September 7, 2012

Nursing the Grudge

My friend used that phrase a couple of weeks ago as we talked about a fellow he knew. He said something to the effect that his acquaintance was “nursing grudges that should have died years ago.”

I got a kick out of the colloquialism, “nursing grudges” but later on in the day I found myself thinking about sick friends or pets who were “nursed back to health” and it brought me around to the idea that somebody who nurses grudges is doing something specifically to keep them around. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether I might be hanging onto some old angers that should have “died years ago.”

My friend’s comment and my own subsequent thinking about holding grudges, versus letting transgressions die away, led me to some thinking that might be worth mentioning for others to use:

All of us, at times, perceive ourselves as the victim of someone’s negative or damaging behavior, and at times we’ve all been the perpetrator of damage or negativity to someone as well. The degree of damage I’ve done to another person is something I have a hard time assessing—mostly because I think of myself as a good person, and really don’t ever want to hurt or be unkind to anyone. It’s hard for me to imagine that anything I would do might cause any lasting harm. Hard for me to think of my small failures or tiny acts of inconsideration might be of serious hurtfulness. After all! I’m a good guy!

On the other hand, the degree of damage that someone else does to me is EASY to assess because, well, because it was done to ME! I know all the ways it was inconvenient, or discouraging, or costly, or painful, or… you get the idea. And along that same line, I don’t have the benefit of knowing all of the dozens, or even hundreds, of very good things that person has done. I only have (or, maybe, only focus on) the really bad thing that person did to ME!

If I find myself thinking about the negative experience I’ve had with the person who has “done me wrong” I can easily elaborate on it a little. I can often remember past transgressions done by the same person, and think of ALL the ways it made my life harder. Elaborating gets easier when I think of the past, and makes the current damage all the worse for being a repeat offense. It makes each one BIGGER somehow. Now, I can think of more ways that I was inconvenienced, or perhaps given cause to worry, or to dread our next meeting. All this ruminated “enhancement” of the wrongs done to me by another will likely become “fact” by the time I review it in my mind at a later date, too!

Anger, anxiety, depression and other negatives of thought and emotion have physiological repercussions as we know. Thus, nursing a grudge may keep that grudge around longer, but may be likely to shorten the lifespan of the grudge holder.

In future blogs, I’ll want to return to the tremendous importance of apologies, as well as the forgiveness of another—or even oneself—for the large and small transgressions of life. Psychologists have been exploring how apology and forgiveness benefit us, and what is likely to help it along. You might never forgive me if I didn’t tell you all about it!