When someone has insulted you or gossiped about you, it is human nature to hold a grudge against that person. Friends may borrow money from you and not pay it back; coworkers may “throw you under the bus” so that they can look better to the boss. Who among us has not been embarrassed in public by someone, and fantasized about humiliating that person in front of a crowd at the next available opportunity?
If you are holding a grudge, know that you don’t have to. It’s not easy to let go of the resentment, but it’s within the boundaries of what humans are spiritually and emotionally capable of. You’ll have to train your mind not to hold grudges, and with enough practice it will become second-nature. Like a practiced tennis player standing at the base line, you’ll be ready to automatically dismiss negative thoughts about other people as soon as they come up.
Important qualification: The grudges we are referring to here are against people who have committed non-violent interpersonal insults and slights. We’re not addressing grievances related to serious abuse, such as child abuse, sexual abuse, and spousal abuse. In those cases, please protect yourself and stay safe. Call the appropriate professionals and authorities. Do whatever you must do to ensure that this person does not abuse you — or anyone else — again. Please see our extensive content about healing from abuse.
A few things to keep in mind:
Your mind is powerful: The reflective mind can control the impulsive spirit of the heart. Allow your thoughts to precede and guide your feelings. Although you cannot control which thoughts pop into your mind, you certainly can decide which ones to hold on to. When an angry or otherwise negative thought about someone pops up in your mind, you don’t have to receive it willingly. When the “negative thought committee” bangs on your mind’s door voicing a grievance, the Kabbalists suggest saying to it: “I’m listening to what you say. But I don’t have time for you now. I have other things to do.”
Do something counterintuitive: Do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing to your offending friend or acquaintance. Behave toward him or her with increasing affection. Tolerate him or her to the farthest extreme. Even though he did wrong and is responsible for his actions, which would naturally merit a negative reaction, you can transform your own negative feelings by behaving counterintuitively. When we do the unexpected, and go against our natural inclination to reciprocate against someone who has hurt us, we shake things up and generate a new type of transformative energy.
The worst thing you can do is to pay someone back in kind: Letting go of a grudge is hard because naturally we want to get even. But are you going to become a petty person who retaliates for everything that happens to you? Do you really need someone to blame for your unhappiness? If you pay someone back in kind, your anger will grow. If you transcend it, you’ll transform yourself into a better person.
Anger has a natural antidote: The natural antidote to anger is believing in a power greater than yourself. How big is your world? If you are connected to transcendent energy, then your world is much bigger than what happens to you. Nor is your identity defined by what happens to you. Recognize that the incident that you’re angry about has a higher purpose.
Divide and conquer: The “negative committee” in your head will say to you, “If you can’t get rid of the whole grudge, don’t bother.” They are wrong. Divide and conquer your grudge. It is like untangling something. Step by step. Untangle that which is within your power, and then later untangle what’s left.
You decide who you rent space in your mind to: The name of the game is: Focus on yourself, not on the other person. Don’t let the offending person live for free in your mind! Your mind is valuable real estate! When you carry a grudge against someone and think about that person, you are in effect letting him or her continue to haunt and victimize you. When you focus on your own life — your purpose in life — then you won’t be consumed by grudges. Your dignity should kick in — you should want to maintain the power to direct your thoughts, not to let your thoughts be directed by someone who wronged you.
Always remember: you are not a victim. Even when you are boiling mad, you have the power to determine your destiny, and to be the better person.