The last guy I dated was not very nice about it when he dumped me. In fact, he was downright hateful after the fact. He was so awful towards me that it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if I had held a grudge for quite a long time.
I wasn’t upset that he dumped me. I was merely disappointed that he lied to me about the reason and that he did it by text, which in my opinion is a cowardly way of going about things.
Being lied to is enough to make some people hold a grudge for a lifetime. Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever been the type to hold a grudge.
Thank goodness for that, too.
According to some psychologists, letting go of anger is an act of great willfulness, but in the end it boils down to valuing equanimity, a fun word I learned in researching this topic and something I’ll explain toward the end of this article.
First, let’s talk about grudges.
Did you ever watch “Ferngully”?
The portrayal of the “bad guy” was this slimy, greasy personification of evil talking grease.
His name was Hexxus and he was voiced by none other than Tim Curry, a English actor whose voice any movie aficionado could recognize. He played the lead in Rocky Horror and was Nigel from the Wild Thornberrys, among several other memorable roles. But it was his voice that really brought Hexxus to life.
You see, Hexxus drew his power from pollution and was hell bent on destruction.
All around, he was not a nice guy, the personification of all that is bad in the world.
This character is exactly how I picture what holding a grudge would look like from the inside.
He’s an evil toxic sludge that draws power from the hatred you feel and uses his power to grow and inhabit every crevice of the person harboring a grudge.
As an artist, I always found his character amazing, because I never would have thought to turn a pool of grease into a villain, let alone taken on the task of animating such a difficult idea.
For the most part, the humans ever really see his character, at least not until the end of the movie, but they definitely get manipulated and pulled by his sway, despite the fact that his destructive plan will not do any of them any good in the long run.
My favorite scene as a kid, aside from Batty Koda’s famous “Batty Song”, was the one in which Hexxus’ character was introduced, where he sings this song called “Toxic Love.”
The song covers his love for slime, muck, and greed the greed of the people he manipulates while accompanied by obnoxious slurping and smacking noises. He’s such a dark character. The fact that his catchy jazz number kept my attention while simultaneously being absolutely terrifying was incredible.
The way I see it a grudge works the same way. It starts off small and dark, but the more you feed into it or dwell on your anger, the more it grows and works its way into the many different areas of your life, just like Hexxus, slithering his way through the machine’s crevices and indulging on the fumes and growing stronger.
Why Hold On? Why Not Just Let It Go?
We’ve all felt anger well up inside of us, making your blood boil. Holding onto that anger, instead of letting it go is like constantly reopening a wound instead of letting it heal.
It is painful and holds not true purpose.
Mostly, the reason people hold onto grudges, is because it keeps us in play as a victim. By holding onto this identity we are, in a way, holding out for the moment our transgressor acknowledges and takes responsibility for the pain that they’ve caused.
In most instances, you won’t get what you want and you’ll find yourself waiting a very long time, or often, forever. If you’ve ever read “Great Expectations”, you know how that turned out for Ms. Havisham, living out her life holed up in her mansion wearing the wedding dress she wore the day her beloved jilted her.
I mean, we can’t all be Taylor Swift and sing it out.
Or can we?
No, singing can only make you feel better for a moment. Unless you make millions of dollars from belting about it like Taylor, which might help ease the pain a little.
And I’m sure all of her exes are aware that they’ve wronged her, or at least that she feels wronged… along with the entire rest of the world.
The media has almost pegged her as the poster-child for holding grudges against exes and unrequited love, by playing up the fact that she uses her painful experiences to create music that people can identify with since heartache is something almost everyone can relate to. But clearly, since she’s still dating, she lets go of it eventually.
There are a few reasons most people have a hard time letting go. One is because by perceiving ourselves as a victim, we seemingly deserve special treatment. We may as well have a stamp on our foreheads that says “Handle with Care” or FRAGILE.”
The worst part of all this, is we desire this apology that we’re likely never to get and we keep ourself in a form of stasis that doesn’t do what we expect it to do, make us feel better.
Unfortunately, in an effort to gain empathy, we end up keeping ourselves from the very empathy required to allow ourselves to let go of the anger, leaving us in a perpetual loop of distress.
Sociologists make grudges sound much less petty by referring to them as “interpersonal conflicts.” But if you look at the actual meaning of the term, you’ll realize how accurate it is.
Interpersonal, meaning it’s a conflict within ourselves.
How Holding onto Anger Affects Us
There are two ways that holding a grudge affects us, physically and mentally.
Physically, dwelling on anger can turn into a boiling rage, which, in turn, can result in elevated blood pressure and heart rate.
Temporarily, this isn’t wholly detrimental to your overall health. However, allowing this to happen for long periods of time can cause severe repercussion for your health.
It makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease, and several other various causes for premature death.
Respectively, when you remain stressed for long periods of time, your vagus nerve is overstimulated. This results in a drop in blood pressure and heart rate. The exact opposite of how things play out when you’re hit with an outburst of anger.
The drop in blood pressure and heart rate is called vagal syncope and can result in restricted blood flow to the brain. Which we all know is not that great for you, health wise.
I mean, were you to stop breathing, it would only take 4 minutes for it to cause permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Taking that into account, how do you think having any amount less oxygen than your brain needs affects it.
Mentally, it can do even more damage, believe it or not.
Reliving the moment of offense, the breakup, can leave you in a perpetual state of being dejected or betrayed. Essentially, you will keep rehashing these feelings which will leave you feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Dr. Paula Pietromonaco, from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, did extensive research on cognitive and affective processes in context of close relationships. Her conclusion was that being socially integrated is associated with a reduced risk of mortality.
In non-sciencey terms, that means that our ability to connect with people greatly reduces our health risks. And if you are like most people, holding onto a vendetta against your ex can tend to pull you into being a little antisocial.
In March of 2015, the “Frontier in Human Neuroscience”, published a study that was done at the University of Virginia. This study found that people with naturally higher levels of oxytocin show greater brain activity when processing social information.
After a breakup the level of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter that is produced when you’re in love, drops dramatically.
That being said, when people deal with breakups, they are usually inclined to isolate themselves, avoid people, and dwell on those negative feelings left by their romantic failures.
Dr. Pietromonaco’s team also concluded that we are inclined, as humans, to connect to a primary person that we turn to for comfort and calm when we experience distress. As adults, this primary person usually tends to be a spouse or significant other.
This feeds into the feeling of loneliness and isolation.
Eventually, holding onto a grudge will affect your productivity, relationships with others, and your ability to be happy in the long run.
What Actions Can You Take to Move Past a Grudge
It should be apparent why letting go of a grudge would be beneficial to you.
- Make You Less Susceptible to Health and Heart Problems
- Lessen Your Anxiety
- Encourage Healthier Relationships All Around
- Give You Peace of Mind
- Lower Your Blood Pressure
Basically, letting go can only have a positive impact on your life. There are literally no negative ramifications for letting it go.
The key is forgiveness.
“But hey, he was a complete jerk and was supposed to care about me. Your advice is just to get over it?”
Yes, that may very well be true, but you cannot control someone else’s actions or the way that they feel. You can only control the way you react to their actions.
It takes a great deal of willpower not to be emotionally reactive when you feel undermined, undervalued, or attacked.
Building that kind of willpower takes a lot of restraint and practice, the goal being to achieve equanimity, which is my favorite learned word from the research I’ve done thus far. Equanimity is a mental calmness, or composure, and an evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
So, there are two ways to go about this.
Most of the reasons we are so heartbroken when a relationship ends can be condensed down to two very simple reasons.
We build up expectations of where the relationship is going, and are disappointed that they are no longer a possibility. Also, we suddenly find ourselves without the person that we assumed would be a part of our life for the foreseeable future, which I suppose could fall in with the first reason. But I think it could also be boiled down to loneliness.
So, there are two things we’re mourning after a breakup, the loss of a person and the loss of the promise of a future.
Most of the time, remedying the pain that we are dealing with requires actually facing your ex and letting him know that his actions hurt you.
However, most of the time, we are not afforded the opportunity to address the one that hurt us.
I’ll tell you this right now, finding the capacity to forgive without the other party actually voicing a desire to be forgiven, I’ve found is the true difficulty.
So I’ll let you in on how I dealt with my situation.
My ex, the one that dumped me via text for another girl, his actions hurt me beyond belief. He was supposed to care about me and be my confidant, my friend even. So, when he texted me and said he wanted “some space” and that “he thought I expected more from the relationship that he was willing to give,” I was devastated… for a day or so.
Then, when I tried to be civil with him and get a few of my belongings back, he started acting like he was the one who was hurt. He started spouting some horrible things to our friends, basically saying I never meant anything to him. Luckily, our friends know me better than he did apparently.
Regardless, I stuck to being civil.
Even though I had every reason to be angry.
And, at first, I really and truly was so… very… angry. I was actually pretty darn pissed if we are being honest here.
Essentially, what I had to do to keep from allowing the anger I felt from becoming a full-blown grudge after all that was to step back and look at the situation and realize that I could only control the way I perceived the situation I now found myself in.
I spend a lot of time focusing on the way the mind works. This is because so many people allow their thoughts to rule them, when we actually have the power to decide which thoughts we let take up residence in our minds.
Yes, my ex’s way of going about things left me insanely disappointed, even though the expectations I had for the relationship weren’t anywhere as extensive as he thought they were. I could not allow myself to dwell on the anger that was feeding the toxic sludge I was drowning in.
I had a choice. I could let what he did continue to take up residence in my mind, poisoning every aspect of my life and doing actual harm to my health, or I could walk away from holding that grudge and allow myself to do something more productive with my life.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that I was better off, that I have absolutely no desire to be in a relationship with someone who didn’t want to be with me. That was the big one, because if I respected myself enough to actually believe this, I couldn’t possibly allow myself to pine over this lost relationship, let alone hold onto this grudge any longer.
It was eating away at me, destroying me even.
I decided to take a stand.
I also had to understand that everyone wants something from a relationship, clearly my ex and I were on different pages. I wanted to be with him, whereas he wanted to be with someone else. If I truly cared about him, I had to honestly wish him the best, accept the pain I felt for what it was and let it go.
I know even thinking about this isn’t easy, especially if your relationship ended recently. But, I assure you, changing your perception in the situation can not only help you let go of the anger and the pain, but it can also send you well on your way to becoming a stronger person and moving forward with your life.
Now I couldn’t necessarily tell him that I had let it go. In fact, I’m fairly certain he is convinced that I spend all of my time hating his guts.
When, in fact, aside from having the “ex talk” with prospective suitors, I rarely think about him at all.
Unless, by chance, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Snapchat notify me that he’s been checking out my posts and profiles. In which case, I say… let him.
He is welcome to wonder about what is going on in my life. Should he ever find his way back into it as a friend, I’m sure I will gladly tell him I forgive him.
I say, as a friend, because, forgiving is one thing, forgetting the way he treated me would be wildly irresponsible.
Every circumstance is an opportunity to learn. Having someone who is supposed to care about you treat you otherwise can be an eye-opening experience. And you know what they say, a tiger can’t change his stripes.
If anyone disrespects you, I hold fast to the belief that you should NEVER forget it.
The trick to this is realizing one simple thing.
Yes, just one.
You have to realize that your self-worth is more important that your anger at him.
One of my favorite examples of this is the movie “The Women,” the 2008 remake, not the 1938 one.
If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should.
Mary, the main character played by Meg Ryan, finds out her husband Steven is cheating on her with the spritzer girl from Saks.
Aside from being full of hilarious relatable moments, the movie is full of a great cast, Debra Messing, Annette Benning, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, and so many more. In fact, I don’t think there is a single man ever even shown in the entire movie.
Regardless, Meg Ryan’s character finds herself heartbroken and pissed. After she and her husband get through fighting she finds herself in the kitchen talking to her two housekeepers, both finding themselves grimacing at her as she shamelessly dips a stick of butter into cocoa powder and sugar due to the lack of junk food in the house.
I think we can both agree that if you’re eating straight butter at any point you should probably start worrying about the direction you’re heading.
But I digress.
After going through that heavy blow, she gets fired from her job working for her father, when she expected him to hand over the entire company. Then, she’s betrayed by her best friend.
Simply put, her entire world is falling down around her.
Anyways, she wallows in her pain and her anger there for a bit. But as with most situations like this she meets Bette Midler at a meditation camp.
Okay maybe none of us just run into Bette Midler all willy-nilly.
Anyways, Mary is sitting there telling Bette about her situation and she says, “I have to figure this out. I have to figure out why, at this particular juncture, my hold world has come tumbling down.”
Bette, who’s character I think was named Leah, says she’s going to tell her what her secret to life is.
Forgive the language, but here we go.
The secret is,
“Don’t give a shit about anybody. Be selfish. Because, once you ask yourself the question, ‘what about me?’ Everything changes for the better. Because, after all, who are you? What do you want?”
Now, while I disagree with her “Don’t care about anyone.” tactic, I do believe that you shouldn’t allow your caring about someone to overshadow taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically.
I think this is huge, the part we do ALL go through, when we find ourselves in a situation like this, we can choose to continue to focus all of our energy into being hurt and angry, playing the victim. Or we could take back control and turn that energy inwards, focusing on the things you want for yourself and that are capable of getting.
So, yes, normally caring about other people is how we build a meaningful life.
But, this once, I think it is time for you to be selfish.
Figure out who you are and what you want out of life and lay out a plan.
This is where that montage moment comes in.
I always joke about having that montage moment, because we all hit that wall where we go, “You know what? I DO deserve better!”
I’ll go ahead and apologize for the spoilers, because I basically told you the whole movie, minus the funny parts, but you should still watch it regardless. It’s totally cheesy, and now you already know what happens.
Without taking into account anything that was going on. She reassessed her life and found that she had great potential.
So, what do you deserve?
Do you value yourself enough to go out and get it?
Because, I’ll tell you right now, you have unmeasurable amounts of potential hidden in there. You just have to reach in and grab it by the horns.
The mental clarity that you will gain by addressing these issues will have you realizing that this breakup isn’t the end of the world.
In fact, it is the beginning of something entirely new.
Like they say, one door closes…. Blah blah blah.
I say, make your own damn door.
I think one of the best things I ever did for myself was getting myself a ring.
It sounds corny, but like in a marriage, this ring was a symbol of a promise. I made a promise to myself that I would always do right by myself.
If something wasn’t pushing me towards my goals, I’d let it go, whether it was a toxic relationship, a hobby that was wasting my time… Netflix. (that one was difficult.)
Don’t get me wrong, I forget occasionally. But having that reminder there on my hand, where I can see it every day… It might as well be the lens of a camera that I look at my life through. Whenever, I get out of focus, I simply give it a turn and it refocuses me.
And let’s face it, I lose focus, a lot. So, this little reminder helps with that.
I look at it and ask myself, “How is this (whatever I’m doing) getting me where I want to be?”
Are you holding a grudge?
Are you mad at your ex?
How is that benefitting you?
By addressing the issue, you could save yourself valuable time and be working towards building a life you can be proud of.
Who knows, perhaps your ex will see you moving forward with your life and realizes what a mistake he made.
But then it’s up to you to look at that relationship and decide. Does it work for you? Is it pushing you towards your goals, or holding you back?
Alright, I’ll stop typing at you for today.
As my favorite bartender always says when anyone leaves the restaurant… Go make good choices.