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Live Life Fully: One of the heaviest things to carry is a grudge

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Do you have one of those situations in your family where there's a "freeze-out"? And everyone is tiptoeing around it?

Or maybe you're involved in an office conflict or with a group of friends who are bickering.

It happens all too often. With today's extended families, spread out across the country, sometimes it's even hard to remember how or when it started. It's just there -- at every corner, with every communication and, seemingly, taking on a life of its own.

Talk about awkward! Weddings. Graduations. Occasions that ought to be full of happiness and joy. Not to mention emotion-laden gatherings such as a funeral.

A grudge is defined as a deep-seated feeling of resentment. We may feel we're "getting back" by holding a grudge. In reality, though, it hurts us more than the other person.

You may have heard the saying that holding resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to get sick. Or, as comedian Buddy Hackett put it, "I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you're carrying a grudge, they're out dancing."

If you're carrying a grudge, you're storing negative energy over a wrong committed. And the wrong can be either real or perceived. That's the tricky part.

This lasting feeling starts to weigh upon your consciousness, infecting your other thoughts and feeling, spoiling them as a rotten apple contaminates others in the barrel, explains author Sasha Tarkovsky.

A grudge actually takes shape in your mind, then your body, invoking the fight-or-flight response to stress. If you feel the grudge is sufficient enough to justify retaliation, then you have a stressor that is taking its toll on you.

Over time, that negative energy can drain you of your creativity, impact your health and start to color your worldview. The ultimate outcome is a feeling of powerlessness, as described on a sign I recall: "Holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in your head."

So, how can we deal with this vicious cycle? The Dalai Lama offers some sage advice. He says to simply "drop the thought" to drop the suffering out of your life.

Easier said than done.

But when we're honest and up front about what we need -- instead of acting out in an aggressive or passive aggressive way -- we can set limits on what we're willing and unwilling to do, according to psychologist Matt Lundquist. And when we take ultimate responsibility for getting our needs met, we're executing the best possible grudge-elimination plan: prevention. Lundquist offers a few tips for getting there.

Beat a grudge before it starts

  • Ask for what you need. Many of us are not forthcoming about making our needs known, yet we're quick to be disappointed, or even victimized, when we don't get what we want. Making those wants clear may seem bossy. It's the best way to prevent resentment down the line, though.
  • Make your limits clear. Say no. We're often slow to say no-- if we say it at all. In strong relationships, both parties ask freely for what they need and feel empowered to say no. If you're not willing to do something but agree to do it anyway, you're on the express train toward a grudge.
  • "Fool me once, shame you. Fool me twice, shame on me." When people let you know who they are, take note. If someone rarely pays back a loan, is unreliable or consistently hurts your feelings, you need to face facts. If your friend has let one of your secrets slip yet again, maybe it's time to stop sharing secrets with her.
  • I'm the one responsible for making sure I'm not taken advantage of. Think carefully. Plan ahead so there's a Plan B if someone you're counting on drops the ball. More than anything, remember that you are in charge of your health, safety and welfare.
  • That doesn't mean you have to go it alone. In fact, leaning on other people for support and asking for guidance when needed is a good policy. Just realize it's your responsibility to make sure it exists on terms that work for you. When we place weight on other people to be responsible for our lives, we're setting ourselves up for resentment.

  • Drop the "I-can't-believe-you-would-do-such-a-thing" fiction. Believe it. Your sister didn't call you on your birthday (just like last year and the six years before that). When we say we "can't believe it," we're kidding ourselves. What just happened actually happened. And it's probably happened before. Take a moment to be honest with yourself. Accept it.
  • In the final analysis, it's always your decision whether to carry a grudge -- and for how long. As noted in a Buddhist quote shared by my business partner, Scot Drake, this past week: "The trouble is, you think you have time."

    Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301 or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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