Holding Grudges is Bad for Your Health

October 4, 2021

Social media and celebrity news outlets are always filled with stories of grudge-holding and bitterness. One A-lister holds a grudge against another, and the tabloids fill up with both real and imagined headlines about their interpersonal relations. From missing wedding invites, to diss tracks, to public Twitter feuds, it’s hard to get away from it all. What does a holding a grudge mean, if you can’t put the person on blast over twitter?

Celebrity bickering aside, most adults have experiences with holding a grudge. After all, it’s easy to start collecting them if someone cuts you off in line, if a friend never returns your calls, or if the grocery store clerk packs your bananas at the bottom of the bag – all good reasons to start a grudge.

That is until you start to look at the facts. Hold a grudge, meaning to remain bitter and angry about a perceived slight, is terrible for your health. There are both physical and mental ramifications to holding on to grudges.

What Does Holding a Grudge Mean?

Young woman in bed holding a book with an angry face

Flip open the pages of a dictionary, and the definition of a grudge is: “a feeling of ill will or resentment.” A grudge is the strong feelings held by one person, towards or against another. It typically encompasses negative emotions like anger, rage, resentment, jealousy, and anxiety.

Need a few real-life examples?

  • You are holding a grudge if you’ve stopped going to a favorite restaurant because they had lousy service one night.
  • Another real-life example is if you have ended your early morning run routine with a friend because they showed up late.
  • A final example: you harbor ill-will towards a colleague at work, not because of any harm they have done to you personally, but because they receive promotions while you feel ignored.

No matter what way you want to look at it, holding a grudge is a personal response to a negative experience. While you, the grudge holder, may feel entitled to the animosity, or feel a sense of superiority for holding it, there are few cases where long-term bitterness is warranted.

In every way you look at it, grudge-holding is terrible for your health. So, it may be worth looking into how not to hold a grudge.

Scientifically Speaking, Why is Holding a Grudge Bad for Your Health?

The emotions related to grudges are energy sucking and negative. Holding a burning rage against over a long period eats away at your physical and mental health.

In 2010, the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatry Epidemiology published a paper called “Bearing grudges and physical health: relationship to smoking, cardiovascular health, and ulcers.” The authors pulled data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication to assess whether people who admitted to “bearing grudges for years” had a higher risk of health issues than their peers. They looked at 14 different health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, arthritis, headaches, and stroke.

After “after adjusting for confounders and correcting for multiple comparisons,” the results were astonishing. The study reported higher levels of heart attacks, heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain among those who carried long term grudges.

An early study, performed in 2005 and published in the pages of Journal of Personality, investigated how the ability to forgive impacted relationships. Forgiveness, as we shall see, is a critical aspect of how not to hold a grudge. To be forgiving is to move beyond the issue and, therefore, drop the resentment.

The authors of “Dispositional forgiveness of self, others, and situations” examined six previous studies in their assessment. The capacity to forgive oneself, others, and situations predicted life satisfaction, wellbeing, and as well as anxiety and depression. As the authors concluded, “Forgiveness level correlated positively with decreased negativity in statements written about transgressions in the present versus the past tense.”

As a final bit of evidence for how grudges can impact your physical health, we turn to the pages of Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives by Carsten Wrosch.

Wrosch, who at the time of writing the book had been studying bitterness and the human condition for 15 years, explained, “When harbored for a long time, bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease.”

Logical Reasons Not to Hold A Grudge

Grudges Don’t Benefit Anyone (Including you)

Even if you feel that you are in the right, how does this grudge benefit you? Perhaps you’re holding a grudge against someone as a way to punish them for the wrongs they’ve done in the past. But, ask yourself, how does this lingering bitterness do you any good? In all honesty, a grudge is simply a self-imposed restriction on your relationships, experiences, and feelings.

Grudges Make it Impossible to Sleep

At night, your mind is at its most vulnerable. Even if you can successfully hold your negative thoughts at bay during a busy day, they inevitably appear at the forefront of your mind as soon as you close your eyes. At night, that grudge you’ve been holding on to makes it impossible to fall asleep. All you can think about is anger, bitterness, and rage, instead of counting sheep, you’ll find yourself counting all the ways this person has wronged you.

Grudges Put Your Friends and Family on Edge

Shot of a young businesswoman looking frustrated while working late in an office

Do you have a friend or close family member who continually complains? It’s incredibly frustrating to have to hear the same complaint over and over again. Grudges are like personal complaints against someone else.

Imagine how hard it is for your friends and immediate family to keep hearing about that time your stepmother threw away your favorite toys as a child? Or about when your boss overlooked you for a raise? Spiraling around negative thoughts puts everyone on edge. If you can’t stop talking about the way others have wronged you, it will eventually impact your relationships.

How to Not Hold a Grudge (in 2 Parts)

If you find yourself with too many grudges floating around in your headspace, but not enough energy to maintain them all, it might be time to start working through them. Everyone will hold a grudge at some point in their life, but it’s valuable to move through them eventually. You change, the people you change — it’s time to move on in a more positive direction.

There are two methods to power through a grudge, and get past the bitterness:

  • Work through it externally
  • Work through it internally

External Growth:

Most grudges are based on interpersonal relationships. As we’ve seen, these interpersonal issues have effects on your health and wellness.

To move past a grudge held against someone else requires two skills: forgiveness and communication.

First, comes the ability to forgive historic indiscretions, and second comes healthy communication. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the time spent holding it, and your current relationship, this second step might be quite challenging.

Where to learn healthy communication techniques? There are novels dedicated to the art of communication, like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes. You can also find useful tips from online resources:

Often better communication starts with authenticity, understanding of others, and open-mindedness. Remember, this is about ending the grudge, not proving you are right and setting the record straight.

If the grudge has resulted in a long term hiatus in your friendship, it may not even be worth talking about it. It might just feel better to start chatting.

If you do wish to address a more serious interpersonal issue, be gracious. You might get an apology, nor an admission of wrongdoing —and that is okay. The goal of opening up the communication is to grow not to prove ultimate righteousness.

Internal Growth:

Ask yourself how serious was the wrongdoing, which led to your grudge-holding in the first place? Did the person who wronged have mal intent, or was it an accident? Grudges typically result from a situation that has no further implications on your life. A small accident that you have since blown out of proportion. It’s your pride that prevents you from moving past the issue, not the problem itself.

In retrospect, examine the grudge for what it is. How much impact has it had on your life? Take a moment to recognize the futility of it. It doesn’t benefit you, and it doesn’t help those around you.

Make the conscious decision to choose to internally forgive the person at the receiving end of your resentment. True forgiveness may take time, so be patient with the process as you move beyond it.

If we go back to Wrosch, the expert on bitterness, he confirms the idea that forgiveness is required to overcome grudges. He stated in a piece for the University of Concordia, “In order to deal with bitter emotions, there may need to be something else required to enable a person to overcome the negative emotion — that something is forgiveness.”

Healthy Communication and Forgiveness are Key

We’ve all held a grudge at some point, but it’s time to put that resentment and bitterness away. It requires much less energy to forgive and forget than it does to fuel negative emotions.

With the impacts bitterness and grudge-holding have on your physical and mental wellbeing, it’s in your best interest to lay these issues to rest. Choose to be the bigger person in the situation, and move beyond your grudge through forgiveness and healthy communication. Put your pride aside for a moment, to offer out an olive branch as a symbol of peace.

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