Fights and disagreements are ubiquitous. At some point, even the most agreeable of us have argued with or felt betrayed by someone we love. After a major fallout, you may think you’re entitled to hold a grudge. After all, how else can you demonstrate your displeasure, hurt, and anger? But holding onto hurt feelings may hurt you more than anyone else, due to the negative effects long-term resentment can have on your mental health.
Negative Effects of Holding a Grudge
By definition, a grudge can be described as an ill feeling or resentment toward someone who has wronged you in some way. Although others may not blame you for holding a grudge, you’re more likely to suffer from your feelings of resentment than anyone else.
Grudges can lead to negative feelings such as anger, sadness, bitterness, confusion, and hatred, which may grow stronger over time. These feelings won’t improve your outlook on the situation or resolve the issues that lead to the initial resentment. They can, however, cause you physical and mental harm.
Studies show that harboring a grudge or resentment can seriously impact your physical and mental health. Negative, resentful feelings not only rob you of peace and happiness, but they can also creep into the workplace, your social life, or personal relationships. The longer you hold a grudge, the more angry, bitter, and resentful you can become, until you have little happiness or positivity left in your life.
According to Dr. Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, a professor of psychology at Hope College and a leading researcher on the mental impact of holding grudges, the negative effects of grudges outweigh the reasons you may have for continuing to harbor ill will toward offending parties. “When people think of their offenders in unforgiving ways,” she says, “they tend to experience stronger negative emotions and greater [physiological] stress responses.”
In a 2010 study documented in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, researchers reported that those who held long-term grudges had higher levels of hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, headaches, arthritis, and chronic pain than those who didn’t hold any. Holding a grudge thus seems to produce negative health consequences.
Is Forgiveness the Answer?
Forgiveness is making a conscious decision to let go of a grudge along with the negative feelings of resentment, anger, and revenge against those you feel have done you wrong and striving to offer goodness of some kind to them. You may still feel the perpetrator was at fault, but you no longer harbor negative emotions or attitudes toward him or her.
When you forgive people, you don’t necessarily excuse or condone their hurtful actions or behavior or need to “kiss and make up.” But by choosing forgiveness, you’re attempting to rid yourself of deep-seated negativity that could be keeping you from moving forward and living a happy, productive life.
Embracing forgiveness can help you restore peace, satisfaction, and positivity. You’ll no longer be defined by negativity, depression, or stress, but by your ability to rise above those feelings and move forward.
For some people, forgiveness comes naturally. For others, it requires more work. Once you’ve made the commitment to forgive, however, you might find yourself harboring fewer negative feelings and adopting a more positive outlook on life as Dr. Robert Enright details in his self-help books The Forgiving Life and 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
Anyone can choose to forgive and adopt a grudge-free lifestyle. In fact, according to a Fetzer Institute survey, approximately 62% of American adults said that they wanted more forgiveness in their lives.
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a major force for good in helping people overcome grudges and regain peace of mind. It can help release the stranglehold that resentment has on your life so that it no longer defines you or influences your decisions.
Through forgiveness, you can put negativity behind you and look forward to improved mental, physical, and emotional health as well as a brighter future. In time, you may gain a greater understanding of why people act the way they do and learn to have compassion and empathy for those who have done you wrong.
Whether you’ve been harboring a long-term grudge against someone or have developed one recently, forgiveness could be the answer you need to get over your grudge and proceed. Forgiveness can benefit you in the following ways:
- Greater happiness – Forgiving others can release the hold of depression and sadness in your life so you can experience the joy of living again.
- Improved mental health – Through forgiveness, you can replace negativity with positivity, enabling you to enjoy a positive outlook on life. Positive thoughts, mindsets, and attitudes will follow to keep you on a positive path.
- Improved physical health – Negative feelings from a grudge can impact your physical health, causing high blood pressure, increased heart rate, stress, anxiety, ulcers, and more. When you forgive, your body no longer feels the ill effects of negativity, enabling you to benefit from better health. Forgiveness can also have a positive impact on your immune system, making you less susceptible to sickness and disease.
- Better relationships – Holding a grudge undermines your desire to love and trust others. This can cause ill will between you and your friends, relatives, or spouse. Forgiveness can end this cycle and promote greater connectivity with others, so you can build more stable friendships and more loving relationships.
You can’t change the traumatic circumstances in your past that led you to hold a grudge. You can, however, create a happier, more productive future by choosing to forgive. Through forgiveness, you can let go of the past and look forward to the future.
This article was written by Pam Zuber, Editor|Author|Content Writer at Sunshine Behavioral Health. She has written similar educational pieces for various publications including Minority Nurse, Sivana East, and the UAB Institute for Human Rights.
Sunshine Behavioral Health, headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, CA, provides care, treatment, and recovery therapeutics for individuals facing substance abuse, addiction, and mental health disorders. With a network of facilities in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas, the group offers inpatient rehab centers, outpatient treatment, and sober living homes.
Editor’s Note: This Guest Blog was written by Roberta Baumann, Managing Editor of the Waunakee (WI) Tribune, and originally appeared in that newspaper on Dec. 31, 2020.
This past year has been so difficult that perhaps, more than any other time, we’re all looking forward to its end, to starting 2021, a year filled with hope.
With the promise of a vaccine and an end to the pandemic, we hope our lives will return to normal, we can send children back to school in person, and our economy can begin to recover.
In some ways, rather than bringing us together, COVID-19 has rendered deep divisions. Another hope for 2021 is forgiveness.
Several years ago, University of Wisconsin social sciences professor Robert Enright spoke about this topic at a Waunakee Rotary meeting. With his examples of remarkable acts of forgiveness — cases in which a rape victim forgave the rapist, and individuals from war torn countries made peace with those who killed their loved ones — his talk was unforgettable.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. It requires empathy, recognizing the person behind the act. And it does not benefit that person who has done harm. Instead, it benefits the one holding the grudge.
Holding onto anger increases stress and anxiety, and neither is healthy emotionally or physically. Experts say forgiveness can result in lowered blood pressure, improved mental health and even a stronger immune system. We all know how important a strong immune system is right now.
Also, when we carry that resentment, it can spill over and affect our relationships with others. When we bring it home and say, yell at the dog, we just create stress in our families’ lives and feel worse.
Forgiveness starts with recounting the wrong you feel has been done, trying to understand the reasons behind it, and then moving on. For some, meditation or prayer helps with this process.
One article from the Mayo Clinic suggests, “Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.”
Forgiveness also differs from reconciliation. In some cases, the person who has done harm feels no remorse or takes no responsibility. Yet essentially, it’s not about the wrongdoer, but the person who feels resentment and how harboring that feeling affects them.
As we look ahead to a year full of hope, let’s do so in a way that brings greater unity and peace. We are all stronger together as a community and a nation, and we will soon face the task of healing and rebuilding from the tremendous losses we’ve faced in 2020.
“I wrote this piece during what may have been the darkest time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baumann says. “In retrospect, I believe isolation and fear gave rise to anger — a much more empowering feeling — among many in the Waunakee community. My hope was that in 2021, divisions in the community could begin to heal.”
An award-winning writer, Baumann has been the Managing Editor of the Waunakee Tribune for 26 years. She graduated from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in English. Waunakee is a village of 15,000 residents just outside Madison, WI.
The tragedy that broke the heart of a nation has led one mother from her journey of suffering for the loss of her child to what many consider unthinkable — forgiveness of the one who had taken so much from her.
Jennifer Hubbard’s 6-year-old daughter, Catherine, was one of the 20 students and 6 teachers who were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, nine years ago this month (Dec. 14, 2012). In one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, the 20-year-old shooter ended his rampage by killing himself outside one of the classrooms.
The unimaginable horror of the tragedy and the raw emotion of losing her red-haired kindergartener caused virtually everything in Hubbard’s life to crumble around her.
Like parents of the other 19 students who never returned home from Sandy Hook, Hubbard found it difficult to consider recovery and healing. Still, she had to move forward to nurture Catherine’s second-grade brother, Freddy, who was also grieving, and to fulfill her pledge to make something positive out of the tragedy.
“On a purely human level, it is impossible to imagine being able to heal from the devastation of kneeling on the frozen earth beside your baby’s grave,” according to Hubbard. Relying on her Catholic faith and an outpouring of donations from supporters across the country, Hubbard slowly was able to grapple with her unthinkable pain and eventually to consider forgiveness.
“Surrendering debts takes time and does not mean forgetting,” she recently explained. “Forgetting would return us to where we started. … Forgiveness releases another from the debt you feel owed and gives your heart permission to heal rather than keep score and has more to do with us than them.”
Before Catherine died, Hubbard says, she could not understand people forgiving those who had inflicted unthinkable pain upon them. But now, by practicing forgiveness herself, she says she is able to experience peace and personal tranquility.
“Forgiveness is where we are changed, both in forgiving those who have launched assaults and in forgiving ourselves,” Hubbard writes in her recently published book Finding Sanctuary: How the Wild Work of Peace Restored the Heart of a Sandy Hook Mother. Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one step in Hubbard’s journey toward “wholeness” along with reflection questions and action steps for application in the reader’s own life.
Through her story, Hubbard shows readers how they can embrace grief and vulnerability to help heal their heart. As Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., writes in the book’s Forward: “Jennifer Hubbard’s achingly beautiful book takes us to the heart of horror and leads us out to an otherwise unimaginable hope.”
Catherine’s memory is kept alive in Newtown by donations from across that country that led to the creation of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary that provides learning opportunities related to all the things Catherine loved—bugs, birds, pets, farm animals and nature. Hubbard also does that through speaking, including radio interviews and appearances on national television news shows.
With Thanksgiving now under our belt and Christmas already being unwrapped, readers of the New York Times are being encouraged to make forgiveness an ongoing part of their holiday tradition.
An article in the Nov. 24 edition features Dr. Robert Enright and explains why forgiveness could be anyone’s “2021 holiday miracle.” The article, “This Thanksgiving, Please Pass the Forgiveness,” was written by four-time New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan who is also host of the popular interview series Tell Me More on PBS.
“Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, which develops curriculums for schools, defines forgiveness as simply ‘choosing to be good to those who are not good to us,’” according to the article. “He does not recommend adjudicating the hurt. Better to skip the picking over, the enumerating, the case-making. Direct your energy to this transformative move: recognizing the inherent worth in the other.”
To support her forgiveness-for-the-holidays premise, Corrigan says “there’s research showing a link between facing our own flaws and finding our way to forgive others.”
The research she sites is a 2013 study conducted by psychology professors at Sakarya University in Sakarya, Turkey, that liberally references the work of Dr. Enright and many of his forgiveness research associates including:
- The Human Development Study Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison) formed by Dr. Enright in 1994.
- Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who co-authored Forgiveness Therapy with Dr. Enright.
- Catherine Coyle, who with Dr. Enright focused on pregnancy and abortion.
- Joanna North, a forgiveness pioneer and philosopher who co-authored Exploring Forgiveness with Dr. Enright.
- Gayle Reed whose work with Dr. Enright focused on forgiveness with emotionally abused women.
According to Corrigan, the painful conflicts that pass between family members over a lifetime often become inflamed during the holidays—but they don’t have to. She ends her article this way:
“If you’re looking for a 2021 holiday miracle, here’s a big one: At every Thanksgiving table, there are people who have managed to look past all kinds of wrongs, people who engage in a voluntary amnesty that marries an acceptance of our own flawed ordinariness and the truth that every last one of us is more than our most unjust behaviors. At every table, people are breaking bread, raising a glass, letting go.”
With more than 5.65 million paid subscribers to its digital (online) edition, the New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. It has been a fixture of American print news for more than 150 years and has won far more Pulitzer Prizes (130) than any other media company in U.S. history.
A research project focusing on agape love and forgiveness, now underway in three culturally distinct areas of the world, will culminate next summer with an international educational conference to be held in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference will be hosted by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI)—the nonprofit organization founded in Madison 27 years ago. The research is being conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Working with elementary school children in Northern Ireland, Israel (both Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking schools), and Taiwan, the research is being funded by the John Templeton Foundation which has been supporting research on forgiveness for more than 20 years. The Foundation’s primary goal is “to ignite a global conversation on forgiveness to help everyone experience its benefits and to increase the visibility and funding of forgiveness innovations.”
The 3-year project was developed by and is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the IFI and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its principal focus is on incorporating agape love fundamentals with Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Curriculum materials for 5th grade students.
“Agape love is drawn from Greek tradition and is the highest expression of forgiveness toward those who caused pain,” Dr. Enright explains. “I call it the ultimate form of love—the kind of love that has never before been scientifically examined as part of forgiveness research.”
The research portion of the agape love and forgiveness education project will continue through most of this school year with 60 teachers and up to 1,200 students at the experimental sites. Some of those educators will outline their experiences and present their findings during the July 19-20, 2022 International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
A new website that was created specifically for this Templeton Foundation project was recently launched with an abundance of information about agape love, forgiveness education, and the Conference. The website will serve as an ongoing platform where educators can access curricula and other teaching resources. It will also house all Conference presentations and education materials developed through the project. Visit the website: Agape Love and Forgiveness.
- Learn what agape love is and what makes it unique: Agape Love.
- Learn about the amazing benefits of Forgiveness Education.