‘We’re perpetuating our own suffering’: Why some people can’t let go of family grudges

Holding a grudge is one thing, but it can feel even more personal when it involves someone in the family.

Psychotherapist and author Nancy Colier of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, told Global News when it comes to family, it’s often impossible to just walk away.

We have a sense that we should be able to figure this out with family because of that blood bond,” she said. “Also because family can be incredibly involved in many areas of our life,” adding when we get into a complex situation, it can get tricky to work around it.

A grudge is a form of grievance she added, something that often causes pain. And when you hold one against a family member, it can root back to experiences in the past, ones you live over and over again if you continue seeing this family member.

“You’ve been treated wrong,” she explained, adding that people who hold grudges feel disrespected and humiliated.

Imagine seeing the same person at a wedding, anniversary or over the holidays. While you may not be estranged, it’s the repetitiveness of that person in your life that makes it more difficult to have a healthy relationship.

“With that [the idea] that I have not received empathy or an apology or the sense that the other person feels sorry having hurt me, that’s the piece that’s almost always missing in a grudge, ‘how could they have done this to me?’”

Common grudge holders

When it comes to holding grudges within the family, Colier said it’s not that one group of people hold more grudges than the other. It often depends on the situation, but in her work, she has seen more people holding grudges against their parents. She said in this scenario, it becomes a cycle of “what ifs.”

“‘If only I had a parent that respected me or supported my interest in guitar and what have you, then I can be this,’” she explained. “And we can waste our whole lives with this thinking.”

When you hold onto this type of grudge, it can interfere with how you live your own life.

“Sometimes grudges can be used in a very unhealthy way to keep people from taking responsibility of their own lives.”

But is it ever OK to hold on to a grudge forever? Colier said with grudges, in particular, people love using words like “let go” or “hold on” or “forgive and forget” without actually understanding what these words mean.

“People believe that it means, ‘it didn’t hurt me anymore,’” she said. “What we’re saying is we’re going to keep our energy and focus off the one who wronged us.”

On the other end of the drama

On the flip-side, if someone is holding a grudge against you, as New York City-based psychotherapist F. Diane Barth previously wrote, start by apologizing.

“If you actually did something wrong, take responsibility, acknowledge that you made a mistake, and do what you can to rectify it,” she wrote.

“If you do not think that you did anything wrong, but you know that the other person believes that you did, let them know that you understand that they have a different perspective than you do and that you had no intention of creating the problem that you and they are now facing.”

How to let go of a grudge

Colier said if you are working on letting go of grudges within your family, the approach and outcome isn’t always guaranteed.

When we keep holding onto a grudge within the family, what we’re really doing is “perpetuating our own suffering,” Colier said.

To me, to let go of a grudge means that we’re going to actually connect with, ‘what got hurt by that other person?’” she explained. “We cling to that hurt and that wound in a way that the other person was not going through.” It starts with communicating the issue at hand.

Have you actually approached that person and explained your side of the story? Does this family member even know why you are holding a grudge? These are things to consider looking outside the box, she added, and sometimes this means letting go of your ego.

Next, practice mindfulness — you may not get the answer or understanding that you want. When you are in the company of that person, you need to be mindful of your own actions and behaviours around other family members.

“Pay attention to what is wounded here and what happened with that other person,” she said. “And then we ask different kinds of questions like, ‘who would I be if I let go of that grudge?’… we’re so entrenched [in the problem].”

The next thing is to ask yourself what would happen if you drop the grudge altogether.

“What am I really risking if I drop it?… because that is a choice,” she said. “Who would I be if I didn’t have this in my identity? Every time the thought comes up to the retell grudge, we just say ‘no.’ I’m not going to feed that toxicity in my own mind.”

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