I stood on a rock at the very top of Stone Mountain, gray clouds looming ominously over me and my friends signaling a thunderstorm that would keep us trapped at the top of the mountain for the next hour. But I looked into the distance from the mountaintop, saw trees, stores, fields, and roads, and felt something surreal.
God made all that, I thought, and that means there was a place in this world for me, too.
Graduating from college a month ago, I have been searching for that place. I will soon be a teacher. But I still don’t know how I can best impact the world, but there’s something missing or something wrong. And it’s ultimately, as I’ve identified, the grudges and bitterness I hold that bind me from moving forward. I lost a lot of friends due to a messy situation, and as much as I tried to stop it and tried to patch up the wounds, I realize there was nothing I could do but endure. I have made concerted efforts to forgive and let go of those grudges and move on, but I’m not all the way there yet.
Social Worker Nancy Colier of Psychology Today addresses my question of how to let go of grudges. It’s easy to forgive people in your head, but not do so in your heart. Many people are unable to put away their anger towards people who wronged them, despite their strong desire and effort to do so.
But to let those grudges go, we need to realize “it’s not about the person who wronged you. It’s about who you want to be.”
We have to first realize why we first have grudges in the first place, and we often do because of our identities. “With our grudge intact, we know who we are — a person who was ‘wronged’.” This is not just playing into a victim mentality, but it’s just what we do, because “there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity.” The anger that comes with grudges, with being wronged, gives us purpose and an edge to move forward, and the reason why it’s so hard for us to let go of grudges is because “we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the ‘wronged’ one, and whatever solidity or possible sympathy and understanding” that comes with that “wronged” identity.
According to Colier, we hold onto grudges because we don’t know who we are in the future if we step into a new version of ourselves, the complete unknown. Our grudge and the “wronged” identity “is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this ‘other,’ the experience that our suffering matters.” We hold onto grudges because being wronged warrants us extra kindness, because “our indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently — because of what we have endured.”
My natural response is one of defense, the thought that I know all this and still can’t stop holding grudges, but I know that Colier is right. And I have to let my own grudges go because those grudges don’t do what they’re meant to do. “They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt.” We hold it as a badge of suffering and honor, but the story of our grudges doesn’t actually give us the empathy we need.
That is because it’s not empathy from others, but empathy from ourselves that matters.
If we bring our loving presence to our suffering, we can heal it. It’s more about us than it’s about the person who wronged us, and we need to move into the “felt experience of what we actually lived.” We give ourselves the myth and illusion that other people have power over our lives, but only we have that kind of power. Why give other people that kind of power over us? When we are attentive to our hearts, our stories move from something that happened to us to “a sensation that we know intimately.”
And this goes beyond just “loving ourselves,” but places the responsibility for caring for our suffering on ourselves, not others. We hold grudges because we need others to tell us our suffering matters, and we don’t need the “wronged” identity any longer if we give that responsibility to our own hearts. “What becomes clear is that we are where we need to be, in our heart’s company.”
So I’m going out to let go of my grudges by taking responsibility for my suffering. You come, too.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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