Thoughts on Grudges, Anger, & Forgiveness
We all have that person. We would avoid an entire city to prevent ourselves from seeing him. It could be a former best friend, a family member that fell out, or an Ex-relationship that ended abruptly on bad terms.
That moment, however, will inevitably come. It could be years later, but your paths will cross again.
Maybe you’re both invited to the same wedding or maybe you run into each other in a public square.
No matter how big the venue, it will feel like you're stuck in an elevator with this person you were hoping to never see again.
Your mood might swing from care-free and happy to paranoid and anxious. The longer it takes to break the ice, the smaller the room gets.
The atmosphere is supercharged - it’s clear you have a lot to say, but your fear of saying too much prevents you from saying anything at all.
What do you do in this situation?
- Do you go first or do you wait?
- Do you crack a smile or do you break a sweat?
- Do you extend your arms to embrace or do you dig your hands into your pockets?
- Do you act civil or do you prepare for war?
I guess it depends… Did you hurt them or did they hurt you?
Or Maybe it doesn’t depend… Maybe it doesn’t matter…
Maybe you let bygones be bygones and let go of your grudges.
It’s not a quality I’m particularly proud of, but I am an expert when it comes to holding a grudge.
I had a lot of practice as a kid. It seemed like no matter how hard we tried to get along, at least one of us was outcast at any given time. The “us” I’m referring to: my two sisters and me.
All three of us getting along at once seemed impossible.
Before I left the house for college, going months without talking to one or both of my sisters became commonplace. Over time, that practice transcended into other relationships as well.
I’m not well-equipped with the emotional toolkit (or patience) to confront others and resolve issues. It’s much easier for me to lie to myself and say I forgive the transgression, try to forget the person, and move forward.
The problem with that approach is forgetting the person is never as easy as it seems, and holding onto a grudge in the form of unresolved anger takes more effort in the long run than simply letting go.
If there’s a single emotion I could rid myself of, it would be anger. It’s a destructive emotion that feels good in the moment, but only makes things much worse. Finally, even the shortest episode of anger can have a ripple effect that lasts much longer than either party is readily willing to accept.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
- Mark Twain
It’s easier said than done, but here are some ways I try to battle anger.
- Look in the mirror (literally or figuratively).
- We’ve all seen other people angry. It’s not a pretty sight.
- Your inability to recognize yourself may be enough to calm you down.
- Hanlon’s Razor: A mental model that says, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
- People make mistakes because they don’t know what they’re doing is wrong.
- Remind myself I’m not perfect either.
- Admitting I’m capable of making a similar mistake can mitigate the impact of the offense.
- Respond with compassion.
- Anger is based on the belief that someone deserves to be punished for their transgression. Try the opposite: help the offender by educating them on why their mistake hurts them more than it hurts you.
Forgiveness is a gift to yourself as much as it is to the offender. Exercise your ability to forgive freely, but refrain from asking for it.
Marcus Aurelius writes, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” He also wrote, “The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that.”
Instead, Marcus suggests to be kind. “Kindness is invincible, but only when it’s sincere, with no hypocrisy or faking. For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong— right as they are trying to harm you?”
Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. It’s moving forward and healing. We can’t let our lives, or our happiness, be defined by the fact that someone else has deliberately or accidentally hurt us.
A Better Way
Going forward, I want to be a better version of myself. Although I can’t change how I reacted in the past, I can certainly change how I handle conflict in the future. If not for myself, then for my kid. A kid that will certainly pay more attention to the actions I take than the words I spew.