"You're sick of hearing about it, aren't you?" I asked my husband over dinner one night.
"Yeah. And you should be, too," he shot back at me. "We've talked about it a hundred times, toots. You need to let it go."
"Why should I let it go? She was our friend. She said she loved me. Then out of nowhere she proclaimed, 'I'm moving on.' Just like that. Friends and then, poof, she was done with us!"
"Wise up, kiddo. There's two kinds of friends in the world, givers and takers. When she no longer needed us she was gone. Whatever motivated her has nothin' to do with you or me."
"She was telling you about how she deals with relationships, and how little we meant to her. Stop chewing on it, for God's sake, and just say 'Arrivederci!'"
"But I feel bad."
"I'll bet she doesn't feel bad! Dredging up your anger and hurt again and again about something you can't change is flooding you with stress hormones and harming your physical and emotional health. And crowding out the positive and loving experiences with the friends who truly care about us. When are you going to let go of that grudge?!"
That's my husband for you. Pretty different, he and I. He doesn't hold onto negativity. "Everything's gonna be fine," "Chill," "Relax," and "Don't worry about it." To him, the glass is always full and nothing's worth agonizing over.
And I . . . a much different story, I'm afraid.
I chew on old hurts and disappointments like a dog chews on his most beloved bone. Rehashing things over and over, I try desperately to understand a situation, the people involved in it, and myself more fully.
"Forget about understanding," he chides. You can't get inside anyone else's head but your own. Let go of all the bad feelings that are polluting your system!"
"Does that mean I have to give up my oldest and most cherished grudges?"
"Yep. What does holding onto them really get you?"
I hate to admit it, but it's kinda exciting to hold a grudge. There's a certain pleasure in entertaining people with the shockingly specific antics of supposed friends or relatives. It makes for amusing conversations and stranger-than-reality stories about the unkind and shallow nature of others.
My husband says I remember every heartache or betrayal in great detail, and hold onto my grudges so long that I can't even remember what happened.
"It can't be healthy to stir up those stress hormones each time you regurgitate old memories," my husband observes. "Your nervous system is already fragile from the wear and tear of real-life. Why put unneeded stress on yourself?"
Maybe he's right. Is it time to push the eject button?
When I look at what grudges I hold close to my heart, they're often about people who had their opinions and passed judgment without knowing what they were talking about. Or bitter dissolutions of relationships and offhand, yet cutting, remarks from people who thought their words were amusing or harmless.
What are grudges anyway, but petty tchotchkeswe store in our emotional pockets. For some people, they're like little pets, lovingly tended to, and kept alive for no reason other than to say,
"I haven't forgotten how much you hurt me."
A Stanford University study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, found that holding onto grudges increased stress and adversely affected physical health, particularly the immune and cardiovascular systems. Carrying grudges into old age is associated with higher levels of inflammation and decreases the body's ability to fight off acute and chronic diseases, including cancer.
So how does that process work?
Well, something happens and you can't deal with it. Rather than dismiss it, you let it gnaw at you over and over. The result is a constant wearing away of one's store of health and well-being. Holding onto a grudge is simply a highly ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation you haven't been able to master.
I know people who have held grudges for decades. One 70+ year-old, a guy whose grudge stretched back to second grade, still remembers the girl who said something unkind about a new pair of glasses he had started wearing. The girl's insult wasn't particularly vicious, but he's been quietly seething ever since childhood. Just imagine the damage that's done to his body and mind.
Giving up my grudges sounds like a great idea. But how will I do it? I mean, really give them up? Let them flutter away like November's lifeless leaves.
Giving up a grudge isn't about forgetting or pretending something didn't happen. It starts with dealing more skillfully with difficult issues from the get-go. But what if that doesn't work? How do I avoid holding onto the grudge that plagues me even when I can't resolve the situation?
"Assign a reasonable explanation to it, push the nasty feelings away, and be done with it. Once and for all." That's what my husband says.
I need to apply some of the other things I've learned from counseling others to myself:
There are some situations (and people) I can't fix. Like the kinks in my so-called friend's character.
Common sense tells me that if I've held onto a grudge for a long time, I'm still pretty emotional, or I would have let it go long before. I need to calm down and put it all in perspective.
Focus on the good things in my life as a way to balance the harm. And remember one simple truth: Life doesn't always turn out the way we want it to.
I'm not a victim of circumstances. I can do something about what's burdening me. Carrying around a grudge year after heavy year requires a lot of energy. What purpose does that serve?
I would be doing myself a big favor if I were to dump all my old grudges right here and now on this page and never ever look back. While doing so doesn't obligate me to forgive any damn fool who's hurt me, I'd have more peace if I tried to focus my attention on my current, loving relationships, the kind-hearted, generous people in my life, and how good all that makes me feel.
I'm trying. Really I am.