5 Easy Steps to Letting Go of a Grudge

From small slights to slap-you-in-the-face transgressions, here’s the best method for getting over your hurt feelings and anger

By Cari Wira Dineen

A forgotten birthday. An unkind comment. A difference of opinion. All of these incidents are often hard to let go of—especially when it happens with a person that’s special to us. “In close relationships, such as with long-time friends and relatives, there are unspoken expectations, such as remembering your birthday or to be included in certain activities,” says Melissa Cohen, LCSW, a therapist in private practice Westfield, New Jersey. “We tend to idealize our closest friends and families and then we’re disappointed when they don’t live up to the ideal,” she explains. And when we feel disappointed, we tend to look for blame. This is how a grudge begins—and it can be hard to let go of because, well, you’re angry or insulted and the other person deserves to be punished for letting you down. But not letting a difficult situation go after it happens could cause even further damage—and not just to your relationship. Feeling angry and bitter can increase your level of stress and heart rate, says a recent study. In other words, hanging on to past slights are only hurting you. The remedy? Forgiveness. Not only will you be able to enjoy your relationship, but you’ll be freed from the anxiety that eats at you when you carry a grudge. In fact, letting bygones be bygones has been proven to lower your stress levels. Are your relationships suffering because you’re holding onto grievances that seem too important to let go?  It’s time to figure out how to forgive. Here’s how:

1. Allow yourself time to be upset.

“Feeling rejected or left-out is a very real human emotion,” says Shasta Nelson, founder and CEO of Girlfriendcircles.com and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. In fact science is showing us that feeling ignored or unwanted registers in the physical pain center of our brain, much the way a punch to the stomach would. “So don’t pile on shame or guilt for feeling hurt,” says Nelson. And stuffing your feelings down won’t solve anything either. Nelson says that many times, we simply put up with irritating slights for as long as we can (with the other person never knowing they are disappointing/hurting us) and then we just give up on the relationship when we feel it’s the ‘last straw’ which ultimately ends up killing the relationship.

2. But don’t stew in it.

Give yourself a maximum of three days to experience the hurt, says Cohen. “Three days is enough time for you to experience the pain, deal with the issue, and let it go,” says Cohen. Otherwise, you risk allowing the slight to take over as a priority in your life. Get introspective with yourself and try to figure out why you feel so slighted. Write out your feelings in a journal or ask yourself: Did this person hurt me intentionally? If I am disappointed, are my expectations reasonable? Were my expectations communicated and understood? Is this hurt triggering memories of unresolved pain from my past? 

3. Talk it out.

Having an objective third party—such as your spouse, spiritual advisor, or therapist is always helpful. But talk to them with the intention of healing—not getting them to side with you. “Dumping on someone else and having them agree with you might feel good, it probably won’t help you heal the rift,” says Nelson. Ask them to weigh in on whether they really think it was intentional or malicious—or not. And ask for their solid, honest advice.

4. Remember the good times.

“Remind yourself that whatever the person who slighted you said or did isn’t necessarily who they are,” says Nelson. When we’re angry at people, it’s because of something they said or did. Accept that whatever happened that caused you pain is in the past—and you can choose to reduce your own anger by remembering all the wonderful times you spent with your friend instead of focusing on the hurt.  

5. Reach out.

Still feel like you need to confront your pal for her friend fail? Proceed with caution. “Practice being honest and non-blaming so that you can share your hurt and open the conversation for greater understanding,” says Nelson. For example, say your daughter-in-law cancelled having you babysit for her and hired a sitter instead, which made you feel slighted. When you approach her, acknowledge that you’ve been examining your feelings by saying something like this: “I hesitated to bring this up because you totally have the right to pick whatever kind of help you need with your kids. So when you didn’t want me to come over last week, I was surprised that I felt hurt. It made me realize that what I really want is to be helpful to you and to connect with my grandkids in a meaningful way.”

Still, it might just be better to turn the other cheek than to risk starting World War III over being left off of an invitation list. “All friendships have disappointments and unmet expectations, and we can’t eliminate them all, but we can always invite more positivity—affirmation, laughter, memory-making— to the friendship,” says Nelson. So invite your friend over for dinner. Treat your daughter to a mother-daughter mani/pedi. Or just call up your friend and tell her you love her and miss her. “Maturity is all about practicing the actions that will bond us,” says Nelson. Chances are, one good laugh between friends is all it takes to make it blow over.



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