I’ve held lots of grudges, and all but the most recently acquired ones have no feelings of bitterness or resentment attached to them at all. Those feelings might have been present immediately after the grudge-sparking incident (GSI) but have long ago dissolved.
So if I no longer feel anger or hostility, is it still a grudge? For me, the answer is a definitive yes: There’s still something “bookmarked” in my mind that I want or need to remember about the person in question, even when my anger from the GSI has long since passed. It might look something like this: Remember, Jennifer has often told my secrets to other people, having promised faithfully not to. This means that Jennifer doesn’t have a completely clean slate in my mind. My grudge about her is no longer a feeling of anger or bitterness, but it’s a story I want to remember because I can learn lessons from it and protect myself.
Importantly, I can still see and hang out with Jennifer—still have fun with her, like her, even love her—but my grudge protects me. Remembering it and not granting her a clean slate in my mind simply saves me from having future secrets spread around town or sold to the New York Post.
I have many such grudges. For example, Thomas (not his real name) is the leader of an organization I deal with regularly. He’s lovely and kind and a good guy, but he’s terrible at answering emails. If there’s ever any issue that needs sorting out, he will raise it for discussion, and then after I reply, I never hear from him again on the subject. I have a never answers emails grudge about Thomas, which means he doesn’t have a clean slate with me. I think it’s highly grudgeworthy to draw problems to people’s attention and then, when they attempt to solve those problems comprehensively, simply not reply. I think it’s rude. However, I’m not angry or resentful—in fact, I’m much happier and able to feel entirely positive about Thomas now that I’ve given myself official permission to hold this grudge. The grudge represents my judgment about the situation and my validation of that judgment. It’s my way of saying to myself, “This is not OK, and it matters that I’ve not been treated well.” That’s why holding it empowers me.
I use my grudge story about Thomas to inspire me (to reply to emails and never rudely ignore people) and to protect myself. I still solve some of the problems Thomas draws to my attention if I want to, but I no longer expect replies from him. Therefore I’m not disappointed when those replies don’t arrive. My grudge story has taught me what to expect in relation to Thomas. Thanks to my grudge, I don’t need to cling to any negative feelings. All I need to do is remember my grudge story, learn from it, and use it to benefit me. Giving myself official permission to do so is the equivalent of saying, “That’s now dealt with, and an official report has been filed.” It lets any residual negative feelings know that they don’t need to hang around. Their job is done!
Emotionally, I can then forgive and move on. My grudges enable me to think and behave differentlyaround people as a result of their grudgeworthy behavior—and that’s a very different thing from feeling hostile or unforgiving toward them.