Grudges are considered nasty and emotionally harmful. Yet events in the workplace can make it tempting to hold one. Award-winning writer Sophie Hannah argues that instead of thinking of grudges as negative and petty, think of them as the psychological equivalent of leafy green vegetables: nourishing and strengthening.
“Handled correctly, grudges can be good for you – and not only good, but great,” she writes in How to Hold a Grudge. She cites therapist Anne Grey, who says that “it’s a natural response to feel emotions like hurt, sadness, anger. Allow the intense emotions to be there without judging it.”
Can you name your top five grudges, be they at, or outside of, work? They might be at the top because they reflect serious, important issues, perhaps on which you lost out. But they may simply be enjoyable in an odd way, something you enjoy stewing over, she notes. Grudges can have both negative and positive energy; you want to convert them to positive.
That starts from not letting them be unattended and unsupervised. You must process that grudge, writing down what happened, with all the relevant details and, indeed, any expletives that come up. Let it rip – at length. Then store it at least overnight for perspective, she says.
“What kind of story is it? Is it a story of cruelty or injustice? Neglect? Abandonment? Whatever kind of story it is, see if there is any space anywhere to add some humour,” she suggests. That injects some fun and positive energy, taking the edge off negative feelings and the desire for revenge.
Next, try to rewrite the story changing your own actions – you can’t, of course, change the other person’s. Add the different results your altered actions would yield. It’s fiction, of course, but helpful to contemplate.
Now reread the two stories and ask yourself: Is the strength of your negative feelings around this raw grudge partly a result of either frustration at being unable to change the past or anger at yourself for not having done the obvious right things? She says usually the answer is yes to one, if not both, of these lines of inquiry.
You can’t change the past. You can’t change the other person. The grudge-sparking incident happened and that other person could be dangerous, hypocritical or an otherwise bad person. But given your work on the grudge, hopefully what she calls “a right thing to do” has arisen. If possible, do it.
Whether you can or can’t, learn all the available lessons from your grudge story. “Appreciate the opportunity to learn these lessons, and be glad of the gift of your grudge-sparking incident,” she says. With your two stories, list the benefits that have accrued to you from the incident. If the other person has suffered any consequences, good or bad, mark those down as well.
Now it goes in your grudge cabinet, which might be a computer file, beautiful wood cabinet, or desk drawer. The grudge is intended to act as a lesson and inspiration, no longer a source of pain.
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