Holding a Grudge? Why It Can Be Damaging to Your Health

June 13, 2017

Regardless of what may set you off, holding a grudge is not healthy. Grudges cause stress, which increases cortisol (your stress hormone), leading to less self-care. In turn, that can lead to fewer positive thoughts, eating comfort food, losing sleep or other problems. Grudges may also be linked with rumination – constantly thinking about the event that lead to the grudge, as well as a build-up of emotions like anger, animosity or jealousy, which can create increased irritability.

“Holding grudges can be something that tends to be a habit for some people, and they will hold grudges over little things as well as big things,” explains Dr. Courtney B. Johnson, a neuropsychologist at Indiana University Health. “While other people may only hold grudges over situations that were particularly impactful or hurtful.”

There is a difference between holding a grudge and simply being angry at someone. According to Dr. Johnson, anger is often an appropriate reaction to a situation. Holding a grudge differs from anger based on the duration of your emotion. While anger usually dissipates, holding a grudge, by definition, involves ‘holding’ onto something.

According to a 2016 Harvard study, women hold grudges and stay angry longer than men. The researchers believe this is evolutionary, explaining that men worked together to hunt or defend their tribe while women took care of and defended their family. In other words, men had to resolve conflict quickly in order to survive while women found it necessary to hold grudges longer and be less trusting in an effort to survive.

Regardless of genetics, it’s important for your health to learn how to let go. So what’s the best strategy to moving on from a grudge?

“This depends very much on the situation at hand,” notes Dr. Johnson. “For some people, communicating with the person the grudge is against can be very helpful; other times, this may not be appropriate. These incidents may be good learning experiences, such as boundary setting with the person. But it is up to each person to decide if they want to let go of the grudge or not. It can be helpful to think about what the benefits are, if any, from holding onto the grudge.”

While forgiveness is important, letting go of a grudge may not always require forgiveness, even though they are often linked. When working to let go of your grudge, Dr. Johnson advises that it is helpful to be honest with yourself regarding the impact of the event and the emotions associated with it. However some people may find it difficult to acknowledge that someone was able to hurt them.

The good news is that it is possible to be friends again. It simply depends on the person and how you choose to allow the event to impact your relationship going forward.

“For some, this may mean setting boundaries that are appropriate,” advises Dr. Johnson. “For others, it may mean that the event that links with the grudge is too values-conflicting with their own values, and allowing the relationship to change in closeness may be appropriate.”

-- By Gia Miller

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