lifetime, is how many people hold onto grudges.
I’ve met countless people that struggle to let go of their anger for those who have wronged them. They find it difficult to let go of the hurt that another has caused them. When you ask them about it, they tell you that the burden of carrying around the anger can feel toxic at times, as if it’s slowly poisoning them from the inside. Yet, they also are reluctant to let it go. More often than not, this is because they don’t yet have the emotional vocabulary to work themselves clear of their feelings of hurt, anger, and desire for vengeance. They hold onto the grudge as if they’re waiting for the moment where they can savor in the other person’s misfortune. There’s almost giddy anticipation of the schadenfreude.
Getting your mind clear of the negative feelings associated with a grudge can be one of the most important things you can do. It will free you up from having to drag around that hostility, and allow you to more easily move forward, powerfully.
I would like to share with you what is going on in my mind when I let go of my anger or forgive someone, in the hopes that by following this framework you can let go of, at least, a few of the grudges you’ve been carrying around for too long.
How To Let Go: Part 1
Let me be clear. I have some grudges. I am not some perfect beacon of absolute forgiveness and mercy. I’m not lecturing you from the ivory tower. Nah, screw that! There is, in fact, a small number of people for whom, upon hearing news of their misfortune, I would take substantial delight, in some cases, to the degree of throwing a fancy celebration. So yeah, I can hold a grudge too. For everyone else, however, I’ve always found it very easy to let go of my anger, or if needed offer forgiveness. So, with that said, let me start out by giving you the most practical method of letting go of a grudge.
Tips For Running A Marathon
I’m about to turn 40 and one of the things I’ve noticed is that as I get older, life tends to feel as though it’s moving faster. I look back and wonder where all the time went. But, that’s hindsight. The truth is that 40 years is a long time when it’s experienced in real-time. Over 40 years I’ve met a lot of people. Some of them said things that hurt me. Some of them did things that hurt me. Some of them did or said things to hurt those that I care about. And over that time, I’ve definitely been the person to say or do hurtful things to others. This is a reality of life.
Each grudge is something you will carry around, somewhere in your brain and your heart, whether you are conscious of it or not. This is the equivalent of running a marathon with tiny kettlebells in your pockets. Sure, you could do it, but maybe limit the number, so that the run isn’t needlessly painful. Whether you’re reading this at 13 or 65, you’re likely to meet a lot of people over the course of your life. Some of those people will suck, hopefully, less than the number who are freaking awesome. If you were to set the bar low enough, you could carry around a substantial list of grudges by this weekend, and I’m writing this on a Friday.
My recommendation is to save your grudges for those who REALLY deserve it.
Save it for the people who despite your attempts at empathy or compassion, double down on their attempts to hurt you. Save it for the ones who want you to know that their words and actions are not an honest mistake, but instead an honest confession of their attempts to harm you.
Make your enemies list something special.
People should REALLY have to EARN their way onto it.
Otherwise, you’re just making it difficult on yourself and being too loosey-goosey with where you direct your animosity and you’re carrying around unnecessary weight in your life. This is the practical tip: self-preservation.
How To Let Go: Part 2
The Common Human Struggle
Now that we’ve covered the practical mindset, let’s talk about the real secret to letting go of the anger.
FACT: Life is just straight up fucking hard sometimes.
- I don’t care if you grew up poor or with money. As a human, you’ve got issues.
- I don’t care if you are traditionally attractive or deemed by society to be repulsive. As a human, you’ve got issues.
- I don’t care if you are neurotypical or neurodivergent.
Now, just so I’m being crystal clear, I’m not suggesting that people don’t have objectively varying degrees of difficulty in life. That’s obvious and should go without saying. What I’m suggesting is that the human experience is subjective and no one has got it easy. The important thing is to rehumanize one another rather than create caricatures.
We’re not all that different, you and I
Every human has to face death, it’s something that unites us all. As my dad (and Jim Morrison) have said: “No one here gets out alive.” Facing our own mortality is scary AF, at times. Most of us are worried about our health at some point. Most of us worry about our safety, security, and stability at some point. We all want to be loved and accepted for who we are and, unfortunately, many of us live in a society that can make that difficult.
Life is a struggle. Period. End of story. Anyone who we may think has it universally easy, is likely fighting another battle that we can’t see.
It is for this reason that I am almost always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I likely have no idea the mountains of struggle someone has endured and how those experiences knowingly or unknowingly shaped this person’s behavior and worldview. I have no idea how they truly feel about themselves. I may not have any idea of what is going on in their life. I don’t know what is currently influencing their beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, or prejudices.
Consider this: We don’t even consciously think our thoughts, we just observe them and justify them later. Think about that. SEE! I just made you think about that. Checkmate! Few people take the opportunity to stop, slow down, breathe, and observe their thoughts…they just react instinctively.
- Many of our compulsions as humans are the result of experiences and dogma that have been buried deep in our subconscious mind.
- Many of our ways of relating to others are the result of things that happened to us at a very early age, before the time we can even remember.
- Many of our automatic thoughts are the product of things that happen to us, not necessarily because of us.
Further, as someone who is well aware of my own countless mistakes, I see how many were the product of pure immaturity, complete ignorance, or just bad timing. I have a laundry list of regrets. The bottom line is that the world is messy, life is hard, and people screw up. When we recognize that, we can treat people with compassion and understand the truth that most harm from people is not the result of willful malice but often of something else less intentional.
See the common human struggle and be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Let go of your anger and be willing the forgive them.
How To Let Go: Part 3
The Aspirational Identity
To wrap up my three-step process, I offer you this question: Who do you want to be? Your aspirational identity will be the defining factor about whether you will adopt this posture or not.
I want to be the person who makes others feel good about who they are. I want people to laugh, to smile, and to love. I want people to feel heard and understood for exactly who they really are rather than what anyone else wants them to be. I want people to follow their hearts toward making the world a better place. That’s who I want to be and part of that requires me to be a person who is willing to forgive others.
Part of my core belief is that human beings want to be moral and in the absence of influences to the contrary, people want to be kind and want to be loved and accepted. As a result, I want to be the kind of person who offers people the opportunity to make amends for their mistakes.
Decide who you want to be. If that person you want to be is the kind of person who lets go of grudges, then you will have a much easier time finding reasons to forgive people.
A Few Important Notes and Caveats
Letting Go vs Forgiveness
What I’ve mostly been talking about is letting go of the anger. Note that this is distinctly different from forgiving people. Forgiveness can be offered unilaterally by you. For me, I typically reserve forgiveness for instances where the person who has wronged me offers an apology. They must take action to seek amends for their transgression in order for forgiveness.
Absence of that action does not preclude me from deciding to let go of my anger or absolve them of malintent. I tend to assume everyone is making it up as they go along and often leave damage in their wake but I don’t assign blame for malice without good reason.
Systems vs People
I have been speaking specifically about people in this post. While systems are made up of people, it should not be afforded the same goodwill.
Systems are not granted the benefit of the doubt, the consequences are far more significant. Systems that wrong people do so…systematically. This implies structural problems that without correction, continue to do harm on a significant level. As a system is not an individual entity but rather a collection of decisions, it is not part of the same common human experience. Systems are not afforded compassion or empathy because systems are non-conscious tools.
I have not let go of my anger toward nor do I forgive eBay for stealing money from me when they unilaterally impose a policy that benefits themselves but harms me.
I have not let go of my anger toward nor do I forgive our Government institutions for allowing voter suppression efforts, failing to utilize our tax dollars for vital services that benefit the population like healthcare or infrastructure, or for centuries of racist and discriminatory policies.
I do not forgive Facebook for creating algorithms and ad policies that allowed and continue to allow for our democracy to be subverted by foreign nations that do not care about our best interests.
Systems should be held accountable and there should be no forgiveness. Grudges should be held and acted upon until the problems are resolved.
I hope this post was helpful. Now, go cross some names off your enemies list and lighten your load. Good luck.
Also published on Medium.