Holding a Grudge is Bad for Your Health. Here’s What to Do About It.

In 1993, American-born anti-apartheid activist, Amy Biehl, was brutally stabbed and killed by a mob of angry black militants in Gugulethu, a squatter camp just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. While undoubtedly tragic, Amy’s murder proved to be a turning point for a country on the brink of a race war. The death of a fellow activist and kindred spirit saw black and white South Africans marching together for peace.

If the story had ended there, it would still have been remarkable. But something much bigger came of Amy’s story. Her parents not only forgave their daughter’s killers but went on to develop a working relationship with two of them.

Stories of forgiveness abound if you search for them. A mother invites the man who murdered both her son and husband to ‘become my son.’ A daughter finds understanding after coming face-to-face with her father’s killer.

Unfortunately, there are many more stories of people who hold grudges against those who have wronged them. I know I’ve walked that road, maybe you have, too? It’s understandable, but it serves no purpose.

What happens when you hold a grudge?

Happiness and resentment cannot coexist. Holding onto past wrongs is like living life under a cloud. The sunshine can’t get through. It’s not just your emotional wellbeing that’s at stake, though. Harboring resentment puts your physical health in jeopardy too.

Holding a Grudge is Bad for Your Health. Here's What to Do About It.

Studies have found that holding a grudge produces cortisol and diminishes oxytocin. In other words, it revs up your ‘flight or fight’ response and reduces your ‘feelgood’ feelings.

Feelings of bitterness and rage also raise your blood pressure and negatively impact the tone of your vagus nerve, which helps you breathe, make memories and initiates your body’s relaxation response.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Science has shown that forgiveness can benefit your health. It increases your physical capacity, reduces blood pressure and promotes healing. It can even help you avoid unnecessary weight gain.

So, how do you let go of a grudge?

holding a grudge

Of course, knowing that forgiveness will benefit you is one thing; actively forgiving someone is another thing entirely. So, how do you do let go of bitterness and grudges and move on with your life?

According to the dictionary, to ‘forgive’ means stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw or mistake. While accurate, it can make it feel like it’s all about the other party. Instead, you need to see forgiveness as something you do for yourself first. You’re choosing to ‘let go’ to save yourself from the negative consequences that come from harboring resentment and anger.

When you approach it from that standpoint, letting go becomes easier, which in turn makes it easier for you to empathize with your wrongdoer.

Not every scenario will work out perfectly. Sometimes the person you’re forgiving won’t change, and that’s okay. You’re not forgiving them so that they’ll change. You’re forgiving them to experience positive change in your own life.

That’s not to say you’re obliged to continue a relationship with the wrongdoer and neither does it condone their actions. Forgiveness allows you to move on with your life, and it takes away the power the person had over you.

Be patient. Remember, forgiveness is different for everyone. If you’re struggling to let go, that’s fine. Try journaling about your feelings, talking to someone close to you or even seeking professional help. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

If you can’t forgive, you can’t dance or sing or smile. Nobody wants to live like that.

Thoughts on Forgiveness

“Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.” —Nelson Mandela

“If I wanted to resent him, I would never be able to fully enjoy the life my dad and so many others willingly or unwillingly died for.” —Candice Mama

“Do you think peace of mind can be found in holding a grudge…or harboring resentment…or wallowing in thoughts of what could have been? Me neither.” —Steve Maraboli

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” —Mark Twain

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” —Bernard Meltzer

Photo Credit: Getty Images

75 comments

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Toni W11 days ago

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Leo C14 days ago

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