grudges are a heavy burden

"Grudges" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Grudges” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I learned some time ago that carrying a grudge is a waste of time. It also robs me of joy and peace of mind.

My family and I… we were treated very badly by a Christian leader. After many years of anger, resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge passed while waiting for him to repair the damage, I realized it was totally up to me. When he died, leaving behind no apology that came close to the level of devastation caused, I knew for a fact it was totally up to me.

Am I going to hold a grudge, and like this man in the picture be weighted down for the rest of my life? Or am I going to release the grudge, heal myself, and continue on with the life set before me?

The Buddha is quoted saying, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Of course, Jesus is also famous for promoting forgiveness and letting go of anger. Or any therapist would say the same thing. In other words, it’s nothing new in the area of personal health.

I am not saying that my perpetrators need not make amends. This is about my own personal response. How am I going to proceed? How am I going to get on with my life? Because the chances are my perpetrators, even if they do apologize, may never grasp the full dimensions of their violations against me.

Also, unfortunately, many religious people see this teaching of forgiveness as a license to harm others. It can create an unhealthy environment for abuse. Again, this is not what I’m addressing here. I’m talking about how we can immediately step in the direction of moving on from our hurt and anger to peace of mind and joy again.

This also doesn’t mean you must reconcile with your perpetrator and make things right and be all cozy again. Again, I’m talking about your own ability to heal yourself and move on. This has nothing to do with your perp.

Now, all that being said, we are allowed to hold on to our grudges. Some offenses seem too great to drop. But this will never bring peace of mind or happiness. We do have a choice. In fact, I believe in a place where forgiveness is no longer necessary.

You can heal yourself. You can let the grudge go. You will be and feel better for it. I know it.

Meet other people learning to let go of grudges in our online community The Lasting Supper.

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23 Replies to “grudges are a heavy burden”

  1. >>“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.<<

    I LOOVVEEE the Buddha quote! So true. But it's hard not to drink from that cup.

  2. I would affirm what you have shared.

    When I have been vulnerable and talked of practicing forgiveness, that has offended some people. I have even been accused of either being abusive or supporting abuse in doing do. In every case, that’s my accuser’s problem not mine. Why would I let what anyone thinks about me prevent me from being free of any grudge?

    If I am to heal from what has been done to me I must let it go. Whether I like it or not, I need to forgive myself too – sometimes I find that harder.

  3. I find it hilarious that people use quotes to try to add authority or proof to their points. It is a classic sales technique.

    This is one of those many fake Buddha quotes. See this book for more fake Buddha quotes and the article on this misquote.
    (click here)

    But heck, make the Buddha say it, and suddenly it has to be true. Sometimes it is Gandhi or Einstein — lots of famous people to credit historically inaccurate words to. Smile

    Some say the quote is from St. Augustine — to give it a Christian spin. And it is also used in many 12-step programs.

    But who cares who said it, either way, it is a cute saying.

  4. Ya know, I personally think there may be a genetic component to “grudge holding”.

    Some people are very prone to it and a few lucky people are not.

    Perhaps useful at times (to avoid dangerous people), but it is certainly painful.

    I am not a grudge holder at all, but I might have gotten stung less if I were — though I’d be unhappy in other ways.

  5. I agree. Which is why I said “it’s nothing new in the area of personal health”. But you’re right. One thing I noted with Krishnamurti (my favorite eastern philosopher)… is that he disdained quoting others as a waste of time and lending a false sense of authority to things. If it’s true it’s true. Period.

  6. I agree that truth is truth, however it is common practice in making a case for a propositional truth to state the case and then quote a respected figure to affirm the point being made. It’s affirmed as a valid approach in academic work to critical engagement in my experience. As opposed to the logical fallacy of an “argument from authority”, being that though that authority may very well be respected, it is not guarantee that their argument in not flawed.

    So I suppose it depends on how others are quoted. For example your Buddha quote affirms the point you are making David – that would be sound use of a quote as opposed to the “waste of time” quoting that Krishnamurti posits.

  7. Regardless of the provenance of the quoted sentiment, it’s a valid point. Anger at injustice can be a force that drives change if it’s channeled in a positive direction. But when it turns into a caustic habit that serves no purpose other than to fuel resentment, it’s time to change course – use that energy to create good or recognize its drag on you and cut it loose. To me, this is pragmatic forgiveness. It’s not about being nice or making amends or pretending something didn’t happen. It’s recognizing that there’s a debt which is owed but which will not, cannot, ever be paid and letting go of the expectation, the demand, for payment. The rock cannot give you the blood you desire, so it is futile to continue throwing yourself against it – that only bloodies you more and has no effect on the rock. It doesn’t mean you let bygones be bygones or extend further credit to the deadbeat/thief/abuser/jackass. It doesn’t mean that their “credit rating” is restored. It means you understand they’re bankrupt, that whatever they may repay – whether something or nothing – will never be enough but you cannot change that. It is what it is and one step, one day at a time, you turn away from an unfulfillable desire and begin to release yourself from a painful exercise in futility.

  8. Important point: It is a FAKE Buddha quote

    But then, probably many of Buddhist scripture is full of fake quotes used by authors to make their points. Just like many Bible sayings of Jesus or Moses or others are fake — used by the authors to add credibility to their claims.

    Oh when will we stop?

  9. Debating or explaining the provenance of a quote is far LESS useful than discussing the merits of the quote itself. The principle implicit in the statement, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”, is the distinction between self and other, with the recognition that we have responsibility only for our own actions. From this it follows that we cannot *demand* that another person act in a way to ameliorate any degree of our own pain. And from this it follows that when any other person does act to ameliorate our pain, or bring comfort, we can receive the blessing with gratitude for the grace revealed.

  10. It is important to fact check and avoid false quoting. And David even tells us that he agrees that: “quoting others [is] a waste of time and lending a false sense of authority to things. If it’s true it’s true. Period.”

    So, we should stop wasting time, stop seeking a false sense of authority.

    THAT is one part of the issue.

    Talking about the issue of grudges is very important, but we need not belittle the other insight just to continue talking about grudges. — OR, maybe some people do. For those folks, questioning sources is not important. Seeing the psychology behind our rhetoric is not important. So I guess I am different than those folks.

  11. In the 90’s here in the west, everybody attributed their pithy wise sayings to “Chief Seattle.” Buddha has had his turn before, but he’s back in fashion as a non-theistic spiritual alternative. Few Westerners would really care to adopt the Buddhist metaphysic, however. “Fake Buddha Quotes” is one of my favorite websites, because a real Buddhist evaluates this long list of misattributions.

  12. @ Eric
    Yeah, the Chief Seattle fake speech is quoted all over the internet. Amazing !
    If you will note, the link I give above is to the same site you listed.

  13. Do you have any advice for my situation? I’ve pretty much healed and let go of the crap surrounding the spiritual abuse I was subjected to in the ‘church’, and these days, I almost never have to see or interact with those people… except one. My sister-in-law took the side of the abusers and now refuses to even talk to me. The one time I tried to approach her, the look she gave me could have killed at 100 paces. She then attacked me with her words and stormed off. Her malevolence was like a physical force which left me shaking and feeling sick.

    Last year, at my mum’s funeral she made a point of deliberately turning her back on me (literally) and refusing to talk to me at all, whilst being all chummy and friendly to everyone else. And she told at least one person who was there that I was the one refusing to talk to her. 9 months later, my sister has just died unexpectedly, and I can’t just deal with my grief because I have to negotiate the crap from my SIL as well. (My brother just goes along with whatever she says, because it’s easier than dealing with all her lies.)

    It’s the sheer hatred that emanates from her that shakes me up. I’m not holding a grudge, but I keep getting attacked whenever I attend a family gathering. So I’m left with a choice to not attend, and lose out on sharing those times together, or turn up and be traumatised by her. Any wisdom?

  14. I’m moving from quote to analogy here. I suffered a very nasty injustice at the hands of a ‘good Christian man’. In the throes of pain and anger, someone said that if I had been hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street, it might feel good for everyone to acknowledge that it was the driver’s fault and not mine. But in the end, I would need to be the one to push myself through the pain of surgery and rehabilitation if I want to be back on my feet again . We can’t let the injury, pain and injustice rob us of a healthy future.

    There is the other issue of rushing to forgive quickly in order to make the pain go away quickly. Research has shown that those who are encouraged into quick forgiveness are most likely to be re-victimized! I suspect that unforgiveness/grudge holding provides a protective function for a time, and I disagree with any push to hurry it along.

    Good blog David. Great discussion everyone! Thanks.

  15. Living Liminal – I have been in the same position! Only it was a sister and BIL who took it upon themselves about 10 years ago to let me know I needed to come back begging if I was to be accepted into the family fold again. My BIL was particularly intimidating. Everyone else just pretended it wasn’t happening. It’s AWFUL!

    I didn’t want to miss out on my own family gatherings either, but in the end I realised they were triggering ongoing depression and anxiety for me. So I stopped going. Explained my reasons to family members who wanted a relationship with me, ignored those who didn’t. This was 3 years ago. I’m in a much better place now emotionally, and I have a great relationship with several family members who I see by themselves or with others who are refusing now to be drawn into the nasty game.

    The other thing I did was take ‘forgiveness’ right off the table. No forcing myself to ‘do the right thing’. I don’t care if they spread lies about me being bitter or unforgiving. They just don’t matter any more! If they asked for forgiveness, I know I’d want to give it. But they haven’t. So I’m not going there. I don’t really think I’m even holding a grudge. I just don’t want them to spoil another minute of my life.

    This is my story – and certainly not advice! I just want you to know that I really do understand how painful this is and how unjust. Your own family!!! I hope you find a way to make peace with it all. It’s very hard and very unfair.

    Big hugs!

  16. Living Animal and Shazza – thank you so much for sharing. It make me feel I am not alone.

    Living – for me, I didn’t start attending “church” until my mid 30’s. Any crap I have been through in church has not been as difficult as I have had at other times. For me, it has been growing up with disability but being considered as talented at school, with a head teacher mistaking the disability for carelessness, lack of effort and complacency. My parents and family treated me similarly. To deal with the pain, I spent a lot of time on my own separate from the family. In my 40’s I was diagnosed with the disability and when I was it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My confidence has grown in the last few years as a result. This was difficult with my parents at first with me facing them about it and the crap they had said about me which is nothing to do with my character but symptoms of a disability. This was upsetting for them at first but over time we worked things through and by the tie my dad died a few years ago there was a peace and closeness between us and I have a good relationship with my mum now. In these I have known the healing of relationships and freeing of burden for myself with practicing forgiveness. Not that it matters with regard to this but none of my family are church attenders.

    With my sister it is a different story – she has the belief that I have been unloving and is resentful and angry towards me. At my father’s funeral she avoided me and was friendly with others not dissimilarity to what you say about your sister. She regards her anger to be justified and she claims that she never lashes out. My mum advised to not worry about it but focus on the good that is happening in my life. My sister got angry with my mother for the advice she gave.

    In a couple of months, the family will be gathering to spread my dad’s ashes. I guess all I can say is that what I have learned to do is that in spite of the best efforts sometimes mum’s advice is right. I guess all we can to is leave others to sit in their own mess sometimes and avoid them, take care of ourselves heal and become stronger and more confident, have a thicker skin so that we can endure difficult situations without slipping into depression and anxiety and know what situations are best avoided!

    Thanks again and I hope that helps.

  17. Living Liminal: Your story is a familiar one. I hear it all the time… each one with a unique spin. You are right: you have a choice… to attend or not… to be traumatized or not… etcetera. It’s not easy. But you are wise to see the power is in your hands on whether you expose yourself to something unpleasant or not. I think that’s the healthiest starting point. Thanks for sharing.

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