The past matters, because of the impact it’s had on us and the light it can shine on the present and the future –Sophie Hannah
How to Hold a Grudge offers a new perspective on grudges and how they can be a healthy part of our lives. Rather than focus on what we usually think about grudges, Ms. Hannah makes the argument that acknowledging, processing, and documenting the bad things that have happened to us can help us move on more easily. Despite the provocative title, this is a positive book about accepting that people will always upset us and finding a way to manage those emotions rather than suppressing them.
Let’s be honest with each other, I bought this book 100% because of the title. And in the interest of full disclosure, I freely confess that I am a talented holder of grudges. In fact, I have actually used the phrase “forgive and forget is for chumps” in a conversation with other human beings. I have always resisted the advice to let things go because I felt that it somehow let people off the hook. Or that it taught them that they can mistreat me. So, I thought this book might speak to my inherent grudge-holding tendencies while offering some useful suggestions about a more enlightened path. And it did!
Time for the top three lessons from How to Hold a Grudge:
Suppressing your negative emotions won’t make them disappear.
Life is difficult and complicated and amazing and wonderful. And because it is all of those things, we experience an army of different emotions every day. Most of these emotions are positive, we hope, but some of them aren’t and there’s no getting around it. Just as you wouldn’t minimize your feelings of happiness when you see an old friend, you shouldn’t minimize your feelings about getting poked in the metaphorical eye by your coworker. Life is about feeling all of the emotions. Pretending that you don’t have negative experiences isn’t an authentic way to live, and it won’t make you happy. Of course, all of this isn’t to say that each time someone wrongs us we need to make a scene and rend our garments. There’s a happy medium where we acknowledge what’s happened, feel what we feel, and are able to move on contentedly.
Once we begin to care about how we are treated, we will begin to extend that care to others.
When reading this book, I had a lightbulb moment: there are
probably certainly people out there holding grudges against me! For things that I did to them that I didn’t realize had hurt them. For things I knew I shouldn’t do but did anyway. For misunderstandings and miscommunications and so on. Here is the important part: I don’t want them to hold a grudge against me. And if I don’t want that for myself, then I really need to consider that others probably don’t want that either. (Eureka! I’ve found yet another application of my mother’s advice: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) A second aspect of this newfound self-awareness is that when you really start thinking about the grudge-worthy behavior you see in others, you’ll reflect on your own actions and limit that behavior in yourself.
Directly address your negative experiences by identifying the “Right Thing to Do”
When we have been wronged, many of us dwell on the “what happened” instead of the “what can I do about it.” Maybe you wish you had stood up for yourself and didn’t. Or maybe you regret not filing a formal complaint when you should have. But here’s the thing, sometimes those options are still available. Sure, you were so shocked by what your coworker did that you didn’t stick up for yourself right away. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t walk over to his office and do it now. Ask yourself what you can do in this moment to soothe your sense of justice. When I think about my most treasured grudges, I recognize now that there are still actions that I can take to put things right in my mind. And if the right thing to do is to not trust that person again, well then that’s the right thing to do.
Path Toward Enlightenment
Like many of us, I have a lot of room for self-improvement on the topic of grudge-holding. I recently had an experience that is as worthy of a grudge as any I have ever had. I’ve given it the clever title The Mystery of the Missing Job Posting. In short, a job that I would have liked to apply for and felt qualified to do was filled without the job being posted. I felt, and still feel, a very strong sense of injustice. But it happened and people did what they did and so here we are. My next steps for myself are to follow the process:
- Write down the detailed facts of what happened and the backstory.
- Read the story the next morning and add any funny bits you can think of.
- Re-write the story, adding the things that you would do differently and what the results would be.
- Compare the two stories and decide if you’re upset about what happened or upset at yourself for not doing something differently.
- Identify the current “right thing to do” and do it.
- List all of the lessons that you have learned and the benefits that you have accrued through the experience.
I’m still on Step 1, and my feelings are still pretty fresh. But I can imagine a future when this grudge becomes just another funny story that I tell people at happy hour.
Not everyone is a natural grudge-holder. Some people are blessed with the ability to easily move on from negative experiences. But for those of you who aren’t, this book might help you reframe your grudges and scoot you along the path to contentment. All that being said, I still love this quote:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That’s why it’s important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are. –Maya Angelou
Read some of my other book reviews here.