When it comes to holding grudges, I have everything going for me. First of all, I am a Scorpio which apparently means I am genetically predisposed to being mad at you (FOR YEARS) at even the slightest offense. I am also super sensitive so it is relatively easy to hurt my feelings, meaning a grudge isn’t hard to come by. I’m also a WASP which means I have been bred to hold on to anger for years and hide it neatly under my J.Crew cardigan and wash it down with a Pinot Grigio. To quote Angela from The Office, “I don’t back down. My sister and I used to be best friends. And we haven’t spoken in sixteen years, over some disagreement I don’t even remember. So, yeah, I’m pretty good.”
And though I haven’t shared this with many until now, I find that my grudges are a great source of energy (like spin class-level energy.) A grudge is my own personal invisible Green Lantern Ring (though I imagine it would emit red light.) I hold on to it tightly until it becomes a part of my DNA. As the great Liane Moriarity wrote in Big Little Lies, “‘They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet.”
Now even though I do like my secret grudge fuel, I am ashamed of it at the same time. And I know that deep down that holding on to these feelings and letting them fester and then occasionally delivering a 10-minute alcohol-fueled monologue called “Why I will never forgive (insert horrible person’s name who done me wrong)” to an unwilling audience, is not the way to handle them. But according to a new and excellent book called How to Hold a Grudge by Sophie Hannah, grudges actually have transformative powers in all aspects of your life and don’t need to bring shame on you.
When Hannah told people she was writing a book about grudges from a positive/self-help perspective some people poo-pooed it even going so far as to call it “eccentric.” But at the same time, many people called it brilliant. Those are clearly the people who also enjoy their grudges.
“A lot of people went, ‘I love my grudges,’ they were clearly full of much more positive energy than the ones who turned their noses at ever having a grudge,” Hannah said. “I think how you react to this depends on whether you’re willing to accept that you occasionally have negative feelings and everything isn’t sweetness and light in a rainbow and daisies kind of way. I feel very honestly that it is quite hard to go through life and never have a grudge at all. I also don’t think it’s desirable.”
Grudges can be very positive
When Hannah, a celebrated crime novelist from England, began researching the book she was surprised to find that there was nothing really written on the subject (unless you count How the Grinch Stole Christmas as a book about grudges.) “I just couldn’t believe that because they are such a common and psychological phenomenon. They are a really central part of the human experience like love and hate and forgiveness. All of these things there are hundreds of books about,” she told Ladders.
Hannah also pointed out that people who tend to be very detailed and aware of your surroundings tend to hold more grudges. After all, if you aren’t paying attention to the world around you, you aren’t going to notice when someone is doing a major injustice like borrowing your stapler and never returning it. But because you have a grudge story now you know not to lend that person your possessions.
“I argue in the book that holding grudges doesn’t have to mean you are full of negative feelings. For me, holding a grudge in the right way enables me to get rid of negative feelings but not through having repressed them or denied them,” Hannah said. If Gordon Gekko could say greed was good, then why can’t the same be said of grudges?
Grudges are an evolutionary tool
Hannah argues that a grudge should really be viewed and used as a tool to evolve as a person. You need to give yourself a grudge story and allow it to be a living thing. She suggests writing down the grudge.
“What happens is that by giving myself that permission or validation to hold a grudge which essentially means saying to myself ‘That was not okay. That behavior was not acceptable and I am going to form a judgment in my mind about that behavior. I’m going to create my grudge and I’m going to use it to benefit me and protect me in any way that I can. And in doing that you create a commemorative symbolic grudge story,” Hannah said. “If you do that and honor your own experience and judgment in the situation then what you find is that the negative emotions don’t feel the need to linger because it has been dealt with in a way that you feel is fair. You are now going to use it to improve your life. There’s nothing to feel bitter about.
“Since I started doing it really consciously my actual negative feelings in grudge situations are barely noticeable. Once you start doing that you are in the business of doing something creative and productive.”
Your grudges will become artifacts
It almost sounds counterintuitive but a grudge, if you hold and process it in the right way (follow the Grudge-fold path as she has labeled it), enables you to be more “far more forgiving and less full of anger.” But you have to take the proper steps in order to create the judge.
“Don’t put pressure on your negative feelings to go. Consciously say to these feelings, ‘I totally get why you’re here and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Make yourselves at home. You’ve got every right to be here. Validate them and then they will stay as long as you want them too,” Hannah added. “Eventually, you are able to separate the intellectual feelings from the emotional ones. So often when we hate and resent people it’s because intellectually we haven’t fully processed the grudge itself.”
Grudges can actually be quite freeing and make you a better person.
So what are the steps for processing your grudge?
- Build a grudge cabinet. Write down the grudge (maybe in a Google doc) and then leave it alone. Let it be. Come back to it after a little time and really look at it and assess it. Literally, grade your grudge. “What was the intention of the grudge?” “How mad did it make me?” Like there are definitely differences between someone taking the last slice of pizza grudge and someone stealing credit for your work.
- Change the narrative. Ask yourself what you could have done differently in this situation? Then ask yourself if why the main reason you are angry is that you know you can’t change what happened or is it because you regret not taking action at the moment.
- React. Here is the magic part. Because you have validated these feelings and not just repressed them, you can learn differently from them. For example, if you have a rude or mean coworker you know to expect that behavior and you in return may be the opposite of that person. You are going to be courteous and a team player. “You can just have your grudge story ready so you are prepared. Once you expect it, it loses most of its power to upset you,” she said. You may soon find you will be able to have relationships with people you didn’t think you would be able to ever even stand in a room with again. “I am able to have a relationship with them with no bad feelings involved,” she explains. “But there is something about them that I need to remember to maybe protect myself from one aspect of their behavior.”
Forget meditation, 2019 is going to be all about grudges.
How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment―The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life by Sophie Hannah (Simon and Schuster) is available now.