3 Ways to Let Go of a Grudge, According to a Psychologist
It's never anyone's intention to hold onto a friendship grudge and the toxic energy associated with it. But at a certain point, enough time passes and it can feel extra challenging to move on from things that were said…or, in some cases, not said.
As it turns out, there’s actually a satisfaction factor—and a feeling of self-righteousness and moral superiority—that comes from holding onto a grudge, according to New York City-based psychotherapist Sarah Saffian, L.C.S.W. M.F.A. But that feeling of satisfaction is also the reason grudges are so tough to let go of: “If you allow yourself to release the grudge, that can give the impression that you’re letting someone off the hook,” Saffian explains. “Holding onto a grudge is a form of self-protection. Because anger is a more powerful feeling than vulnerability and acknowledging that you’re hurt.”
Still, there is a way to navigate these emotions and—better yet—finally let go of a grudge. Saffian gives us the step-by-step.
Think Back to the Origins of the Grudge
Depending on how much time has passed, it can be tough to remember who said what and when, but reflecting on the original incident—and examining your own role in it versus only criticizing the other person’s behavior—can be super eye-opening, says Saffian. For example, you should ask yourself: Why did you feel the way you did during (or immediately following) the interaction? How would you describe the feelings you felt? Say, the action that was taken by the other person was small. Why did you react so strongly? Keep in mind: This isn’t about blame, it’s about pinning down the source of the tension and trying to contain it.
Next, Ask Yourself: Why Have I Been Holding Onto This for So Long?
Are you getting something out of carrying this around? Does feeling right make you feel better? Are you holding onto hope that the other person will come around? What’s the likelihood of that happening? Basically, this part is about examining the amount of mental space the grudge is taking up and working to detach from those toxic feelings, explains Saffian.
Reframe Your Definition of Forgiveness
It’s easy to say: “I can’t forgive her because she hasn’t expressed remorse. If she apologized, we’d be all good.” But that’s where you need to flip your definition of forgiveness and think of it as a gift to yourself as opposed to for your friend. If you forgive a person privately in your heart—especially if you know it’s not possible to turn the other person over to your side—it’s healthier for you. The advice Saffian gives her clients? Write a letter that you won’t send and use that as a tool to find the words to express yourself. What made you angry? Why are you still angry? Spell out what it will take for you to care less? Per Saffian, you can’t switch off feelings, but holding onto them gives the other person too much power. Writing a letter is an act of letting go.