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By this time of year, we have experienced a great deal. We have achieved our share of victories, accomplished many important tasks, and met several difficult challenges. However, we may not see all these reasons to celebrate and feel good because of the thoughtless or insensitive—or even intentionally hurtful—actions or words of others.

The damage can be even worse when we find ourselves struggling or when we are unable to let go of what happened, release the resulting emotions, and move forward. Grudges can be invisible barriers to experiencing the happiness and emotional freedom we deserve. Consider these consequences when we find ourselves carrying resentments for past actions.

Grudges allow others to “live rent free” in our minds. Holding a grudge means that we remain conscious of or even preoccupied with what someone did to us. We revisit the experience when we see the person, someone mentions the person, or we even think about them. Our preoccupation with what was said or done—and our inability to let go of the incident—might be compared to their living in our heads, occupying valuable space.

Holding a grudge repeats the hurt. In fact, grudges can do more damage to us than the original actions that hurt us. Replaying the incident often refreshes the memory and fuels the emotions that initially gave rise to the grudge. While the incident itself likely happened only once, our replaying it in our minds can have the effect of being hurt repeatedly.

Grudges are a kind of trap. They can leave us looping through anger, resentment, bitterness, and hopelessness, and we can even feel as though we are stuck with no way “out.” Our anger can drain our energy and steal our happiness; as a result, we become bitter, and our bitterness can leave us feeling weak and resigned to our negative feelings.

Grudges can steal our physical and mental health. The emotional toll that can accompany a grudge may compromise our immune system and leave us vulnerable to colds, flu, and other ailments. Holding grudges can also create chronic stress, raise our anxiety, and lead to depression.

Obviously, these are not pleasant consequences. Few of us would choose to experience them without a strong reason to do so. However, grudges (especially those that are the result of significant actions and have been held for extended time) are not easy to abandon.

Fortunately, we have some excellent models for letting go and choosing not to carry the burden that grudges represent; Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Certainly, both individuals had ample reason to resent how they were treated in their lives and hold significant grudges, yet they chose to rise above their circumstances and feelings, achieve great things, and actively pursue—and experience—happiness.

So, how might we go about letting go of a grudge? Here are five steps to take:

  • Accept what happened. We might consider it a learning opportunity, a lesson in behavior, or an unintentional incident. The key is to accept, rather than mentally fight, what happened.
  • Do not hold out for an apology. We can only control ourselves, our own actions and reactions. Our choice to let go may be all we need or can expect. Letting go of expectations for the behavior of someone else can be freeing.
  • Choose to forgive. Forgiveness has more to do with us than with the person whom we are forgiving. Interestingly, the origin of the word “forgive” is to “give for” or “replace.” When we forgive, we free ourselves to replace resentment and blame with peace, freedom, and even empathy.
  • Refocus on what is important and controllable. Grudges can commandeer significant time and energy. When we choose to let go of a grudge, we can invest our attention, commitment, and talents elsewhere. We might take on a project, commit to a mission, or perform a service that will bring us satisfaction and renew our spirit.
  • Commit to not allow another to occupy space in your mind unless you invite them. Choosing to spend time and give our attention to the people who care about us and for whom we care can be a welcome and refreshing change to carrying a weighty grudge.

It is inevitable that we will encounter thoughtless, careless, and insensitive people, even people who are intentionally and unapologetically unkind—or just downright mean. We need to remember that what others say and do is less important than how we choose to respond. Their control over us is limited to what we choose to allow.

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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